A shrub or small bushy tree to 30 or 40 ft high; bark greyish, furrowed and fibrous. Branchlet systems forming flat sprays (though not constantly so), the ultimate divisions very slender and 1⁄8 to 1⁄4 in. long. Leaves dark grey green, about 1⁄20 in. long, scale-like, thick, convex and blunt, with a conspicuous resinpit on the back. Cones short-stalked, globose, about 3⁄4 in. across, rather glaucous at first, becoming brown or grey, scales usually six, rarely eight, those at the apex developing thickened, horn-like crests, those at the base with thin, recurved bosses. Seeds brown.
Native of California; discovered by Jeffrey in the Sierra Nevada in 1853, introduced by W. Murray the following year for Lawson’s nursery, Edinburgh. It is now very rare in this country, and although apparently one of the hardiest of the true cypresses, appears to be short-lived under cultivation. It is one of the most easily recognised of a difficult group, first, by the resin-pit at the back of the leaf (quite conspicuous under the lens); second, by the prominent hornlike development on the upper scales of the cone. The foliage has a very pleasant aromatic fragrance.
This cypress has remained rare in gardens. There is an example at Wakehurst Place, Sussex, measuring 33 × 41⁄2 ft at 11⁄2 ft (1965), and others of about the same size in Eire at Birr Castle, Co. Offaly; and at Mount Usher and Powerscourt, Co. Wicklow.
C. bakeri Jeps. – A tree to 50 ft high, closely allied to the preceding but with a reddish-brown bark which becomes grey with age but not furrowed. The branchlets are arranged all round the shoot, the ultimate divisions about 1⁄2 in. long and the leaves also somewhat longer (about 1⁄12 in.). Cones smaller (about 1⁄2 in. across). The Modoc cypress, as it is called, is confined to Shasta Co. and S.E. Siskiyou Co., where it grows at 4,000 to 6,000 ft.
subsp. matthewsii C. B. Wolf – This makes a taller tree than typical C. bakeri; the ultimate divisions of the branchlets are longer and the cones larger (to 4⁄5 in. across), with inconspicuous crests. It is found in the Siskiyou Mountains of California and Oregon and is known as the Siskiyou cypress.
C. bakeri and its subspecies have recently been introduced and promise to be more satisfactory in cultivation than C. macnabiana, coming as they do from considerably higher altitudes.