monterey cypress

Monterey cypress in the Botanical Garden (sketch by Heath Massey)

Monterey cypress in the Botanical Garden (sketch by Heath Massey)

If there is one iconic tree in Golden Gate Park, I think it would have to be the magnificent Monterey Cypress that stands by itself on a small knoll in the great oval lawn just inside the main gate of the Botanical Garden.   This specimen has grown to an impressive height with a gorgeous, spiky, horizontal branching pattern and the dark green, clumping foliage so characteristic of the species.  The Monterey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) is native to only two small groves on the Monterey peninsula, the larger grove extending about two miles north from Pebble Beach and the other at Point Lobos to the south.  But these trees adapt beautifully to foggy, coastal, wind-exposed locations and are widely planted throughout California, especially along the coast.

"Monterey Bay," Arthur Mathews (1860-1945), n.d.

“Monterey Bay,” Arthur Mathews (1860-1945), n.d.

Their wind-sculptured form has delighted artists since the nineteenth century.  Arthur Mathews springs immediately to mind, but many others have also painted these amazing trees: http://www.tfaoi.com/aa/6aa/6aa191.htm

The lower branches die as the trees mature and older cypresses naturally develop a distinctive, spreading, vase-shaped crown.  In parks and other public spaces the lower limbs are often removed for public safety, which leads to exaggerated, tall, top-heavy silhouettes that are also very beautiful.  In any case, these trees are so expressive, it’s no wonder poets also find them fascinating.  Here’s an example:

MONTEREY CYPRESS
By: John Malta

I, a cypress, in my seed
Knew the ocean was my need.
In the close and secret life
Of my core I learned that strife
Of wind and surge on thudding sand
Was for me: I must withstand
Anger from the sea that came
Farther than the western flame;
I could speak the west wind’s own
Language as it blew me down.

Windless days I grew to sea,
But wind made me grow back on me;
Where my growing changed I spread
Newer elbows round my head;
I am old and where I branch
The thews are thickened to be staunch.

Now behold I am a page,
Writ between repose and rage.
Carven to the smallest trace
The sea is in my tortured grace.
Naked bear I lettered limbs
Annotated by her hymns.

Published October 30th 1930, The Carmelite Vol. III Number 38

http://www.pointlobos.org/arts/poetry/monterey-cypress-john-malta-1930

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About fromthethicket

I'm a landscape historian and professor emeritus of landscape architecture, UC Davis. I live in San Francisco.
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One Response to monterey cypress

  1. Stephen Kane says:

    There are so many beautiful big old trees in the park … and so many starting to come down … but I would have to agree that the location of this one makes it stand out. The Monterey cypresses are amazing for the varieties of their size and shape, depending on how battered by wind, etc. I used to love the dense stand out by Lands End. Some are still there, of course, but were thinned out as the area was made more “visitor friendly” … Love your sketches!

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