Cypress is the name applied to many plants in the cypress family Cupressaceae, which is a
conifer of northern temperate regions. Most cypress species are trees, while a few are shrubs.
Most plants bearing the common name cypress are in the genera Cupressus and Chamaecyparis,
but several other genera in the family also carry the name.
The Cupressaceae or cypress family is a conifer family with worldwide distribution. The family
includes 27 to 30 genera (17 monotypic) with about 130-140 species. They are monoecious,
subdioecious or (rarely) dioecious trees and shrubs from 1-116 m (3-379 ft) tall. The bark of
mature trees is commonly orange- to red- brown and of stringy texture, often flaking or peeling
in vertical strips, but smooth, scaly or hard and square-cracked in some species.
The leaves are arranged either spirally, in decussate pairs (opposite
pairs, each pair at 90° to the previous pair) or in decussate whorls
of 3 or 4, depending on the genus. On young plants, the leaves are
needle-like, becoming small and scale-like on mature plants of many
(but not all) genera; some genera and species retain needle-like
leaves throughout their life. Old leaves are mostly not shed
individually, but in small sprays of foliage (cladoptosis); exceptions
are the leaves on shoots which develop into branches, which
eventually fall off individually when the bark starts to flake. Most
are evergreen with the leaves persisting 2–10 years, but three genera
(Glyptostrobus, Metasequoia, Taxodium) are deciduous or include
Cupressaceae is the most widely distributed conifer family, with a near-global range in all
continents except for Antarctica, stretching from 71°N in arctic Norway (Juniperus communis)
south to 55°S in southernmost Chile (Pilgerodendron uviferum), while Juniperus indica reaches
5200 m altitude in Tibet, the highest altitude reported for any woody plant. Most habitats on land
are occupied, with the exceptions of polar tundra and tropical lowland rainforest (though several
species are important components of temperate rainforests and tropical highland cloud forests);
they are also rare in deserts, with only a few species able to tolerate severe drought, notably
Cupressus dupreziana in the central Sahara. Despite the wide overall distribution, many genera and
species show very restricted relictual distributions, and many are endangered species.