Characteristics of Mexican White Cedar (Cupressus lusitanica) in the Wild

Cupressus lusitanica
Mexican White Cedar or Cedar of Goa (Cupressus lusitanica) is an evergreen species native to Mexico and Central America. The tree has been introduced to Belize, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua.

The scientific name lusitanica refers to the earliest cultivation there, with plants imported from Mexico to the monastery at Buçaco, near Coimbra in Portugal around 1634. The trees were more than 130 years old when the species was described botanically by Miller in 1768.

Two varieties are treated as different species by some botanists:

  • Cupressus lusitanica var. lusitanica (syn. C. lindleyi) – Mexican spruce – Foliage in three dimensions, with small shoots in two planes. It grows in areas of low rainfall.
  • Cupressus lusitanica var. benthamii (syn. C. benthamii) – Bentham spruce – Leaves flat, with small shoots all in one plane. It grows in areas of higher rainfall.

The Mexican White Cedar has been introduced to various parts of the world and is cultivated widely, either as an ornamental tree or for timber production.

When Cupressus lusitanica was cultivated in South Asia, this tree has confused with the Cupressus species native to the region. The Mexican White Cedar sold by nurseries under Asian species names such as Cupressus torulosa has often been shown to be the species Cupressus lusitanica.


Characteristics of Mexican White Cedar Leaf

Cupressus lusitanica Leaf

The leaves grow dense, dark green to slightly greenish-yellow, scaly, 2-5 mm long, and the shoots are round (not flattened).


Characteristics of Mexican White Cedar Fruit

Cupressus lusitanica Fruit

The fruit is an oval cone, 10-20 mm long, with four to 10 scales, green at first, then turns brown as it ages. The fruit takes about 25 months to ripen.

The ripe fruit will open to release seeds, or remain closed for several years. Male cones are 3-4 mm long, and release pollen in late winter or early spring in the northern hemisphere.


Characteristics of Mexican White Cedar Tree

Cupressus lusitanica Tree

The Mexican White Cedar is a coniferous tree with a cone-shaped to the ovate crown, it can grow to 35-40 meters in height in the wild.

This tree has fast growth and is drought tolerant, but does not tolerate frostbite. The Mexican White Cedar tree has not been selected as a cultivated tree in northern Mexico, which has a severe drought climate. However, it has been planted as an ornamental tree by the sea in temperate climates and grows very well in Portugal, Argentina, Austin, Texas, and the British Isles where it can reach a height of 30 meters.

Also, the Mexican White Cedar is planted in the province of San Luis, Argentina, at an altitude of 1,500 m above sea level to create an artificial forest on originally forestless land in a climate very similar to where it came from.


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