Cypresses with Two Female Figures, 1889, Vincent van Gogh
The world’s most famous Cypress trees hug the Pacific coastline with regal appeal; marvelous majesty. The Lone Cypress is an iconic natural treasure found along the 17-mile Drive in Pebble Beach, California. The Monterrey Cypress was planted along the California coast region because of its ability to adapt to wind and ocean conditions. But with all this being said, there is probably no better display of the beauty of the cypress tree than the one located in Point Reyes Station, California. It is on a lane, leading to the historic RCA Coast Station KHP, that rows of Monterey Cypress trees line each side of the road. The row of trees create a tunnel of trees with the end result being a beautiful picture for the eye to see. It is at this vantage point one is able to admire the pure strength, and beauty, that this tree emanates.
“Wind Beaten Tree”, 1883, Vincent van Gogh
There are nearly two-dozen types of Cypress trees in the world, though the heartiest versions grow in North America. And with these many types of cypress trees worldwide, the shape of this tree takes on many different dimensions and sizes. For example, the Monterey Cypress can grow up to 70 feet tall and features a wide, flat canopy which resembles an open umbrella. Meanwhile, the Arizona Cypress resembles a traditional Christmas tree and can reach heights of about 60 feet. The fast-growing cypress, the Leland Cypress specimen, can reach heights to 50 feet. The flat-branched evergreen features soft pine needles and tolerates many soil conditions. Among the smallest of the species is the Gowen Cypress which rarely grows taller than 25 feet and looks more like a shrub than a full-grown tree. Lastly, the Italian Cypress is a massive evergreen that is tall and narrow in appearance, much like a column. It is a hardy tree that does best in warm climates.
Since the Cypress includes both evergreen and deciduous trees, the branches differ from tree to tree. While the Leyland Cypress sports flat branches, the Pond Cypress has spiny offshoots. And while they may not share all of the same physical attributes, Cypress trees have one thing in common: they are havens for wildlife. Birds are especially fond of Cypress trees’ sturdy branches and needles that make for excellent nest-building material.
Cypress trees grow mainly along North America’s southern coastlines where they have easy access to swampy, wet soil and full sunlight. However, some types prosper along the eastern portion of the United States, ranging from Delaware to Florida. Other Cypress types are thriving in warmer climates, such as Texas and Nevada. These dry states provide the tree with rich, clay-like soil and mud that contains numerous nutrients.
Today the Cypress tree produces some of the world’s most prized wood. It is lightweight and durable which makes it an ideal building material. Adding to the wood’s popularity is the fact that it doesn’t generate sap and therefore doesn’t bleed. This unique characteristic also means the tree’s wood takes well to stains, paint and sealers. What’s more, the Cypress’s attractive light to dark honey color is a quality carpenters and artists find highly appealing.
Landscape with Couple Walking and Crescent Moon, 1890, Vincent van Gogh
Finally, Cypress trees havea fascinating history. A history that dates back to the ancient Egyptians and the Greeks. Historians have documented extensively that the Egyptians used the durable trees to build mummy cases. In Greek mythology, it was believed that the Cypress grew out of the grief of a teenager who accidentally killed a deer that belonged to Apollo. It was out of this poor boy’s sorrow that the legend of the young Cyparissus is brought to life. Through his sadness and mourning, Cyparissus’ body was transformed into the tall, strong and noble looking Cypress tree. Out of his despair, he was transformed and brought back to life. The Greeks where also known to use its cypress wood to create urns to store the ashes of those who died in battle. Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that Plato’s code of laws was etched into Cypress wood because it was thought to outlast brass. Ancients thought it an honor to be buried a casket of cypress wood, and the wood has been used for the construction of coffins in many countries. Cemetery owners once felt that the fragrance would help hide the scent of death, which led to the modern Turkish practice of planting a cypress tree at either end of a grave. As far as healing goes, Cypress wood emits a fragrance that Far East Asian physicians thought to have healing powers. Physicians frequently sent patients with lung disorders and difficulty breathing to the isle of Crete, where cypress trees grow.
Biblically, the Cypress tree stands tall too. In the Christian tradition, the Cypress is a symbol of death, life and resurrection, and signifies the heavens calling. With its column-like shape that reaches toward the heavens, much like a church spire, the Cypress has deep-rooted relationship with the heavenly realm and divine light. The evergreen leaves have become a symbol of resurrection and new life. The tree itself was one of the chief trees of Lebanon (Isaiah 60:13); one of usefulness (Isaiah 41:19; Isaiah 55:13); associated with the cedar (2 Kings 19:23 Psalm 104:17 Isaiah 14:8 Zechariah 11:2); its boughs were wide and great (Ezekiel 31:8); it was evergreen (Hosea 14:8); it could supply boards and timber for doors (1 Kings 6:15, 24); beams for roofing the temple (2 Chronicles 3:5); planks for shipbuilding (Ezekiel 27:5). In 2 Samuel 6:5 we read: “David and all the house of Israel played before Yahweh with all manner of instruments made of fir-wood.” It’s safe to say that the Cypress tree has been considered a special tree for thousands of years.
The Cypress represented youthfulness, truthfulness and was also used to describe a person of upright character. It is said that in the presence of a Cypress, it would be impossible for someone who breathes in its scent to be deceitful. Mystics have believed that because the Cypress is an evergreen and that its branches are never barren, it is truly liberated and liberating.
In the end, I find it rather impossible to find a better visible symbol to represent the men of Arboretum than the Cypress tree. Like a Cypress tree I hope the scent that is our life resonates with everyone we come in contact with and that we don’t project the scent of deceitfulness to all those around us. It is also hope that we all grow into men that can withstand the cruelest of temptations, and life’s offerings of pain, all the while having the courage to encourage ourselves, as well as, encourage others. (1137)
“Green Wheat Field with Cypress”, 1889, Vincent van Gogh