With its narrow columnar habit of growth, this evergreen forms tall, dark green columns 40 to 60 feet in height in the western United States but are often much shorter. Trees are normally no more than three feet wide. The scale-like leaves lend a very fine texture to any setting. Planted 3 feet apart, they make a dense screen. Italian cypress is often used for framing, as a strong accent around large buildings, or in the formal landscape but does not lend itself well to many home landscapes. It quickly grows much too tall for most residential landscapes, looking much like a green telephone pole.
Scientific name: Cupressus sempervirens
Pronunciation: koo-PRESS-us sem-per-VYE-renz
Common name(s): Italian cypress
USDA hardiness zones: 7B through 11 (Figure 2)
Origin: native to southern Europe and western Asia
UF/IFAS Invasive Assessment Status: not assessed/incomplete assessment
Height: 40 to 60 feet
Spread: 3 to 6 feet
Crown uniformity: symmetrical
Crown shape: columnar
Crown density: dense
Growth rate: moderate
Leaf arrangement: whorled
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: entire
Leaf shape: scale-like
Leaf venation: none, or difficult to see
Leaf type and persistence: evergreen
Leaf blade length: <2 inches
Leaf color: dark green
Fall color: no color change
Fall characteristic: not showy
Flower color: unknown
Flower characteristics: not showy
Fruit shape: oval
Fruit length: ½ to 1 inch
Fruit covering: dry or hard
Fruit color: brown
Fruit characteristics: does not attract wildlife; not showy; fruit/leaves not a litter problem
Trunk and Branches
Trunk/branches: branches don't droop; not showy; typically one trunk; no thorns
Bark: light brown to gray and smooth, becoming darker and flaky with age
Pruning requirement: little required
Current year twig color: brown, gray
Current year twig thickness: thin
Wood specific gravity: unknown
Light requirement: full sun
Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; alkaline; acidic; well-drained
Drought tolerance: high
Aerosol salt tolerance: moderate
Roots: not a problem
Winter interest: no
Outstanding tree: no
Ozone sensitivity: unknown
Verticillium wilt susceptibility: resistant
Pest resistance: sensitive to pests/diseases
Use and Management
Growing in full sun on various well-drained soils, Italian cypress should be planted in a well-prepared site and watered periodically until well-established. Italian cypress should not be pruned. It is very susceptible to mites and trees are often infested.
Many cultivars are available; 'Glauca'—blue-green foliage and tight columnar form; 'Stricta'—very popular; `'Horizontalis'—horizontally-spreading branches.
Propagation is by cuttings or layering.
Bagworms are occasionally a problem for Italian cypress. Mites are often a problem.
Root rot can be a problem for Italian cypress in poorly-drained soil. Canker is a devastating disease that has killed many trees in California.
Koeser, A. K., Hasing, G., Friedman, M. H., and Irving, R. B. 2015. Trees: North & Central Florida. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Koeser, A.K., Friedman, M.H., Hasing, G., Finley, H., Schelb, J. 2017. Trees: South Florida and the Keys. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.