Geography 316:  Biogeography     In progress 12/16/2003

The Biogeography of  the Santa Cruz Cypress (Cupressus abramsiana C.B. Wolf)

by Naw Plah Hset, student in Geography 316  Fall 2003

Thank you for visiting our site. This web pages was written by a student in Geography 316: Biogeography and edited by the instructor, Barbara Holzman, PhD.  All photos and maps are posted with specific copyright permission for the express use of education on these web pages. The students have tried to be as accurate as possible with the information provided and sources and references are cited at the end of each page.

Species Name: Santa Cruz Cypress (Cupressus abramsiana C.B. Wolf)


Kingdom                 Plantae                           

Subkingdom             Tracheobionta          

Superdivision           Spermatophyta           

Division                   Coniferophyta

Class                       Pinopsida                 

Order                      Pinales                                      

Family                     Cupressaceae                       

Genus                     Cupressus                                

Species                   Cupressus abramsiana




  Description of Species:

The Santa Cruz Cypress can reach a height of 30 feet at maturity.  The bark is thin and gray and is broken into vertical strips. (Keator, 2002) The tree has whip-like branches with a 3 dimensional arrangement of scale-like leaves. The cones are brown in color and are to 1 and inch long and spherical. The seeds are brown, flatten and wing shaped and come 60 to a cone. (Preston 2002)  

The tree is pointed at the top.  It grows straight without being deformed when it grows in a dense and sheltered area.  However, when it grows in an exposed area, wind and rain can cause it to grow in odd shapes. 


Natural History:

At about 11 years of age, the Santa Cruz Cypress can start to reproduce. However, there are some trees that can reproduce at six years.  For reproductive purposes, the cones on the tree take two years to mature and the seeds in the cone take from about one to two years to mature after they have been pollinated. (Preston, 2002) The cones themselves are unisexual in nature.  However, both sexes may or may not exist on each tree. Male cones have overlapping scales that have 2 to 10 pollen sacs, whereas, the female cones are compound and overlapping or adjacent scaled. The optimal frequency of  occurrence of fires for the Santa Cruz Cypress is to have one between 50 and 100 years. The tree prefers arid and rocky soil.  Fires are needed for the continued survival of a given grove. The fires allows the cones to open and spread their seeds.  Fires also keep other competing vegetation from establishing a dominant foothold. (Keator 2002) 


The Santa Cruz Cypresses originally came from the family Cupressaceae.  Cupressaceae have been found since the Jurassic. (Earle, 2002) The genus is Cupressus.  The Species name for the Santa Cruz Cypresses is Cupressus Abramsiana. C. B. Wolf in 1948 considered the Santa Cruz Cypress to be an intermediate between the Gowen and Sargent Cypress: the ancestral species of the cone-bearing genus.  Cupressus was all over a large area of California. (USFWS 1985)     However, over the last 20 million years, the landscape and climate of what is now California change. Mountains arose and the climate became more arid.  Most of the Cypress woodlands became extinct because of these changes. Some of the reasons they became extinct was that they could not compete with other more drought resistant species such as chaparral and desert scrubs or when fires occurred too frequently and the chaparrals shrubs were able to resprout quickly after the fire (Armstrong 1977).  These days, they are confined to scattered groves along the coast and inland mountains of California. The groves that survive became like islands and over time, different species developed.  There are ten species of the genus Cupressus that have developed and survived.  The Santa Cruz Cypress unlike some of the other inland Cypress did not need to develop drought resistance feature. For example, the Santa Cruz Cypress foliage is nonglandular without  resin glands on the leave.  The phenotypic variation such as the shape of the seed cones could be due to genetic drift. (Earle, 2002)



The Santa Cruz Cypress is an evergreen tree that grows along State Highway One between Santa Cruz and San Francisco. They usually grow at an altitude of between 1600 and 2500 feet above sea level.  It is found in five places in San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties. (USFWS 1987). However, there are disagreements as to the number of places where the Santa Cruz Cypress is found.  For example, Glenn Keator (2002) states that the tree exist in four localities. The climate the tree grows in is Mediterranean in nature. It needs cool, wet winters and hot, dry summers.  There are several factors that restrict the range of the tree. For example, the tree is able to survive in nutrient-poor, often arid and rocky soils, where other trees can't compete.  (Keator 2002)  It range is also affected by fires.  If the fire occurs too frequently, the trees are not able to reach seed-bearing age and this could lead to the extirpation of the grove.  However, if the fire do not occur within the optimal time frame of between 50 and 100 years, successional establishment of competing vegetation can occur.  So, when humans alter the natural fire frequency, the trees are in danger of extinction. (USFWS 1985). Other factors such as residential and agriculture development also threaten and limit the distribution of the Santa Cruz Cypress.

 Other interesting issues:

Sometimes, members of the Cypress Family are called cedar. C.B Wolf gave the Santa Cruz Cypress the Latin name Cupressus abramsiana.  The Latin word cypressus means mourning and weeping.  Cypresses are also native to China where there are also cultivated for decorative purposes. (Quattrocchi, 2000).  In has been suggested the tree can be used as a windbreak. Various species of Cupressaceae plants are used by Native Americans medicinally such as treating wounds.







Armstrong, W.P. 1977. "The Close-Cone Pines and Cypresses" (Chapter 9, pp. 295-358). In:             Terrestrial Vegetation of California, John Wiley & Sons.

Beidleman, Kozloff. 2003. "Plants of the San Francisco Bay Region" University of California      press. p. 60, 358-371.

 CalPhotos. 2002. CalPhotos: Berkeley Digital Library Project. University of California, Berkeley. Available at (Accessed 10/02/03).

 Earle, Christopher. 2002. Cypresses Description. Gymnosperm Database [online] URL: (Accessed 11 November 2003)

 Core, 1955. "PLANT TAXONOMY " PRENTICE-HALL, Inc. P. 240-241

 Hickman, The Jepson Manual. University of California Press, 1993, 112. 

 Keator Glenn. 2002 "Introduction to TREES of the San Francisco Bay Region." University of    California Press, edited by Faber, Pavlik. 68-69

Peattoe, Donald C. 1991. "A Natural History of Western Trees. Haughton Unifflin Boston.        p.225-226, 246-247

Preston, Braham. 2002. "North America Trees." 5th ed. Iowa State Press, ,  11-41.

Quattrocchi, 2000. "CPR World Dictionary of PLANT NAME Common names, Eponyms,      Synonyms, and Etymology" Vol 1 CRC Press.

Thomas, John Humter. "Flora of the Santa Cruz Mountains of California" 1961. STANFORD   UNIVERSITY PRESS. p.63-64

Tree Guide; North America Trees. (Accessed 10/2/03)

USDA 2003, US Department of Education Plant Profile.  Available at: (Accessed 10/2/03)

USFWS. 1985c. Proposal to Determine Cupressus abramsiana to be an Endangered Species. Federal Register 50 (177): 37249-37251. Thursday, September 12.

USFWS. 1987. Rule and Regulation to Determine Cupressus abramsiana to be an Endangered Species. Federal Register 52 (5): 675-679. January 8.

 Watts, 1973. "Pacific Coast Tree Finder" a pocket manual for identifying Pacific Coast trees. Natural Study Guild. P. 29


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