Cypress - Lusitanica, Cupressus lusitanica
Lusitanica is a species of cypress, native to Central America and widely grown in temperate and subtropical regions around the world for timber. Fast growing, tolerant of drought and frost, it does best in well drained soils at altitudes of up to 600 metres. A number of blocks have been planted by farm foresters. It will grow to for over 300 years reaching 40 metres high and 2 metres in diameter.
AltitudeModerate altitude; Low altitude;
RainfallHigh rainfall; Moderately high rainfall; Moderately low rainfall;
Soil depthDeep; Moderate depth; Shallow;
Soil drainageFree draining;
TemperatureWarm; Moderate; Cold;
Lusitanica can be grown in sunny positions and cooler southern slopes, provided soils are well drained and rainfall is regular. It is reasonably shade tolerant but grows fastest in open sites with full sun.
Prepare grass sites by spot spraying a one metre circle for each planting site. Use glyphosate herbicide with spray dye a few days before planting as this will not leave chemical residue in the soil. Prepare spots using straight lines and accurate spacings between spots so that trees can be easily found later. Cut down woody weeds and flatten these on the ground so they decay and don't support weed growth.
Lusitanica seedlings are available from many commercial nurseries, either bare-rooted or containerised. Containerised stock can be more expensive. Improved cultivars grown by cuttings are also being developed. Price per tree should range from $0.50 - $1.50 for 1 year-old seedling forestry stock (2020 prices).
Take great care in the handling, transport and storage of seedlings, especially bare-rooted stock which must be kept cool and moist and planted as soon as possible after wrenching. Containerised (plug) stock should also be planted as soon as possible after receiving the plants. Make sure the root plugs are moist by soaking in a water trough.
Plant trees with a slow release fertilizer tablet underneath or put a trowel of high nitrogen fertiliser such as DAP or urea in a spade slit above the seedling.
Do not "slit and stuff" bare-rooted plants. Plant as per these instructions ».
For containerised stock, dig a hole twice the size of the plant container, leaving some soft soil at the bottom. Tease out (straighten and trim) any pot-bound roots before firming the soil around them, ensuring there are no air cavities.
Plant bare-rooted stock in winter, or early spring in colder South Island localities. Containerised stock can be planted from autumn to spring.
Lusitanica is not tolerant of extreme winds and requires reasonable shelter. It is prone to toppling on some sites if root growth is too slow in relation to top growth. This is most likely to occur in the first 3 years after planting. It appears to be worst on fertile farm sites and soils with slow drainage such as heavy clays, where the effects of wind and rain combine to cause windthrow.
A short video is available on planting of cypresses.
When growing lusitanica seedlings for timber use a relatively high stocking rate to ensure a wide choice of final crop trees and to control branch size. Initial stocking should be 1,600 stems per hectare (2.5 m x 2.5 m). Cutting-grown trees with narrow conical form can be planted at half that rate.
- Prevent weeds from competing with the Lusitanica seedlings for at least two years after planting.
- Protect seedlings from browsing by stock and wild animals.
Lusitanica is vigorous as young seedlings and soon overtops competing weed species. Release spray after planting once weeds begin to regrow. Avoid further release spraying if possible and manually release trees that require it. Spray releasing increases growth rate which should be avoided, because early growth results in toppling.
Terbuthylazine is used at radiata pine rates and haloxyfop is useful on sites dominated by grasses and especially tropical grasses such as kikuyu, paspalum and cocksfoot.
Stock should be fenced out permanently. Cattle, goats and deer will strip the bark off trees and kill them. As cypresses can cause abortion in pregnant cattle, keep trees well back from fence lines if cattle may graze adjacent land.
Young lusitanica seedlings are palatable to hares and rabbits. They will slice off trees near ground level at a 45 degree angle, killing them.
Possums can ringbark the tops of mature trees. They should be controlled with poison, trapping or shooting.
Pests and diseases
Cypresses have few health issues. A small percentage of seedling lusitanica trees will be susceptible to canker, a fungal disease that can cause branches and leaders to die. This can be overcome by planting at a high stocking and thinning any trees that get canker. Cooler conditions limit the development of cypress canker.
Many blocks of lusitanica have been planted by farm foresters for timber, which is attractive and durable. To produce good quality logs, silvicultural management should aim to minimise the incidence of bark-encased knots. For clearwood production lusitanica is normally grown on rotations of 35-40 years, although useful small diameter sawlogs may be harvested sooner.
Suitability for steep slopes: Lusitanica provides effective erosion control on erodible hill country but requires some shelter and is not suitable for highly exposed sites. Although it does not coppice, the roots are slow to decay upon clearfell harvesting, reducing the risk for erosion to occur before the next crop is established. Lusitanica will carry a higher basal area per hectare than radiata pine and because it is reasonably shade tolerant, it is suitable for selective harvesting / continuous cover forestry.
Lusitanica tends to be heavily branched. For veneer logs or long clear lengths of lumber the trees will require regular pruning. The technique is shown in these short videos:
Trees grown for high-quality timber should be pruned annually from year four. Prune for a diameter over stubs (DOS) of no more than 15cm, remove 50-60% of the green crown at most and try not to damage the bark, which is thin. Pruned height should be between 4.5m and 6.5m.
To encourage the best timber trees the poorly-formed ones should be thinned once the crowns begin to touch, and before the lower branches start to die and create dead knots that downgrade the timber. Thin at least twice, but to minimise the risk of windthrow thin little and often. Thinning should aim for a final crop of evenly spaced trees of between 200 and 400 stems/ha depending on the target log diameter and rotation length. Thinning is explained in this short video Thinning cypresses ».
Production thinning – i.e. selling the thinned stems as small sawlogs (e.g. 15–20 cm in diameter) – may be an option because young lusitanica as young as 15 years of age generally mill well. However logs from thinnings do not return much value to the grower and these have little heartwood.
When to harvest
Given timely pruning and thinning, lusitanica will produce trees with a mean diameter at breast height of 60 cm on rotations of 35 - 40 years, although unpruned sawlogs may be harvested sooner. Because it is a shade tolerant species lusitanica is suitable for continuous cover forestry where the trees are harvested when they reach a target size, rather than a target age (i.e. “target diameter harvesting”).
Lusitanica is a medium density, durable softwood. The timber is moderately stiff and strong but fairly soft. It has a fine, even texture; a decorative, subtle grain, good colour, figure and lustre; good machining properties and finish, and excellent dimensional stability. It is easy to air dry but kiln drying requires care. Lusitanica has been used in New Zealand for furniture, boat building, veneers, interior and exterior joinery, weatherboards, and farm utility timber. It is resistant to common borer and its offcuts make good firewood.
The heartwood is durable, but cannot be pressure treated with water-based preservatives such as CCA. Heartwood does not require treatment for structural applications and the sapwood can be boron treated to Hazard Class H1.2. Untreated heartwood can be used for exterior cladding and weatherboards, along with interior framing and finishing. In general cypress is suitable for exterior exposed, but not in-ground, applications.
See the short video Milling and markets for cypress timber »
Markets and demand
Cypresses are amongst the most valuable softwoods traded on the international market. There is a strong demand for cypress timber in Asia, and this is not likely to diminish in future. To date, stumpages for good quality New Zealand cypress have usually been about twice those paid for radiata pine of the same quality, but few good logs have been available.
Cypress timber is in reasonable demand around the country and a handful of mills have developed a small Marketplace for it.
Lusitanica can grow at 80 to 150 cm a year with a diameter growth of >2 cm. At age 10 trees may be 8 m to 12 m tall with a mean diameter at breast height of 15 to 25 cm. Stands on reasonable sites will put on volume of 20 m3/ha/annum or more, and trees with a mean diameter at breast height of 60 cm may be produced within 35 to 40 years.
Using sample plot information the industry has developed an interactive growth model for cypress. This is available as the Cypress calculator.
Practical hints for measuring trees offers some advice on monitoring growth.
Carbon sequestration rate over time, and relevant Look-up Tables
If the land is registered under the Emissions Trading Scheme and the trees are planted so as to comply, i.e. at least one hectare, with tree crown cover of more than 30 percent in each hectare and an average width of tree crown cover of at least 30 metres, then they should earn carbon credits. The relevant look-up tables for determining how quickly they store carbon and earn credits, and guides to how to use the tables, may be downloaded here.
As lusitanica is an exotic softwood tables A2.2 and A2.4 apply, suggesting it stores carbon roughly 1 1/2 times faster than indigenous forest and half as fast as radiata pine.
Timber return on investment
Published economic studies of cypress forestry have shown a range of values, reporting IRRs (internal rates of return) from 4 to 8% pa excluding land costs and carbon revenues. In comparison, the same studies calculated radiata pine returns ranging from 4 to 9.9% pa. Be aware that cypress forestry is not as mature and well researched as radiata pine forestry, which means that there are more assumptions involved and less certainty around the results.