Story: Trees in the rural landscape

Page 3. Macrocarpa and other conifers

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Large spreading macrocarpas (Cupressus macrocarpa) are a common sight in rural New Zealand, usually growing alongside homesteads and farm buildings. Macrocarpa (also known as Monterey cypress) was brought to New Zealand in the 1860s, and planted for shelter.

It grew well throughout lowland New Zealand on fertile and moderately fertile sites. However, since the 1970s new plantings have been attacked by cypress canker – a devastating fungal disease.

Macrocarpa shelter

Macrocarpa is more tolerant of wind and salt spray than radiata pine, and was the preferred shelter tree for coastal farms.

It has spreading branches with dense foliage, so stock can shelter and remain dry under a macrocarpa hedge. For this reason one or more macrocarpa were often planted near shearing sheds.

Macrocarpa is toxic to pregnant cows and they can abort after browsing its foliage.

Macrocarpa timber

Macrocarpa is highly sought after as a decorative and building timber. It is durable outdoors and can be used without any preservative treatment.

Most macrocarpa timber in New Zealand has come from old, untended woodlots and shelterbelts. Some plantations were established by farm foresters during the 1970s and 1980s, but, as trees succumbed to canker, the species has fallen out of favour with growers.

Other cypress species

There are about 18 species of cypress in New Zealand. Mexican or lusitanica cypress (Cupressus lusitanica) is fairly resistant to cypress canker and is now the preferred cypress for plantation forestry. Hybrid cypresses show some resistance too, and Leyland cypress (X Cupressocyparis leylandii) – a hybrid between macrocarpa and Chamaecyparis nookatensis is also grown in farm forests.

Douglas fir

Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is the second-most common plantation tree in New Zealand. Its timber is highly regarded for building and construction work. A very hardy tree, it is the preferred species for farm forestry in the foothills of the Southern Alps and upland Southland – regions that are too cold for radiata pine.

Douglas firs are massive trees, growing to a height of 50 metres in sheltered fertile sites, although they can take 80–100 years to reach this height. Douglas fir forestry involves a long-term commitment as the tree is grown on a 50–60 year rotation, twice that of radiata pine.

Japanese cedar

Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) is a fast-growing, slender conifer, which is sometimes used for shelter, especially in northern New Zealand.

How to cite this page:

Maggy Wassilieff, 'Trees in the rural landscape - Macrocarpa and other conifers', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 5 February 2023)

Story by Maggy Wassilieff, published 24 Nov 2008