The Italian cypress is a strikingly thin evergreen of the Cupressus cypress genus. Native to the Mediterranean, this tall and straight tree has spread to various arid regions of the globe, from California to Turkey. This tree is commonly used in dry-climate landscaping when other alternatives just will not work.
The blue-green Italian cypress goes by many names, other than its scientific name, Cupressus sempervirens. It is often referred to as a Mediterranean or Tuscan cypress, owing to the Eastern Mediterranean locations where this tree first took root four or more millennia ago. Other common names include the graveyard or Spanish cypress as well as the pencil pine.
Though this tree is widely recognized across the globe in 2011, it started becoming a part of the iconography at least 4,000 years ago. Several of Iran's ancient royal gardens feature prominent rows of Italian cypress, including the Guinness Book of World Records' oldest cypress tree — a 4,000-year-old specimen in the country's Yazd Province — and the many that dot the holy landscape on Mount Carmel in Israel. Due to colonization and the plant's hardiness in grueling climates, it has become a popular landscaping choice in drier geographic regions worldwide.
In the United States, the Italian cypress is best suited for United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) hardiness zones seven to nine, which stretches from Florida, Oklahoma and Arkansas through Texas, out to California and up the West Coast. A chief requirement for cultivating this tree is full sun. Though it thrives in regularly moistened soil, it is known to be especially drought-resistant. In optimum conditions, this tree can grow up to 3 feet (almost 1 m) every year, but it will only spread to about 2 feet (0.6 m) or 3 feet (1 m) wide when full-grown. At that point, it may have risen as tall as 20 feet (7 m) or 30 feet (9 m).
Italian cypress is often used as a scenic wind screen along farmland or long private drives. It is also regularly used to frame a front doorway or shield a drainpipe. It has a dense but soft texture that will not snag any clothing or hands with thorns, with a uniformly vertical orientation that is well-suited to complementing architectural elements.
The Italian cypress is among at least a dozen other species in the Cupressus genus of the Cupressaceae family of cypress trees. Other species, however, do not have the pencil-like shape of this tree. These include cypress trees with common names like Tibetan, Weeping, Saharan, Bhutan or Himalayan.