Italian Cypress tree identification 

The Italian Cypress Cupressus sempervirens is a conifer native to the eastern Mediterranean as far as Iran.  It was the favoured evergreen tree in Persian gardens and there are many references to it throughout Greek and Roman times.  It is the classic ornamental tree of Tuscany in Italy, hence its common name. It was introduced to Britain probably before 1500 and is found in formal gardens, parks and churchyards throughout Britain. In the scientific name ‘sempervirens’ means ‘always green’ or ‘evergreen’.

Italian Cypress tree identification – narrow spire shape, small scale-like leaves, large round cones with spikes. The scale-like leaves and cone are similar to the Monterey Cypress but the Italian Cypress is easy to identify from its shape and from its cones. Some varieties, such as ‘stricta’ have a very narrow shape. 

Cypress is a common name for a number of conifer species. Some are called ‘True’ Cypresses and are in the genus Cupressus e.g.  Italian Cypress, Monterey Cypress and Smooth Arizona Cypress, some are called ‘False’ Cypresses and are in the genus Chameacyparis e.g Lawson Cypress, Nootka Cypress, Hinoki Cypress and Sawara Cypress. One is a hybrid – Leyland Cypress and the Swamp Cypress is unrelated in a completely different genus Taxodium.

Italian Cypresses

Italian Cypresses in a classical garden


The bark has shallow ridges

 scale-like leaves

Shoots are square and covered in scale-like leaves. They are similar to the Monterey Cypress

 scale-like leaves in 3D arrangement

The shoots are at all angles giving a 3D appearance which is different from the flat sprays of the Lawson Cypress.

Italian Cypress cones

New cones are green in September. They turn brown in October and stay on the tree the following year.

Italian Cypress cone

Old cones are brown. Each cone scale has a spike.

Italian Cypress cones

Cones and leaves in October.

Italian Cypress open cone

A cone opening in July. Cones open to receive pollen or to release seeds.