Across the generations, the tree that names the place known as Cypress Lawn Arboretum has come to define a landscape of titanic heritage, now well into a second century of cultivation.  Several of the very oldest Monterey cypress (Hesperocyparis macrocarpa) trees on the historic grounds of our East and West campuses date back to the late 1800s and early 20th century in terms of estimated year of planting.  Extending their lifespans for as long as safely possible remains an essential intention of arboriculture practices on the property.

This legacy was made all the more inspirational with the acquisition of our sister cemetery, Olivet Gardens, in the year 2021, becoming the fourth campus of the family of Cypress Lawn properties, along with the much more recently established Hillside campus of the 1990s.  A memorial park originally founded in 1896, dozens of centurial giants of our namesake plant grace the grounds of Olivet. A major program of restorative pruning for this collection of trees has also been an important project of care and service at the Arboretum in recent seasons.

The grand challenge, and immense opportunity, of stewardship throughout the campuses of Cypress Lawn today is the fostering forward of this urban forest landscape.  As a place of history, truly an outdoor museum with trees as living artifacts, these memorial parks have withstood many eras and changing cultures of care, or lack thereof.  The most ancient cypress trees of our parks are a resilient testament of the potential for life to endure.  To overcome how many countless storms, to grow on through drought and changing climate across the years, to bear witness to thousands upon thousands of human burials in their lee, and yet still to grace the living with their stalwart presence.  These beings carry a spirit worth nurturing, on and on into future generations and the decades yet to come.  This is the growing mission of the Arboretum Heritage Project.


As known to western science, the oldest documented individual of H. macrocarpa attained an age of 284 years (according to the Willis Linn Jepson manual, The Trees of California, 1923, 2nd edition).  More typically, the average age of a stand of Monterey cypresses may be estimated between 60 and 100 years.  In practice, proactive maintenance and thoughtful arboricultural care of this species may easily extend the lives of individual trees by decades.  Regardless, though, H. macrocarpa is not a particularly long-lived tree, especially in comparison to its brethren of the Cupressaceae family, the California coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), which is known to live for thousands of years, an order of magnitude in time beyond the lifespan of “macrocarpa”.

With this in mind, in tandem with an acute awareness of the mostly post-mature collection of cypresses living throughout the Arboretum at present, the conscientious arborist is naturally drawn to the prospect of planting.  Establishing the forest of our future is perhaps – I dare say, definitely! – even more important than the monumentally significant efforts of supporting the plants of our past.

The tending of young trees, and more specifically the nursery cultivation of fresh propagules (most notably, seeds!) is almost an entirely different profession than the maintenance of 100-year old giants.  Though both are integral to the broad community of tree professionals, the climbing arborist and the nurseryman share little in their traditional scopes of service.  Gratefully, in the collaborative stewardship of intergenerational legacy at Cypress Lawn Arboretum, I humbly have the opportunity to bring these worlds of care together!


The proverbial passing of the torch from one generation of cypresses to the next begins with collection!  With the support of climbing arborists from the team of valued colleagues at Christopher Campbell Tree Design, as well as accomplished contract climber Lawrence Schultz, dozens of cones have been thoughtfully gathered from a selection of heritage cypresses on East, West, and Olivet campuses.  Each of these curated plants was ascended by an experienced climber, and cones were pruned from the far reaches of their canopies.  The following six specimens were chosen as plants worth propagating because of their immensity, their vigor, and their resilience in growth well beyond the typical life expectancy of their kin.  In short, these chosen six are parent plants of demonstrably superior genetics.

Each selected tree has been given a name, a practice that both delineates a future cultivar (‘cultivated variety’) of Monterey cypress to be made available in the statewide nursery trade, as well as fostering a meaningful relationship with the individual mother tree.  For myself, I am glad to say I know each of these trees, I value their lives greatly, and I am honored to help bring their children into this world.


The six are: Max, Noble’s Champion, Merlin’s Cloud, Cloud 9, Uncle John’s Tree #2, and Rootie Jensen.  Each of these names have a personal meaning of kinship, for example with my deceased four-legged friend Max.  Some of these names are profoundly significant in the history of tree cultivation in the Bay Area and particularly in the town of Colma, including the homages to Hamden Holmes Noble, Mattrup Jensen, and John McLaren.  Without these three fathers of our urban forest, the sons of these six wooden ones would surely not be growing.

From the climber’s collection into the green hands of the nursery folk, the seeds of the Arboretum Heritage Project are now being sown.  Young cypresses that grow on as the direct offspring of our heritage six are in collaborative cultivation today, at the greenhouses of Devil Mountain Wholesale Nursery.  In Clements, California, Chief Horticulturist and friend of the Arboretum David Teuschler and his team of propagators are growing up a batch of hundreds of young H. macrocarpa trees for our shared future forest.   At the time of writing, most of this first batch of AHP offspring have been transplanted into 15-gallon Pioneer Pot permeable containers, and plans are in development for dozens of these young trees to be planted back at Cypress Lawn Arboretum in the coming autumn season.  Now that is a celebration of life!

In fact, so many cypresses of this next generation are now in cultivation that our capacity for planting these trees at Cypress will be exceeded.  Thanks to the generous seed production of our heritage six, with dozens of cones yielding hundreds if not thousands of seeds, these new cultivars will actually be made available soon in the general catalog of plants for sale in the DMWN inventory.  So, the intergenerational journey of cypress trees at Cypress Lawn will actually grow in the future beyond our grounds, throughout the state of California wherever these seedlings come to root.  I, for one, am thrilled by this prospect, and future seed collections, of cypresses and other species too, will continue to provide plant material for our broader region, in gardens far beyond my own stewardship.

Every tree, no matter how grand, was once but a humble seed (unless, of course, that tree was propagated by a vegetative cutting!).  A single seed, as too with a powerful idea, may be nurtured in time to great heights, but only with intention and care may this vision reach its full potential.  May the Arboretum Heritage Project be such a seed, may it grow in time to be a mighty forest!  Then, and only then, might our grandchildren gather and dance in their shade.