What is a Patagonia Cypress Tree? - Home Stratosphere

What is a Patagonia Cypress Tree?

Learn more about the Patagonia Cypress Tree and how it differs from other trees, what it looks like, how it reproduces, where it usually grows and the conditions of its growth.

A large mature Patagonia Cypress Tree featured in a nature park trail.

Fitzroya Cupressoides

The Patagonian cypress tree is part of the cypress family (cupressoides) and genus fitzroya. It is a coniferous evergreen. This means that the tree possesses cones instead of flowers, and does not shed its foliage seasonally as a deciduous tree would.

These tall trees are native to southern Chile and Argentine, specifically growing throughout the Andes mountains. They are so tall, straight, and narrow, that they are sometimes referred to as the “sequoia of South America”. They also go by the name alerce (which means larch in Spanish), and the aboriginal name for this tree is lahuan.

Patagonian cypresses are an ancient tree. There have been numerous findings of fossilized Patagonian cypress’ in Tasmania, and they are dated back 35 million years! In this lifetime, the oldest tree found on record is a baffling 3622 years old. There is only one other tree on the planet that is older, and that is a bristlecone pine tree specimen.

The largest known tree is named Alerca Milenaria, and it can be found in Alerce Costero National Park in Chile. It towers about 60 meters in height, with a trunk diameter of 4.26 meters around. Much bigger trees existed before heavy logging took them down in the 19th century.

If you’re feeling curious about some other types of cypress trees or other woody plants in general, head on over to 101 Types of Trees. We’ve covered a crazy amount of trees from all over the world, including photos, descriptions, and commonly asked questions.

Related: Nootka Cypress Tree | Arizona Cypress Tree

What do Patagonian Cypress Trees Look Like?

Root System

The Patagonian cypress tree has laterally spreading roots that don’t grow too deeply into the earth. Even though they don’t grow particularly deep, cypress trees are quite resilient against storms and windthrow.

Their roots do not need to grow too deep into the earth because Patagonian cypress trees will only grow in regions that are extremely moist. They require a minimum of 2000mm of annual precipitation in order to survive. They require essentially rainforest-like conditions.

Dimensions

The Patagonian cypress is the largest tree species that can be found in South America. They will commonly reach heights of between 40 and 60 meters, though there are some exceptional trees that have exceeded 70 meters.

These trees need large trunks in order to support such impressive heights, and so their trunk diameter will sometimes reach 5 meters around. That almost gives giant sequoia trees a run for their money!

Growth Pattern

This is a look at the tall canopy of Patagonia cypress trees.

The easiest way to identify a Patagonian cypress tree is by the shape of its crown. A fully developed crown on an old tree will be a very robust pyramidal shape that provides much shade cover. The tree will self prune its lower branches, with nearly 2/3 of the trunk having no branches, and the top third with a full crown. Branches are slightly pendulous.

Bark

Patagonian cypress trees have incredibly thick bark, which is assumed to have evolved in an effort to gain resilience against forest fire damage. Patagonian cypress bark is a reddish/brown color. It peels off in narrow strips and is deeply furrowed.

Foliage

The Patagonian cypress tree has evergreen foliage. Leaves are very small and needle-like. The leaves are decussately (naturally growing into a cross) arranged in whorls of 3. The decussate whorls are 3-6mm in length and are alternately arranged.

A Patagonian cypress leaf is a deep green color and is stiff but soft to the touch. Each leaf has a flat base and is either oblong or obovate in shape. The upper surface of the leaf is concave with 2 white stomatic bands, and the lower surface is convex with a distinct midrib.

How do Patagonian Cypress Trees Reproduce?

This is a close look at the leaves of a patagonia cypress tree.

Cones

Cypress trees are dioecious, meaning that male cones and female cones will occur on separate trees. Male cones will open up to release pollen, which will then be carried by the wind towards female cones, which will then become fertilized. This process is called wind pollination. An individual tree will be either male or female.

Seed cones (ovule producing – female characteristics) are globose in shape and 6-8mm in diameter. A cone is arranged in whorls of 3, with 9 scales in total. The central whorl of scales is the only fertile ones, with the lower and upper whorls being smaller and sterile. Each fertile scale will bear 3 seeds.

Seeds

Seeds will become mature between 6 and 8 months after the original time of pollination. A Patagonian cypress seed is only 3mm long and flat. Each seed comes equipped with a wing along each side to aid it in wind dispersal.

Sexual Maturity

The Patagonian cypress tree will usually reach sexual maturity by 20-30 years of age. However, their seed production crops are erratic at best. They tend to go through cycles of 5-7 years between seed crops.

Seeds require specific conditions in order to germinate. Seedlings will only sprout once there has been a forest fire, or they will readily germinate at a site that has experienced volcanic activity. They require either fire ash or volcanic ash in order to germinate.

Because the areas in which they grow in don’t prescribe by controlled burns, the regeneration of the fitzroya forest is depleting.

Where do Patagonian Cypress Trees Grow?

The Patagonian cypress tree only grows in southern South America, specifically Argentina’s Patagonian region and the Chilean Andes Mountains.

These trees will grow between elevations of 300-900 meters in altitude, and it is said that stands that are growing near sea level are mostly relicts. They grow in USDA hardiness zone 8.

Patagonian cypresses can be found growing on mountain slopes and along lakeshores as well. They require rainforest-like conditions, which is odd considering that their regeneration depends on fire damage.

What are the Growing Conditions of the Patagonian Cypress Tree?

This is a close look at the branch tips and leaves of a patagonia cypress tree.

Soil

Patagonian cypresses are tolerant to many types of soils, as long as they are moist. They can tolerate light sandy soil, medium loamy soil, or even heavy clay soils. Soil can have either acidic or neutral pH levels. These trees will thrive in soil that is derived from either fire ash or volcanic ash.

Sun Exposure

The Patagonian cypress tree is sun-loving, though it can tolerate partial shade. They prefer no shade at all, and would rather bask in all-day sun. That may have been obvious due to them being the tallest tree found in all of South America.

Temperature

These trees will only grow in very temperate regions. The mean summer temperature in their growing region is between 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and the mean winter temperature runs between 35 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit.

Water Level

Patagonian cypresses require rainforest-like conditions. They will only grow in regions that receive between 2000-4000mm of precipitation per year.

How are Patagonian Cypress Trees Used?

This is a close look at a patagonia cypress tree by an asphalt road.

Wood

Patagonian cypress wood has been used by the indigenous community for a recorded 13,000 years. The Huilliche people were known to have used the wood to make tools and weapons.

For centuries, Patagonian cypress wood has been highly valued got its elasticity and lightness. The wood was the main resource of exchange between Chile and Peru, but unfortunately, the tree quickly became exploited.

The tree is now Chile’s most threatened conifer, and it is referred to as the “endangered Patagonian cypress tree”, and many of their growing regions are now a protected area, due to their threatened species status.

Fitzroya wood is a red-brown color with a straight grain. It is extremely lightweight, easily workable, and durable. Before it became protected, the wood was used to make furniture, masts, shingles, and spars.

FAQs

How do you identify a Patagonian cypress tree?

The easiest way to identify a Patagonian cypress tree is by the shape of its crown. A fully developed crown on a mature tree will be a very robust pyramidal shape that provides much shade cover. The tree will self prune its lower branches, with nearly 2/3 of the trunk having no branches, and the top third with a full crown. Branches are slightly pendulous.

How long do Patagonian cypress trees live?

The average lifespan of the Patagonian cypress is 600 years, and that is without any sort of damage or logging. There are many species that are known to have lived past the age of 2000, though the oldest tree found on record is a baffling 3622 years old. There is only one other tree on the planet that is older, and that is a bristlecone pine tree specimen.

How tall do Patagonian cypress trees get?

The Patagonian cypress is the largest tree species that can be found in South America. They will commonly reach heights of between 40 and 60 meters, though there are some exceptional trees that have exceeded 70 meters.

These trees need large trunks in order to support such impressive heights, and so their trunk diameter will sometimes reach 5 meters around. That almost gives Sequoia trees a run for their money!

How fast do Patagonian cypress trees grow?

Patagonian cypress trees are very slow-growing, and will only grow about 6 inches annually.

How deep do Patagonian cypress tree roots grow?

The Patagonian cypress tree has laterally spreading roots that don’t grow too deeply into the earth. Even though they don’t grow particularly deep, cypress trees are quite resilient against storms and windthrow.

Their roots do not need to grow too deep into the earth because Patagonian cypress trees will only grow in regions that are extremely moist. They require a minimum of 2000mm of annual precipitation in order to survive. They require essentially rainforest-like conditions.

Do Patagonian cypress trees grow in the Andes mountains?

The Andes mountains are one of the only places that Patagonian cypress trees will grow.

The Patagonian cypress tree only grows in southern South America, specifically Argentina’s Patagonian region and the Chilean Andes Mountains.

These trees will grow between elevations of 300-900 meters in altitude, and it is said that stands that are growing near sea level are mostly relicts. They grow in USDA hardiness zone 8.

Where are Patagonian cypress trees native to?

The Patagonian cypress tree only grows in southern South America, specifically Argentina’s Patagonia region and the Chilean Andes Mountains.

What is older, the bristlecone pine or the Patagonian cypress tree?

The great basin bristlecone pine tree (pinus longaeva) is the only known tree alive to have an older specimen than the Patagonian cypress tree. The oldest bristlecone pine tree was named Methuselah, and it was 4892 years old. It was the oldest living thing known to man! The oldest known Patagonian cypress tree is 3622 years old.

Are Patagonian cypress trees deciduous or evergreen?

The Patagonian cypress tree is a coniferous evergreen tree. This means that it possesses needle-like leaves and cones instead of broadleaf leaves and flowers. Evergreen trees will also not lose their foliage seasonally, whereas deciduous trees do.

What hardiness zone do Patagonian cypress trees grow in?

These trees will grow between elevations of 300-900 meters in altitude, and it is said that stands that are growing near sea level are mostly relicts. They grow in USDA hardiness zone 8.

Where is the tallest Patagonian cypress tree?

The largest known tree is named Alerca Milenaria, and it can be found in Alerce Costero National Park in Chile. It towers about 60 meters in height, with a trunk diameter of 4.26 meters around. Much bigger trees existed before heavy logging took them down in the 19th century.

Where is the oldest living tree of the Patagonian cypress?

The oldest known Patagonian cypress tree is 3622 years old and it can be found in Chile. That means that this tree had just started growing right around the time Stone Henge was built in Great Britain!

What is the world’s tallest living tree?

The world’s tallest living tree is named General Sherman and it is a giant sequoia that lives in the Sequoia national park in California. This tree is an extravagant 115 meters tall.

Are Patagonian cypresses an endangered species?

Due to severe over logging in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Patagonian cypress tree in now an endangered species. Coupled with the fact that Patagonian cypress seedlings can only sprout in volcanic ash or fire ash, and because there are no prescribed burns in their growing regions, their population is not able to maintain itself.

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