In the wild a small tree or large shrub, never more than about 25 ft high in its typical state, but taller in cultivation. The branchlets are more slender than in C. macrocarpa, clad with rich green foliage; as in that species they are arranged in four ranks, scale-like and flattened to the branch, but are somewhat smaller. The two species also resemble each other in having non-glandular leaves (cf. C. macnabiana, in which the leaves are pitted with sunken, resin-exuding glands). The cones are smaller than in C. macrocarpa, being 2⁄5 to 3⁄5 in. long, with six to ten scales and more or less globular in shape. Seed ripe in the second year, dark brown to almost black.
var. pygmaea Lemm. C. pygmaea (Lemm.) Sarg. – This variety is misleadingly named, being dwarf only on sterile soils; in favoured situations it develops a leading shoot and may attain a height of over 100 ft. The foliage is dull, dark green. Seeds lustrous black to dull brown.
C. goveniana is a very local species in the wild, found in the same part of Monterey Co. as the more famous C. macrocarpa, but farther inland. It was introduced from this locality by Hartweg in 1846. Var. pygmaea occurs much farther to the north, in Mendocino Co.
H. J. Elwes remarked (The Trees of Great Britain and Ireland) that C. goveniana appeared to be a short-lived tree; at that time (1910) it was represented in cultivation by specimens 40-50 ft high, some of them already going back; whether any of these remain today is doubtful – the researches of A. F. Mitchell have so far revealed none in Britain. At the present time all of the finest specimens of C. goveniana in this country are to be found at Wakehurst Place, Sussex, where there are altogether some twenty-five specimens, sixteen of which are over 50 ft high. The tallest is a narrowly columnar tree of 72 × 51⁄4 ft and there is one of similar habit almost as tall; another with a broad bushy crown is 63 × 71⁄2 ft (1964). Other tall specimens grow at Bagshot Park, Surrey, and Woburn Abbey, Beds. There is a fine specimen in the R.H.S. Garden, Wisley, about 40 ft high.
C. abramsiana C.B. Wolf – A small bushy tree of conical habit found in a few localities in the Santa Cruz Mountains, California. It is intermediate between C. sargentii and C. goveniana in its botanical characters, but nearer to the latter, which it resembles in its bright, rich green foliage. The cones, however, are larger than in that species (over 3⁄5 in. long) and the seeds dull brown and glaucous.
C. sargentii Jeps. – This species is closely related to C. goveniana. It may be distinguished by its dull grey-green leaves, stouter branchlets and somewhat larger cones (3⁄4 to 1 in. long). The seeds are lustrous brown, sometimes glaucous. It is a species of much wider range than C. goveniana, occurring here and there in the Coastal Range of California.