What Is an Australian Cypress?

Amanda R. Bell

Australian Cypress, officially known as Callitris hugelii or Callitris glaucophylla, is native to Australia, although it is also grown in the southern United States. A relatively small tree, it produces cones and has evergreen leaves that grow in coils. The wood, classified as softwood, comes in numerous colors and the tree itself is incredibly resilient when compared to others in the same family. The wood from the tree is popular for both interior and exterior building, and the oil and resin are often harvested for other commercial purposes.

Australian Cypresses grow in eastern Australia, stretching between Queensland and New South Wales.
Australian Cypresses grow in eastern Australia, stretching between Queensland and New South Wales.

This tree grows in eastern Australia in the Pilliga forest, which stretches between Queensland and New South Wales. The growing conditions in this area are ideal for the Australian cypress, with the near perfect amount of rainfall at up to 26 inches (about 650 millimeters) a year. While some have attempted to start farms specifically for this type of tree due to its commercial profitability, the Australian cypress tends to thrive in areas with other species, which also means that it is rarely used for landscaping purposes. Outside of Australia, the only other area of the world where this tree has been successfully grown is in the southern United States in inland Florida, where it is commonly referred to as blue cypress.

Compared to other trees, this evergreen is relatively small and is sometimes described as a large shrub, ranging between 16 feet (about 5 meters) and 98 feet (about 30 meters) in height. Its leaves, which remain green year-round, grow in a circular pattern of three leaves, each of which resembles scales in shape. The cones, which have garnered this tree the incorrect name of cypress pine, are usually small and round, growing in clusters.

The wood that comes from the Australian cypress is highly prized due to its color and the tree’s overall resistance to disease. It is considered to be one of the strongest softwoods, and is the only one harder than the wood derived from red oaks. In color, wood from the Australian cypress ranges drastically from a light honey to a deeper burnt orange shade, with dark, almost black, knots. The wood is also one of the only ones that does not need to be treated with chemicals before using, and is relatively easy to finish for multiple uses. These perks coupled with the fact that the tree itself is resistant to termites and common diseases are what make this specific tree so prized commercially.

There are numerous uses for Australian cypress, most notably its wood for building materials and the ingredients that can be harvested from the tree itself. The wood is extremely versatile, and can be used as siding, on exterior structures such as a decks, and, most popularly, for flooring in both commercial and residential settings. It is also ideal for interior or exterior structures that will be used by children, as the wood does not need to be treated with chemicals to strengthen it like many other types of softwood require. In addition to these uses, the oil that occurs naturally in the tree is often used in perfumes and other products that contain fragrance, and the resin from the tree is harvested and used commercially in varnishes and glue.

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