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Nootka Cypress
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Nootka Cypress

Nootka Cypress
Scientific classification
Division: Pinophyta
*Also Xanthocyparis
Binomial nomenclature
Cupressus nootkatensis

Nootka Cypress (Cupressus nootkatensis or Xanthocyparis nootkatensis), formerly Chamaecyparis nootkatensis, is a cypress (Cupressaceae) with a chequered taxonomic history. First described in the genus Cupressus as Cupressus nootkatensis in 1824, it was transferred to Chamaecyparis in 1841 on the basis of its foliage being in flattened sprays, as in other Chamaecyparis, but unlike most (though not all) other Cupressus species.

However, this placement does not fit with the morphology and phenology of the cones, which are far more like Cupressus, like them maturing in two years, not one. Genetic evidence, published in Amer. J. Botany 87: 1044-1057 (2000) strongly supported its return to Cupressus.

More recently, in Novon 12: 179-189 (2002), it was transferred to a new genus Xanthocyparis, together with the newly discovered Vietnamese Golden Cypress Xanthocyparis vietnamensis; this species is remarkably similar to Nootka Cypress and the treatment has many arguments in its favour, but has yet to receive widespread acceptance.

Nootka Cypress is native to the west coast of North America, from the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, south to northernmost California, typically occurring on wet sites in mountains, often close to the tree-line, but sometimes also at lower altitudes.

It is an evergreen tree to 40 m tall, commonly with pendulous branches. The foliage is in flat sprays, with dark green, 3-5 mm long scale-leaves. The cones have 4-6 scales, and resemble the cones of Mexican Cypress (Cupressus lusitanica, another Cupressus species which can show foliage in flat sprays) fairly closely, except being somewhat smaller, typically 10-14 mm diameter; each scale has a pointed triangular bract about 1.5-2 mm long, again similar to other Cupressus and unlike the crescent-shaped, non-pointed bract on the scales of Chamaecyparis cones.

It is one of the parents of the hybrid Leyland Cypress; as the other parent, Monterey Cypress, is also in genus Cupressus, the ready formation of this hybrid is a further argument for the placement of the Nootka cypress in the same genus.

Its name derives from its discovery on the lands of the Nootka people, Native Americans of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. It is also known as Yellow Cypress and Alaska Cypress, and also (very confusingly, as it is not a cedar), as Yellow Cedar or Alaska Cedar.