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Leyland Cypress

Leyland Cypress Leyland cypress is becoming one of Upstate South Carolina's most popular Christmas trees. In addition, it has become a widely planted landscaping ornamental. The first plantings of this tree in South Carolina were on the Clemson Experimental Forest and at Brookgreen Gardens, Murrells Inlet, S. C. These introductions were the result of the work of Dr. Roland Schoenike.

Leyland cypress is a hybrid of Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) and Alaska-cedar, also known as Nootka cypress, (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis). The accidental hybridization was discovered in 1888 at Leighton Hall estate in southern Wales where ornamental plantings of these species had cross-fertilized. Six hybrid seedlings (unknown to be hybrids at the time) derived from the Nootka mother tree were taken by C. J. Leyland to the Haggerston Castle estate in central England where they grew rapidly into large trees.

In 1911, J. M. Naylor, a nephew of C. J. Leyland, took two seedlings derived from the Monterey cypress mother tree at Leighton Hall and replanted them on the estate. As these specimens matured, they were examined by British botanists who described them as a new species. Scientists later separated the "false cypresses" from the "true cypresses" and reclassified the tree as an intergeneric hybrid (the crossing of two genera -- an extremely rare event).

When the Haggerston Castle trees were rediscovered it was found that they too were hybrids of the same cross as those found by Naylor. The hybrid was given the name x Cupressocyparis leylandii.

The origin and outstanding growth rate of these hybrids soon aroused attention; and though they were to all intent sterile, it was found that they could be rooted from stem cuttings. As its qualities became better known, the tree was introduced not only to all parts of England, but into many foreign countries, including the United States.

In 1941, the first introduction of Leyland cypress to the United States was made with rooted cuttings at the Institute of Forest Genetics at Placerville, California. About 1950, the tree was introduced at the Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco and the University of Washington Arboretum in Seattle.

Hopewell on the Keowee Church The first recorded introduction in the eastern United States was made at the U. S. National Arboretum in 1953. The introduction to the southern U. S. was made in South Carolina in 1965 ( see close-up).

On good sites in the southeastern U. S., Leyland cypress may grow from 1-4 feet per year for 12 or more years. Level of soil fertility and the availability of water on well-drained sites determine rate of growth. The fastest growth is in full sunlight.

For an in depth treatise of Leyland cypress in the South, see the book The Leyland Cypress: A Tree of Beauty.1

1This information was excerpted from: Schoenike, R.E., and M.T. Gaffney. 1999. The Leyland Cypress:  A Tree of Beauty. South Carolina Forestry Commission, Columbia, S.C. This book was published posthumously and dedicated to the memory of Dr. Schoenike.

Dr. Ansel Miller, Professor Emeritus
Dr. Gene W. Wood, Professor and Extension Trails Specialist
Clemson University


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For additional information contact:
Dr. Gene W. Wood
E-mail Dr. Wood
Department of Aquaculture
Fisheries & Wildlife