Cupressus lusitanica (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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distribution in Africa (planted)
1, tree habit; 2, branchlet with male cones; 3, branchlet with female cone; 4, seeds. Redrawn and adapted by Achmad Satiri Nurhaman
base of bole, 28-year-old plantation, Kenya
cones (University of Hawaii)
wood harvesting, Uganda
damage by Cinara cupressi, Kenya
damage by Cinara cupressi, Kenya (EcoPort)
damage by Cinara cupressi, Kenya (EcoPort)

Cupressus lusitanica Mill.

Protologue: Gard. dict. ed. 8: Cupressus n. 3 (1768).
Family: Cupressaceae
Chromosome number: 2n = 22


  • Cupressus benthamii Endl. (1847),
  • Cupressus lindleyi Klotzsch ex Endl. (1847).

Vernacular names

  • Mexican cypress, East African cypress, Portuguese cedar, cedar of Goa (En).
  • Cyprès du Portugal, cèdre de Goa, cyprès de Goa, cyprès du Mexique (Fr).
  • Cipreste do Buçaco, falso cedro do Buçaco, cedro do Buçaco (Po).
  • Msanduku (Sw).

Origin and geographic distribution

Cupressus lusitanica is naturally distributed in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. In the 20th century it was introduced as a plantation forest tree into tropical Africa, where it is widely planted at higher elevations. It is also planted in South Africa.


The wood is used for construction, furniture, poles and posts. It is also suitable for light flooring, ship and boat building, vehicle bodies, agricultural implements, boxes and crates, interior trim, joinery, toys and novelties, turnery, draining boards, veneer and plywood, hardboard and particle board. The wood is used for paper making, e.g. in Ethiopia and Kenya. It is a good fuelwood.

Essential oil from the leaves, twigs and branches of the tree is used as an adjuvant and perfume in soaps, room sprays, deodorants and other products. Cupressus lusitanica is planted as an ornamental (e.g. as a Christmas tree), as a shade tree, and in windbreaks and live fences. It is used for making toothbrushes and brooms.

The bark is used as an astringent. The leaves are used to treat catarrh and headache, leaf sap to treat skin diseases. Essential oil from the leaves is used in the treatment of rheumatism, whooping cough and as a styptic. The vapour from a leaf decoction is inhaled several times a day for treatment of flu. Some ethnic groups in Mexico use the leaves against cancer. In Cameroon the leaf juice is used to cure skin diseases and the leaves are used to protect stored grain from insects.

Production and international trade

Forest plantations of Cupressus lusitanica cover an estimated 70,000–80,000 ha in Kenya. In Ethiopia the area was estimated at 10,000–15,000 ha at the end of the 1980s. Essential oil is exported from Madagascar.


The heartwood is yellowish, pale brown or pinkish, sometimes streaked or variegated; the sapwood is paler and 3–7.5 cm wide. The wood becomes paler on exposure. The grain is straight to irregular, texture fine and even. Resin cells may be present, appearing as occasional brown streaks. Freshly sawn wood has a faint cedar-like scent.

The physical and mechanical properties of the wood are very variable. The density is 380–545(–650) kg/m³ at 12% moisture content. Shrinkage rates are 1.7% radial and 3.1% tangential from green to 12% moisture content; from Madagascar 4.4% radial and 6.8% tangential from green to oven dry has been reported. The wood seasons rapidly with minimal splitting or surface checking; in kiln drying, high temperatures may result in distortion. At 12% moisture content, the modulus of rupture is 69–85(–165) N/mm², modulus of elasticity 7030–9590(–10,300) N/mm², compression parallel to grain 23–41(–56) N/mm², shear 11.4 N/mm², cleavage 25 N/mm radial and 46 N/mm tangential, and Janka side hardness 2050–2720 N.

The wood saws well and is easy to work with hand and machine tools. It finishes well and has good nail-holding properties, but boring a clean hole is difficult. It stains and polishes well. The wood is suitable for moulding and peeling.

Reports on the durability of the heartwood are contradictory. The sapwood is not susceptible to Lyctus borers, but susceptible to attacks by other insects and fungi. Both the heartwood and the sapwood are resistant to impregnation with preservatives, but incising improves retention.

The wood fibres are (1.1–)1.9–2.5(–2.9) mm long and (13–)27–32(–39) μm wide, with a cell wall thickness of 3–3.5 μm. The fibres contain 62–63% holocellulose (with 39–40% α-cellulose) and 31–33% lignin. The wood can be pulped satisfactorily using the sulphate process, with pulping yields of 38–51%. Unbleached pulp has acceptable tensile and bursting strengths, but the tearing strength is too low for use in packaging paper; bleached pulp is suitable for printing and writing papers.

Distillation of leaves, twigs, fruits or flowers yields 0.05–3% essential oil; reported compositions vary widely. Essential oil from the leaves and hexane leaf extracts has shown antifungal activity against skin pathogens, which supports the use against skin diseases in Cameroon. A crude ethanol extract of the leaves has shown cytoxicity in a range of cancer cell lines, with cell death being due to apoptosis.


  • Evergreen, monoecious, medium-sized to fairly large tree up to 35 m tall; bole straight, cylindrical, up to 200 cm in diameter, often buttressed; outer bark of young trees smooth, orange-brown to red-brown, becoming vertically grooved, grey and exfoliating in large strips with age; crown pyramidal in young trees, flat-topped in older ones; branches spreading or ascending, ends often drooping.
  • Leaves decussately opposite, simple, scale-like, on ultimate branchlets rhombic and 1–2.5 mm long, on leading branchlets up to 10 mm long, apex incurved and acute, margin minutely toothed, green or glaucous-green.
  • Male cone terminal, solitary, oblong, more or less quadrangular, 3–5 mm × 2–2.5 mm, yellowish green when young, becoming pale brown when mature; scales 10–16(–18), decussately opposite, peltate, slightly keeled, each bearing 3–4 pollen sacs.
  • Female cone terminal, solitary or grouped, mature one globose-angular, 10–18(–20) mm in diameter, green or purplish-glaucous maturing to brown; scales 6–8(–10), decussately opposite, peltate, bossed, rough, pale brown to reddish brown, each 8–12-seeded.
  • Seeds somewhat angular and slightly flattened, 3–4.5 mm × 3–4 mm, brown or yellowish brown, usually with 2 wings 1–1.5 mm wide.

Other botanical information

Cupressus comprises about 15 species, distributed in North and Central America, the Mediterranean region, the Middle East, the Himalayas and China.

Cupressus macrocarpa

Cupressus macrocarpa Hartw. ex Gordon (Monterey cypress) from California (United States), a tree up to 25 m tall with a bole diameter up to 170 cm, has also been introduced into tropical Africa, e.g. in Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Madagascar. In Kenya it was formerly common, but it has become rare. In Madagascar it was successfully planted as an ornamental and for windbreaks; here the wood is rarely used except as firewood.

Cupressus sempervirens

Cupressus sempervirens L. (Mediterranean cypress) from the Mediterranean region, a tree up to 40 m tall with a bole diameter up to 200 cm, has been planted as a timber tree in Tanzania. The wood is valued for its durability. It is unclear, however, to what extent it is distributed and used in tropical Africa nowadays. In Cameroon decoctions of the branches and leaves are reported to be used to treat peptic ulcers, haemorrhoids and menstruation problems.

Cupressus torulosa

Cupressus torulosa D.Don (Himalayan cypress or Bhutan cypress) from the Himalayas and China, a tree up to 40 m tall with a bole diameter up to 150 cm, has been introduced into various tropical African countries, including Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Zimbabwe. The wood is considered suitable for cabinet work, furniture, art articles, construction, fence posts, poles and railway carriage making, but its actual distribution and use in tropical Africa is unclear. In the timber trade no distinction is made between the different Cupressus spp.


Wood-anatomical description (IAWA softwood codes):

  • Growth rings: 40: growth ring boundaries distinct; (41: growth ring boundaries indistinct or absent); 43: transition from earlywood to latewood gradual.
  • Tracheids: 44: tracheid pitting in radial walls (predominantly) uniseriate (earlywood only); (55: latewood tracheids thick-walled (double wall thickness larger than radial lumen diameter)); 56: torus present (pits in earlywood tracheids only).
  • Axial parenchyma: 72: axial parenchyma present; 73: axial parenchyma diffuse (evenly scattered throughout the entire growth increment); 76: transverse end walls smooth.
  • Ray composition: 80: ray tracheids absent or very rare; 81: cell walls of ray tracheids smooth; 85: end walls of ray parenchyma cells smooth (unpitted); 87: horizontal walls of ray parenchyma cells smooth (unpitted); (89: indentures present).
  • Cross-field pitting: 93: cross-field pits cupressoid; 98: 1–3 pits per cross-field (earlywood only).
  • Ray size: 103: average ray height medium (5–15 cells); 107: ray width exclusively uniseriate.
(P. Baas & I. Heinz)

Growth and development

Initial growth of Cupressus lusitanica is fast, with an annual increase in height of up to 1.5(–2) m during the early years. Flowering occurs in the driest time of the year. Female cones take 2 years to mature. Trees normally start bearing fruit when they are 6–9 years old.

In Burundi the average height of trees was 60 cm after 1 year, 125 cm after 2 years, 15 m after 15 years, and 25 m after 37 years. The bole diameter was 39 cm and 75 cm after 15 and 25 years, respectively. In the Usambara mountains in Tanzania (altitude 2200 m, average annual rainfall 900–1200 mm) 57-year-old Cupressus lusitanica, planted at a density of 155 trees/ha, had an average height of 28 m, an average diameter at breast height of 54 cm, and a standing volume of 400 m³ per ha. In various locations in Kenya 24–26-year-old plantations, with a density of 213–401 trees/ha, had a standing volume of 171–443 m³ per ha. In Madagascar good growth of Cupressus lusitanica, planted between 1200 m and 2000 m altitude with an annual rainfall of about 2000 mm, leads to a tree height of 20 m after 15 years, and an annual increment in standing volume of 16 m³/ha.


Cupressus lusitanica occurs at (500–)1000–4000 m altitude in areas with an average annual temperature of 12–30°C, an average annual rainfall of 800–1500 mm and a dry season not longer than 2–3 months, but also in very humid climates with an average annual rainfall up to 4000 mm. In general, it is not damaged by occasional frost or snow. It prefers deep, moist, well-drained, fertile, neutral to slightly acidic loamy soils. It does not tolerate waterlogged soil. Natural regeneration is good in clearings and in burnt areas. Cupressus lusitanica has become an invasive species in Malawi.

Propagation and planting

Cupressus lusitanica is normally propagated by seed, but root cuttings can also be used, and micropropagation with hypocotyl explants has been successful. Wildlings may also be planted. The 1000-seed weight is 3–6.5 g. Seed for propagation should be collected when the cones start to turn brown. After the cones have been dried in the sun until they open, the seeds can be separated by sieving and be sown in seedbeds. Normally germination takes 20–35 days. Seedlings are planted out at a spacing of 2–3 m × 2–3 m. In Kenya plantations for sawlogs are planted at a spacing of 2.5 m × 2.5 m (1600 trees/ha; later thinned to about 250 trees/ha), those for pulpwood at 2.75 m × 2.75 m (1320 trees/ha). To prevent soil erosion, Cupressus lusitanica is sometimes underplanted with other plants, but it is not suitable for intercropping with crops.


Weeding is necessary during the first years after planting. The trees are normally pruned and thinned several times. In Kenya plantations for sawlogs are recommended to be thinned 3–4 times, resulting in a final density of about 250 trees/ha. When grown as a live fence the trees are trimmed. Cupressus lusitanica needs to be protected from fire.

Diseases and pests

Cupressus lusitanica is severely attacked by the cypress aphid Cinara cupressi, causing branches to turn yellow and to dry out. Trees may die, but partial or total recovery has also been observed. In Africa Cinara cupressi was first discovered in Malawi in 1986, and since then it has also been detected in various Cupressaceae in DR Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. In the early 1990s, it was estimated that over 75,000 ha of Cupressus lusitanica in Kenya were attacked, 15,000 ha in Tanzania, 4500 ha in Uganda, and over 60,000 ha in Rwanda and Burundi together. Biological control of Cinara cupressi using natural enemies is being investigated. Differences in susceptibility between genotypes of Cupressus lusitanica and hybridization with less susceptible Cupressus spp., such as Cupressus torulosa, may offer scope for selection and breeding for resistance.


Cupressus lusitanica produces poles at 10 years after planting, and general purpose timber after 20 years. In Kenya plantations for sawlogs are harvested when they are 30 years old, whereas plantations for pulpwood are harvested when they are 15–20 years old.


In plantations in Burundi, the industrial wood volume of individual trees ranges from about 1 m³ in trees with a bole diameter of 38 cm to about 2.6 m³ in trees with a bole diameter of 57 cm. Yield tables for Kenya indicate possible timber yields of about 400 m³ per ha after 25 years and about 500 m³ per ha after 30 years, but actual yields are lower, due to factors such as suboptimal thinning and pruning practices. Logs are generally well shaped, straight and cylindrical, but wood from younger plantations contains a fair amount of low-grade knotty material.

Genetic resources

In its natural distribution area in Central America, Cupressus lusitanica is not considered to be at risk. Moreover, it has been planted over large areas outside its natural distribution area. Long-term seed storage behaviour is orthodox.


The main selection and breeding objective in Cupressus lusitanica should be resistance to the cypress aphid. Accessions from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have been included in progeny trials in Tanzania, and have been planted in seed and breeding orchards.


Cupressus lusitanica has become an important forest plantation tree in tropical Africa, but nowadays the cypress aphid is a serious threat. This pest is difficult to control and planting of Cupressus lusitanica is not recommended until a solution becomes available.

Major references

  • Bein, E., Habte, B., Jaber, A., Birnie, A. & Tengnäs, B., 1996. Useful trees and shrubs in Eritrea: identification, propagation and management for agricultural and pastoral communities. Technical Handbook No 12. Regional Soil Conservation Unit, Nairobi, Kenya. 422 pp.
  • Bolza, E. & Keating, W.G., 1972. African timbers: the properties, uses and characteristics of 700 species. Division of Building Research, CSIRO, Melbourne, Australia. 710 pp.
  • Bryce, J.M., 1967. The commercial timbers of Tanzania. Tanzania Forest Division, Utilisation Section, Moshi, Tanzania. 139 pp.
  • Chudnoff, M., 1980. Tropical timbers of the world. USDA Forest Service, Agricultural Handbook No 607, Washington D.C., United States. 826 pp.
  • Farjon, A., 2005. A monograph of Cupressaceae and Sciadopitys. Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 643 pp.
  • Maundu, P. & Tengnäs, B. (Editors), 2005. Useful trees and shrubs for Kenya. World Agroforestry Centre - East and Central Africa Regional Programme (ICRAF-ECA), Technical Handbook 35, Nairobi, Kenya. 484 pp.
  • Muchiri, M.N., 1991. Effects of deviating from recommended thinning practices on cypress plantations in Kenya. Journal of Tropical Forest Science 5(4): 450–464.
  • Obiri, J.F., 1994. Variation of cypress aphid (Cinara cupressi) (Buckton) attack on the family Cupressaceae. Commonwealth Forestry Review 73(1): 43–46.
  • Palmer, E.R., Gibbs, J.A., Ganguli, S. & Dutta, A.P., 1986. Pulping characteristics of Cupressus lusitanica and Podocarpus milanjianus grown in the Sudan. Report L73. Tropical Development and Research Institute, London, United Kingdom. 19 pp.
  • Takahashi, A., 1978. Compilation of data on the mechanical properties of foreign woods (part 3) Africa. Shimane University, Matsue, Japan, 248 pp.

Other references

  • Borota, J., 1979. Uberblick über das Wachstum der ältesten Forstplantagen Tansania. Beiträge für die Forstwirtschaft 13(3): 135–138.
  • Brenan, J.P.M. & Greenway, P.J., 1949. Check-lists of the forest trees and shrubs of the British Empire No 5: Tanganyika territory. Part 2. Imperial Forestry Institute, Oxford, United Kingdom. 653 pp.
  • Carmo, M.M. & Frazão, S., 1989. The essential oil of Cupressus lusitanicus Mill. Flavour and Fragrance Journal 4(4): 185–186.
  • Chauvet, B., 1968. Inventaire des espèces forestières introduites à Madagascar. Université de Tananarive, Madagascar. 187 pp.
  • Chifundera, K., 2001. Contribution to the inventory of medicinal plants from the Bushi area, South Kivu Province, Democratic Republic of Congo. Fitoterapia 72: 351–368.
  • Ciesla, W.M., 1991. Cypress aphid, Cinara cupressi, a new pest of conifers in eastern and southern Africa. FAO Plant Protection Bulletin 39(2–3): 82–93.
  • Franco, E.O. & Schwarz, O.J., 1985. Micropropagation of two tropical conifers: Pinus oocarpa Schiede and Cupressus lusitanica Miller. In: Henke, R.R., Hughes, K.W., Constantin, M.J. & Hollaender, A. (Editors). Tissue culture in forestry and agriculture. Proceedings of the third Tennessee symposium on plant cell and tissue culture, September 9–13, 1984, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, United States. Plenum Press, New York, United States. pp. 195–213.
  • Gilbert, G. & Bellefontaine, R., 1973. Catalogue des arbres et arbustes introduits au Burundi. Symposium forestier 1973. ISABU, Bujumbura, Burundi. 293 pp.
  • Heinz, I., 2004. Systematische Erfassung und Dokumentation der mikroanatomischen Merkmale der Nadelhölzer aus der Klasse der Pinatae. PhD thesis, Technical University Munich, Germany. 209 pp.
  • Kiwuso, P. & Maiteki, G.A., 2003. Biological control of the cypress aphid in Mafuga, Kabale district. Uganda Journal of Agricultural Sciences 8: 263–268.
  • Kuiate, J.R., Bessière, J.M., Amvam Zollo, P.H. & Kuate, S.P., 2006. Chemical composition and antidermatophytic properties of volatile fractions of hexanic extract from leaves of Cupressus lusitanica Mill. from Cameroon. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 103(2): 160–165.
  • Kuiate, J.R., Bessière, J.M., Vilarem, G. & Amvam Zollo, P.H., 2006. Chemical composition and antidermatophytic properties of the essential oils from leaves, flowers and fruits of Cupressus lusitanica Mill. from Cameroon. Flavour and Fragrance Journal 21: 693–697.
  • Lopéz, L., Villavicencio, M.A., Albores, A., Martínez, M., de la Garza, J., Meléndez-Zajgla, J. & Maldonado, V., 2002. Cupressus lusitanica (Cupressaceae) leaf extract induces apoptosis in cancer cells. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 80(2–3): 115–120.
  • Madoffe, S.S. & Chamshama, S.A.O., 1989. Tree improvement activities in Tanzania. Commonwealth Forestry Review 68(2): 101–107.
  • Moorthy, V.L., Guha, S.R.D., Sharma, Y.K. & Mathur, G.M., 1977. Evaluation of softwoods viz. Cupressus lusitanica, Pinus radiata and Pinus patula for paper making. Indian Forester 103(5): 336–348.
  • Ngugi, M.R., Mason, E.G. & Whyte, A.G.D., 2000. New growth models for Cupressus lusitanica and Pinus patula in Kenya. Journal of Tropical Forest Science 12(3): 524–541.
  • Noumi, E. & Dibakto, T.W., 2000. Medicinal plants used for peptic ulcer in the Bangangte region, western Cameroon. Fitoterapia 71: 406–412.
  • Obiri, J.A.F., Giathi, G. & Massawe, A., 1994. The effect of cypress aphid on Cupressus lusitanica orchards in Kenya and Tanzania. East African Agricultural and Forestry Journal 59(3): 227–234.
  • Orondo, S.B.O. & Day, R.K., 1994. Cypress aphid (Cinara cupressi) damage to a cypress (Cupressus lusitanica) stand in Kenya. International Journal of Pest Management 40(2): 141 144.
  • Pukkala, T. & Pohjonen, V., 1993. Yield of Cupressus lusitanica in Ethiopia. East African Agricultural and Forestry Journal 59(1): 57–73.
  • Wimbush, S.H., 1957. Catalogue of Kenya timbers. 2nd reprint. Government Printer, Nairobi, Kenya. 74 pp.

Sources of illustration

  • Farjon, A., 2005. A monograph of Cupressaceae and Sciadopitys. Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 643 pp.


  • M. Brink, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Brink, M., 2007. Cupressus lusitanica Mill. In: Louppe, D., Oteng-Amoako, A.A. & Brink, M. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 17 May 2022.