Monterey cypress is an evergreen conifer that is columnar or cone shaped when young, but becomes broad and spreading as it ages. Specimens subject to constant sea breezes and salt spray are twisted and contorted. In a grove, away from the seaside, it develops into a tall, straight tree, that can get over 100 ft (30 m) tall with a trunk diameter of 8 ft (2.4 m). The tiny leaves are scale-like, adpressed to the branchlets, about 1/16th in (1.5 mm) long and lemon scented. They grow in erect or spreading feather-like plumes. The cones are light tan, nearly spherical, about an inch and a half (4 cm) in diameter, with 8-10 tight fitting scales.
Several cultivars have been selected, including 'Aurea' with long, spike-like horizontal branches and golden foliage; 'Goldcrest' which is narrowly conical, to 16' (5 m) tall and has bright golden foliage; 'Aurea Saligna' which has elongated leaves and weeping branches; 'Beaufront' which stays low and is used as a ground cover; and the weird 'Greenstead Magnificent' which forms a spreading, flat topped mound that eventually raises up on a short trunk. It is reported to develop a canopy 20 ft (6 m) wide while only 5 ft (1.5 m) tall.
Location Cupressus macrocarpa, or Monterey cypress, occurs naturally only in two groves on Monterey Bay on the central coast of California. A survivor from an ancient lineage, Monterey cypress is nearly extinct in the wild. It is however, widely cultivated, and a very popular landscaping and hedge plant in England, western Europe, New Zealand and Australia.
Monterey cypress grows best in areas with mild climates, winter rain and cool ocean breezes. It tolerates acidic to slightly alkaline soils, and does best in sandy soils. It is susceptible to a fatal canker disease in hot, dry regions.
Light: The big Monterey cypress thrives in full sun. Moisture: It requires regular water. Hardiness: USDA Zones 7 - 10. Propagation: Propagate the species from seed and cultivars from cuttings.
Monterey cypress is very salt tolerant and an excellent choice for seaside plantings where it becomes wind swept and develops a handsome irregular shape. It is often grown in a group to create a wind break or screen, and it can be pruned to form a hedge. Under ideal conditions, Monterey cypress can grow into a dense, 40 ft (12 m) tall tree in just ten years. Many cultivars and hybrids have been developed, especially in England and New Zealand, where the plant is very popular. Smaller cultivars (such as 'Goldcrest') are grown in containers.
Monterey cypress is used extensively for bonsai. The twisted and gnarled form that makes bonsai specimens so attractive comes naturally to Monterey cypress.
The Native American Costanoans (Californians who were actually born in California!) used a decoction of Monterey cypress foliage to treat rheumatism. The Miwok, from the Sierra Nevada, used a related species for the same thing; maybe there's something to it? It wouldn't be the first time a very rare plant was found to have medicinal value.
Don't confuse the true cypresses (Cupressus) from western North America, Europe and Asia with the baldcypresses (Taxodium) from SE US and Mexico. Cupressus glabra and Cupressus sempervirens are two other members of the genus that are grown as landscape plants in Florida and similar warm climates. The Montery cypress is also one of the parent species of the intergeneric hybrid known as Leyland's cypress (Cupressocyparis Leylandii), a popular landscape shrub (or tree) widely grown as specimens, screens and sheared hedges.