Arizona Cypress
Cupressus arizonica 'Carolina Sapphire'


The Arizona Cypress is a native of interior Mexico extending into the southwestern United States where it is the only native Cypress. For a major species it was discovered by Euro-Americans rather recently in history. Credit for the discovery goes to E. L. Greene, who made the find in the 1880s. In Huntsville, Alabama, this has been a good plant, and provides a striking upright contrast in the landscape. Robert Redmond has noticed no problems (May 2003), but it hasn't been long enough to truly evaluate it. Dirr mentions that it is not a long lived plant for the Southeast, so we might be talking in the terms of 20 years at best before problems begin to show up. It is known to be hardy to –5 F. It prefers hot dry conditions, well drained soil, and full sun; adapted to Zones 7 to 9. More commonly found in the dry conditions of the southwest but is becoming better known through the southeast.

There are about 30 cultivars of Arizona cypress. These horticultural cultivars have been grouped under the names Cupressus arizonica var. glabra or Cupressus glabra. Although most of these cultivars have come from Australia and New Zealand, the most commercially significant one is 'Carolina Sapphire'. It was selected by Dr. Roland Schoenike (of the Clemson University Forestry Department) and Marvin Gaffney (Director of Nurseries for the South Carolina Forestry Commission) in 1968 from trees growing on Tom Wright's Tree Farm in Ward, South Carolina. The trees growing at Wright's were produced from germinated wild seed in 1961. The unique
characteristics of these plants qualified them for registration by the Royal Horticultural Society (the international authority for the registration of conifer names) in 1987.

If you would like a blue Christmas, Stokes Tropicals sells Arizona Cypress decorated as Live Christmas Trees for about $60.00. Here are their descriptions for these two cultivars:

'Carolina Sapphire' was developed at Clemson University in 1968. It is a relatively new cultivar of Arizona Cypress. This evergreen tree grows in a compact for with lacy blue green foliage and has a nice Christmas tree shape. The 'Carolina Sapphire' has a spread of about 10 to 12 feet when mature. It has a superior graceful habit and makes a wonderful landscape plant. Branchlets are arranged irregularly and the thin, delicate bark is a reddish-brown color. 'Carolina Sapphire' adapts well to any well-drained soil. The beautiful fine foliage makes this tree very stunning. The woody, spherical cones stay on the tree and mature in 2 years. 'Carolina Sapphire' has a pleasing aroma that some people describe as a cross between a lemon and a mint.

'Blue Ice' is a popular cultivar native to the mountains of central-western Arizona. This evergreen grows compact, spreading to about only 12 to 15 feet, giving it a Christmas tree shape. The beautiful blue-green foliage is spotted with tiny white resin glands that produce a slight piney fragrance. The outer bark
continually flakes away revealing the very attractive, smooth, cherry-red inner bark. 'Blue Ice' produces reddish brown 1" cones that remain on the tree for 2 or more years. In its native habitat, 'Blue Ice' grows in rocky soils on mountains or in canyons. It will do well in almost any well-drained soil. Once established, 'Blue Ice' is extremely drought tolerant. It is used as an ornamental, and when planted in the landscape, in masses, makes a drastic statement. 'Blue Ice' is very popular in Australia and New Zealand. It is cultivated in the southern United States for cut Christmas trees.

According to a specialist at Auburn University, this "tree smells like a skunk. You don't want to get down wind of this species." Another reference claims that the Arizona Cypress is bad smelling when bruised.


Bald Cypress
Photo by Libby Wilkes

Rebecca Jordi
Horticulture Agent IV
County Extension Director
Contributing Editor