The Cypresses are confusing. They are in the Cupressaceae - the biggest living conifer family of thirty genera - including Junipers, Thuja, Swamp Cypress, Redwoods and Dawn Redwood - amongst others. Cypresses themselves are separated into 16 species of True Cypress (Cupressus) and 6 species of False Cypress (Chamaecyparis). To make matters worse the two can hybridise (the infamous Leylandii) and they should probably be lumped together. Worse still, they can be very similar in appearance and there are countless varieties and cultivars. I gave up any hope of learning them many moons ago.
There is no particular reason why a Cypress is our Tree of the Month for July - they pretty much do what they do all year round, but a study for the Department of the Environment in 1993 found that the commonest town trees in England were 'Cypress types' and so I should include them in the blog at some juncture. They comprised an astonishing 22% of the urban tree population (the next most common species was Sycamore at 8%). They certainly have their uses but many an English gardener has underestimated their speed of growth and potentially huge size and after decades of dealing with the wrong Cypress in the wrong place, or neighbours at war over a 'monster hedge', I have a slightly jaundiced appreciation of them.
The natural form of the tree can be quite broad but there is a long history, dating from the Romans, of selecting for the narrower forms known as the Cupressus sempervirens 'Stricta' group. Cultivars grown from cuttings are marketed under various names like 'Green Pencil', 'Green Spire', 'Nitschke's Needle' and even a golden form raised in Australia, 'Swaynes Gold' . In both broad and narrow form the tree spread from the Mediterranean basin to Italy, Spain, east to Iran, and south to Tunisia. They became the 'must-haves' in Mesopotamia, Roman villas and in the gardens of Muslim rulers of central and western Asia, Persians and Ottomans. It features on Persian rugs, pottery and on tiles in the Blue Mosque. The tree was introduced to Britain in the 15th Century and it can be a useful addition to our palette in formal situations. But it doesn't belong in our countryside; an Englishman's trees don't spear the sky, they billow into it thank you. And they look best in bright sunshine anyway....
The Italian Cypress can live for hundreds of years, reaching 45m height in favourable conditions. At Somma, in Lombardy, there grew what was, perhaps, the most famous tree in Europe. It was the broader form and grew close to the Simplon road, which Napoleon is said to have diverted in order to save it. This tree, which was reputed to have been planted before the birth of Christ, was blown down in a storm on 2nd September 1944.
Carey F. The Tree, Meaning and Myth. 2012
Land Use Consultants: Trees in Towns. 1993
Stafford F. 2016. The Long Long Life of Trees