Bird Nest Cypress

Bird nests should be so refined.

Port Orford cedar is a grand tree. It is native to the southern coast of Oregon and the very northwestern corner of California. Mature trees in the wild are more than a hundred fifty feet tall. Some of the older big trees within landscapes are more than forty feet tall. However, the cultivar known as bird nest cypress, Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Nidiformis’ is remarkably diminutive and shrubby.

Bird nest cypress grows slowly, and may never get more than five feet high and wide. Individual plants are mounding with rather flat tops. A row of plants eventually becomes a low informal hedge. Distinctively flat sprays of slightly grayish evergreen foliage exhibit a soft feathery texture. Unless pruned otherwise, abundant dense foliage obscures main limbs with fissured reddish brown bark.

Most cultivars of Port Orford Cedar, including bird nest cypress, are uncommon here. They actually prefer cooler and moister climates. Locally, they are sensitive to harsh exposure and wind while the weather is warm. A bit of partial shade is no problem. Established plants do not need much water, but should not get too dry for too long. Selective pruning, not shearing, sustains natural form.


The usual suspects.

There is significant traffic right outside. It is one of the three busiest roads around. No one here really minds, because we are mostly too busy with something else while we are here. We are accustomed to it as part of the ‘scenery’. The noise sometimes makes it necessary to shout to each other, or take a telephone call somewhere else, but is not too much of a bother otherwise.

However, the scenery that those in the traffic see from the road might be slightly less than appealing. Industrial buildings surrounded by pavement, building materials, work vehicles and all sorts of associated items are all that are in here. Next door, there is a herd of dumpsters! It is a view worth obscuring. Bay trees and box elders that used to screen the view are too tall now.

I should have planted these five Arizona cypress in a row along the road last autumn. If I were to plant them now, I will need to water them occasionally until next autumn, not that I would mind. After their first winter, they would be happy on their own. They would start to obscure the view within only a few years, and unlike box elders, would stay evergreen through winter.

They really should have been planted a long time ago. They have been in the same cans for so long that the medium within has decomposed and collapsed. Without staking, their lean trunks became disfigured in confinement. They really would not have needed to be staked if they had been planted sooner and been able to grow more vigorously. Fortunately, they should recover.

A Monterey cypress will be planted at the low end of the row next Saturday, even if these Arizona cypress are not planted until autumn. I will explain later.

Kashmir Cypress

70809Plants are usually well suited to the climates that they are native to. Glaucous (slightly reflective grayish) foliage is more common in harsh climates where darker green foliage might get cooked by the sun. Pendulous growth is more common among plants that want to shed heavy snow efficiently. Kashmir cypress, Cupressus cashmeriana, has both, but is from a tropical monsoonal climate.

It is a stately tree that can eventually get taller than fifty feet. Within its native range in the eastern Himalaya, old trees can get three times as tall! Limber stems might hang downward several feet. The minute scale leaves are neatly set on limber stems arranged in flat sprays, similar to, but more defined than those of arborvitae. Foliage is silvery grayish green, and perhaps slightly bluish.

Mature trees do not need much water, but would probably be happier if watered occasionally through summer. Kashmir cypress is unfortunately susceptible to the same diseases and insects that afflict Leyland cypress. That is a serious risk to consider before planting prominent specimens. Incidentally, Kashmir cypress is also known as Bhutan cypress, and is the national tree of Bhutan.


P80805When a plant that should be compact or shrubby gets too lanky with exposed lower stems, it is described as ‘leggy’. We do not hear much about plants that develop ‘knees’. Perhaps that is because there is only one species that does so. That one species happens to be very rare here. If there are other specie that develop knees, I do not know what they are.

‘Knees’ are weird appendages that grow upward like stalagmites from the roots of bald cypress Taxodium distichum, particularly where the trees grow wild in swampy conditions. Knees can get quite tall. One of our professors used to tell us that they could do some serious damage to a canoe. Perhaps knees are why bald cypress is locally unpopular in landscapes.

However, I happened to notice that bald cypress is a common street tree in downtown Oklahoma City. Just like most other street trees, they are installed into small tree wells, but otherwise surrounded by pavement. They were remarkably healthy and well structured specimens that were too young to have damaged the pavement. Yet, I could not help but wonder what they will do as they mature. Even before the trunks grow as big around as the small tree wells that they are in, what would happen if knees develop?

There happens to be not one, but two bald cypress at work. The smaller is alongside a small stream. The larger is adjacent to a lawn where the soil is seemingly dry on the surface, but quite soggy just below the surface. This larger specimen is already developing distended burls that seem to be rudimentary knees. Although there is no pavement to break, the tree happens to be shading a picnic area where knees, if they develop, would be quite an obtrusive problem.P80805+

New Year & Old School

P80101Little kids were allowed to walk to school back in the early 1970s. The youngest had to walk with older siblings or neighbors who made them look both ways and hold hands to cross the streets, and stay back from the roadway. Once through the open gate into the schoolyard, younger kids could leave their slightly older chaperones to meet up with their friends and eventually go to their respective classrooms.

It is scary to think of how carefree we were back then.

The east side of our schoolyard was hedged with alternating Monterey pines and Monterey cypress, with a few random deodar cedars, redwoods and even a California pepper tree and a Canary Island date palm just inside the hedge. The random trees were somewhat mature, so were likely remnants of a landscape of a home that was on the site before the school was built there. The hedge was probably installed shortly after the school was built. It was that sort of shabby bad hedge that was common back in the mid 1950s. Nowadays, we know that neither the pines nor the cypress should have been shorn. The cypress could have made a nice hedge without the pines, but even back then, no one wanted to handle the sticky mess.

By 1972 and 1973, when the hedge was less than twenty years old, it was already beginning to assume a natural form. Only limbs that tried to grow through the fence on the outside, or too far into the schoolyard on the inside, got pruned back. No one was trying to keep it shorn. It was quite a thicket; perfect for a new kindergartener to hide out in.

Yes, I am speaking from experience. On my way to school one morning, I decided that I wanted to take a nap; so I weaseled my way in between the first cypress tree and the outer cyclone fence in order to do so. I somehow got past the cypress and found a nice soft spot on the thick layer of pine needles under the first pine, and promptly fell asleep.

Needless to say, my kindergarten teacher was very concerned when I did not get to school on time. Eventually, I woke up and emerged from my den to find the schoolyard empty. By the time I got to school all dusty and dirty and sticky with pine and cypress pitch, my teacher was really quite panicked. I did not understand why. I just wanted to take a nap.

Well, those first two trees in the hedge were the first Monterey cypress and Monterey pine I ever met. Sadly, through the 1980s and 1990s, almost all of the trees in the hedge succumbed to the variety of insect and disease pathogens that were so common in those two specie through that time. (New pathogens moved into the area and proliferated because these two host specie were so common at the time.) I can remember seeing that first cypress in the hedge dying like so many of the others in the hedge had died already.

While the trees were dying over the years, the school and adjacent neighborhoods were annexed into the city. The school was sold and rebuild at a private school. The schoolyard got a bigger fancy fence without gates. Students could only enter through a main entrance at the front of the school. A nice hedge row of redwoods was planted on the fence line where the pines and cypress had been. Then, a saran screen was affixed to the fence to obscure the view of the schoolyard and trees from the outside.

More recently, I had to go back to the old school to inspect a tree, and provide the arborist report needed to procure a removal permit from the city that the school is now annexed to.

Getting into the school was not nearly as easy as it was when I was in kindergarten. I had to go to the office, sign in with all my credentials and contact information, and wait for both a chaperone and a property manager to take me directly to the tree while also avoiding the pale protected children that now infest the old school. There were surveillance cameras everywhere, and security guards at the gates.

It is scary to think of how scared children are taught to be now.

Anyway, as you can guess, the tree that I was expected to condemn was that first Monterey pine that I had ever met, the second tree after the cypress in the original hedge.

There was a problem. I could find no problem with the tree. I mean, there was nothing wrong with it. It was healthy, stable and exhibited no symptoms associated with structural deficiency; which was weird considering what it had experienced through most of its life. When I asked the property manager what the problem was with the tree, he told me that it did not ‘fit in’ with the nice uniform row of redwoods. In other words, it did not conform. Oh. Ummmm. Well, that is no justification for removal of such a nice healthy Monterey pine that benefits the whole neighborhood. You can imagine how pleasurable it was to tell him that.

Now, I am the sort that believes that tree preservation ordinances are too restrictive. They actually prompt some people to cut trees down before they get big enough to be protected! Besides, such ordinances interfere with the rights of those who own property. There are certainly big and prominent trees that are worth protecting. This pine was not one of those. Yet, for once in my career, I was pleased that such an unimportant tree was protected by silly overprotective ordinances.

The property manager was annoyed that I could not do as he requested. There was no report condemning the tree. The tree service company that sent me out there for the inspection got no work out of the deal. Apparently, no other arborist would condemn the tree either.

Now that you are reading this, it is 2018, another New Year more than six decades after that nonconforming Monterey pine was planted where it still lives at the Old School.

(The gardening article that is regularly scheduled for Mondays is scheduled for tomorrow. The featured species that is regularly scheduled for Tuesdays is scheduled for Wednesday.)P80101+