Montezuma CypressTaxodium mucronatum
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The Montezuma Cypress is a Mexican relative of the bald cypress, with a strong upright trunk, rounded crown and weeping branches. It is fast growing, reaching 70 feet in 30 years, with a spread of around 30 feet. The striking tan bark peels in strips, and the base of the tree matures quickly into a broad, ancient-looking base. The slender needles are in two rows along the branches, and they are evergreen or semi-evergreen. This is a rare and beautiful specimen tree for a lawn, or beside a pond, stream or lake. It is a very long-lived tree.
The Montezuma Cypress is hardy from zone 8 into all warmer zones, and it is reported to also grow in zone 7, in a sheltered location. It grows in all soils, fastest in moist to wet conditions, but in ordinary soil too, and even surviving on dry soil. It has no pests or diseases and needs no pruning or special care to develop its majestic form quickly. It can also be trimmed into a unique hedge, and it is a popular subject for bonsai growing.
With so many trees in the world, it is no wonder some are overlooked for garden planting, and when you first see the beautiful Montezuma Cypress you ask yourself, “Where has this gorgeous tree been hiding?” With its tall rounded crown and weeping branches, and the deep-green needles fluttering in the breeze, it’s a winner. Combine that with a rugged trunk that looks much older than its actual age, and you have a tree worthy of a place in every garden. A tree that was sacred to the Aztecs, and grown in their palace gardens, if you want to grow rare, unusual and beautiful trees, then you have found the perfect choice. Rare and beautiful it may be, but it is also easy to grow, fast-growing, and it deserves a prominent place in every garden in suitable climates.
The Montezuma Cypress is an upright tree with a strong central trunk and a broad crown of horizontal branches. It grows around 2 feet a year in good conditions, and within 30 years it will be between 50 and 80 feet tall, with a crown at least 25 feet across. Be sure to allow plenty of overhead space, and width, when planting, so avoid placing it below overhead wires, or less than 15 feet from a building or boundary. The pale, tan-brown bark is striking, and it peels from mature trunks in long, fibrous strips. A feature of this tree is how quickly the base and lower trunk thicken and mature. Most trees have trunks that remain skinny for years, but the Montezuma Cypress becomes broad and mature-looking within a short time, and older trees develop massive trunks with broad bases. Long green branchlets fall vertically from the main horizontal branches, creating a beautiful weeping form. The flat green needles are ¾ of an inch long, and they lie in two parallel rows on either side of the branchlets. Older trees produce round cones almost an inch across. In the warmest zones this tree is evergreen, but in cooler areas it may lose some or most of the leaves during winter, or they may stay on the tree, but turn yellow.
Use the Montezuma Cypress as a unique and beautiful specimen tree on a lawn. Plant it among other trees, or at the back of a large shrub bed. Plant it beside a pond along a stream, or right in shallow water at the edge of a lake. Some people have even turned it into a unique hedge, and it’s a favorite subject of bonsai growers because the trunk quickly becomes aged and rugged, quickly making an ‘ancient’ tree. A noble tree like this deserves a special place in your garden – after all, this is a tree that lives for hundreds if not thousands of years.
The Montezuma Cypress is hardy in zones 8 to 11, and it is also thought to be hardy in zone 7. There are simply not enough trees in gardens out there to be sure, so why not, if you live in zone 7, try it in a sheltered spot? It’s a worthwhile experiment that will give you a beautiful tree and add to the knowledge of gardeners. It should be planted in full sun, and it grows in most soils, including wet soils and standing water. The growth rate will he highest in wetter conditions, and a well-watered lawn is a good location, but it will grow on ordinary, and even on drier soils too. Unlike its close relative, the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), this tree only rarely develops ‘knees’. These are the upright woody growths that come from the roots around the tree, to bring air into them when growing in wet soil. The Montezuma Cypress only grows these when in permanent standing water, and not always even there. This tree has no pests or diseases and needs no pruning or special treatment, and it is very easy to grow – a real bonus compared to most exotic and rare trees, which are often tricky to grow.
The Montezuma Cypress is native to Mexico, and it also known as the Mexican cypress, sabino, or ahuehuete, a name that means, ‘old man of the water’. The ancient Aztecs held it sacred, and they planted it along the canals and avenues of their cities, as well as using them to create their famous ‘floating gardens’ (chinampas). There is a tree called the Tule in the Mexican town of Santa Maria del Tule, which is almost 2,000 years old, and measures 165 feet around at the base. It is thought to be the bulkiest living thing on the planet. The Montezuma Cypress is a close relative of the bald cypress, and it is usually known as Taxodium mucronatum. Most modern botanists use the more-correct name of Taxodium huegelii, but gardeners have not yet made that change. This tree is the national tree of Mexico, and it is often planted in parks and gardens there, but only rarely seen in the warm parts of the United States – so be the ‘first one on your block’ and plant this gorgeous tree in your garden. We only have a limited supply, so order now – rare beauties like this don’t stay around for long, and we never know when – or if – we will have them again.