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Family: Cupressaceae

[= Taxodiaceae]

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Gymnospermae > Coniferophyta

About 16 genera and 115 species (cosmopolitan), of which two genera and four species are native to southern Africa. In addition, Cupressus arizonica and Juniperus virginiana have become naturalised in this region.

Genera indigenous to southern Africa

Information from Glen (2000).


About 60 species (mainly temperate and subtropical regions of the northern hemisphere). One species, Juniperus procera (African juniper), is native to southern Africa where it is found in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. In addition, Juniperus virginiana (Red cedar) has become naturalised in the Free State where it invades grassland, river banks and rocky outcrops. The leaves of this species are toxic to livestock and are a skin irritant to humans (Palgrave and Palgrave 2002). An additional 17 species of Juniperus have been cultivated in southern Africa.



Three species, two of which are endemic to southern Africa and the third has a distribution extending from southern Africa into tropical regions further north.

Widdringtonia nodiflora (Mountain Cypress)

Genera naturalised in southern Africa

* Cupressus

About 13 species (warm, north temperate regions), of which one, Cupressus arizonica, has become naturalised in the Free State and the Eastern Cape.  Including this species, 10 species have been cultivated in southern Africa.


Other genera, cultivated in southern Africa

Information from Glen (2002). Species are listed for genera with only one species cultivated in southern Africa.


Eight species cultivated.


Calocedrus decurrens (Incense-cedar)

Native to the western USA.



Six species cultivated.


Cryptomeria japonica (Japanese cedar)

Native to China and Japan. The genus was formerly placed in the Taxodiaceae.


Cunninghamia lanceolata (Chinese fir)

Native to China, Vietnam, Laos, and possibly Cambodia. . The genus was formerly placed in the Taxodiaceae.

Glyptostrobus lineatus (Chinese swamp cypress)

Native to southern China. The genus was formerly placed in the Taxodiaceae.



Two species cultivated: Libocedrus bidwillii (Pahautea, Kaikawaka) and Libocedrus plumosa (Kawaka), both of which are native to New Zealand.


Metasequoia glyptostroboides (Dawn redwood)

Native to China. The genus was formerly placed in the Taxodiaceae.


Platycladus orientalis (Chinese arborvitae)

Native to N China.


Sciadopitys verticillata (Japanese umbrella pine)

Native to Japan. The genus was formerly placed in the Taxodiaceae.


Sequoia sempervirens (Californian redwood)

Native to a narrow fog belt on the west coast of the USA, extending from Monterey County in California to southern Oregon. The species holds the record as the tallest living thing on earth with specimens reaching 115.5 m in height. The genus was formerly placed in the Taxodiaceae.

Sequoiadendron giganteum (Giant redwood, Mammoth tree)

Native to California, USA. The genus was formerly placed in the Taxodiaceae.


Taxodium distichum (Swamp cypress, Bald cypress)

A large tree native to the USA, Mexico and Guatemala. Cultivated as an ornamental tree in southern Africa. Within its native distribution, it is usually found in swampy conditions but under cultivation it is also able to thrive in well-drained soils. It is called the Bald cypress because it is deciduous, loosing its leaves in winter. The genus was formerly placed in the Taxodiaceae.

Tetraclinis articulata (Alerce)

Native to Spain, Malta and North Africa.



Two species cultivated: Thuja occidentalis (American arborvitae) from the E USA and Thuja plicata (Giant arborvitae) from the W USA.  


Thujopsis dolabrata (False arborvitae)

Native to Japan.



  • Glen, H.F. 2000. Cupressaceae. In: Seed Plants of Southern Africa (ed. O.A. Leistner). Strelitzia 10: 29-30. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.

  • Glen, H.F. 2002. Cultivated Plants of Southern Africa. Jacana, Johannesburg.

  • Palgrave, K.C. and Palgrave, M.C. 2002. Trees of Southern Africa. 3rd Edition. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.


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