The cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) is a legendary tree, not only because it can live 2,000 or more years, but because of its historical associations. For example, some reports say that a massive cypress tree in Soma, Lombardy, dates back to the birth of Jesus Christ, while others put its planting at about 40 years before.
The cypress tree is synonymous with Tuscany, although it is not native to Italy. The cypress probably came to Tuscany thousands of years ago, likely with Etruscan tribes. The Etruscans revered the cypress because they thought it had supernatural powers. Perhaps this was in part because the tree did not lose its leaves in winter like other trees. In recent times, a fatal canker has dealt a serious blow to the health and welfare of the cypress. However, a new variety, Bolgheri, appears to be resistant to the disease.
According to geological estimates, cypress trees have a history of more than 5,000 years in southwest Florida and more than 6,500 years in the far north. During the 1900s, expansion of the railroad system expedited the harvesting of cypress trees. A wide range of products was sold nationally as a result. In the first half of the 20th century, loggers felled most of the large bald cypress trees growing in the Florida swamps.
Louisiana State Tree
In 1963, Louisiana officially adopted the bald cypress as its state tree. The bald cypress grows in many parts of the state, but is especially prevalent in the swampy areas.
Big Cypress Tree State Park is a 330-acre natural preserve in west Tennessee. It was once home to the largest bald cypress tree in the United States, measuring 13 feet in diameter and 40 feet in circumference. This cypress lived to the age of 1,350 years when lightning struck it in 1976, killing the tree. The park remains a favorite with visitors for picnics, enjoying the variety of native wildflowers and trees including the bald cypress, and observing the wildlife including bluebirds, hawks, squirrels and deer.
The annual Big Cypress Fall Festival in September is a celebration of arts and crafts, birds of prey programs and musical entertainment.
The cypress likely originated in Persia (Iran), Syria or Cyprus. Its name may derive from Cyprus, although this is not a certainty, nor is there any specific historical reference to this affect. Interestingly, Cypress as a family name probably derives from the German “zypress,” meaning someone who lived close to a cypress tree or someone who lived in a house identifiable by a cypress tree.