The Leyland cypress is not a tree that occurs naturally in the wild. The species of cypress takes its name from C.J. Leyland, who discovered a six seedlings of the tree on an estate in Wales in 1888. The product of a rare crossbreeding between species, the Leyland cypress became a prominent ornamental. It is now a desirable Christmas tree in parts of the southern United States and is used as a privacy screen, windbreak tree and ornamental in other parts of the country.
The Leyland cypress can grow to great heights, with some capable of approaching 140 feet tall. The average specimen is usually in the 60-foot to 90-foot high range. As tall as the tree is, it is not a wide species in most cases, with the majority having a width of only 12 to 15 feet. This gives the mature Leyland cypress a columnar appearance.
While the color of Leyland cypresses is not uniform from one to the other, most are a dark tint of green or a shade of gray. The foliage grows in flattened planes, while the new shoots on which the foliage occurs take on a brown color. Leyland cypresses have little if any scent to them, unlike most kinds of evergreen conifers. The bark is delicate and thin, with a texture almost like that of skin.
Various cultivars of this sterile hybrid exist, with each having a different look to it. One is the Hillspire, with brilliant greenish foliage. Blue-green foliage with an open form of loose branches is the highlight of the 'Naylor's Blue' type of Leyland cypress. 'Golconda' and the 'Gold Pride' cultivars have yellow-gold needles and a dense pyramidal look. The 'Castelwellan' hybrid has attractive lacy foliage, with the winter color on the outer portions of the branches being gold, as opposed to the inside of the branches, which remain green.
The cultivar known as 'Leighton Green' is the Leyland cypress that makes the best Christmas tree. A dark shade of forest green, according to the National Christmas Tree Association website, the 'Leighton Green' is stout compared to its relatives. This, combined with a much more bristly appearance, gives the Leighton Green its appeal as a Christmas tree.
The Monterey cypress from which the Leyland cypress came from routinely obtains heights in the 60 to 80 foot range. This cypress tree has a rough, fibrous bark that is gray. The Alaska cedar, the other tree involved in the formation of Leyland cypress, can top 100 feet tall. This is a thin tree with scale-like leaves.