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Tree 42: Leylandii

Latin name: Cupressus x leylandii
Family: Cupressaceae
Other names: Leyland cypress
Origin: Hybrid, originating in Wales, of trees from northwestern North America and the central coast of California
Height: 20-25 metres
Lifespan: 10-25 years
Autumn leaf loss: Deciduous
Gender Type: Monoecious (Male and female flowers on same tree)

The Leyland Cypress often referred to simply as Leylandii , is a fast growing, coniferous evergreen, much used for hedges and screens. Its rapid, thick growth can cause problems with neighbours in domestic gardens where it can appear unsightly if not well maintained, its thick shade and large potential size making it problematic. Thousands of neighbours have been at loggerheads over high Leylandii hedges. Acts of Parliament have been introduced to deal with these issues.

The Leylandii is a hybrid tree from a cross between Monterey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) and Nootka Cypress ( Cupressus nootkatensis), two North American species. These two parent trees would not likely cross in the wild as their natural ranges are more than 640km apart. But in 1888 this hybrid occurred when the female flowers or cones of the Nootka Cypress were fertilized by the pollen from the nearby Monterey Cypress, growing on an estate in Powis, Wales. Over the years various hybrids have arisen in similar circumstances. As most Leyland Cypress are sterile, nearly all the trees, and hedges, result from propogation of cuttings.

Leylandii has a compact, thick regular form, as seen here in the Park. The bark is dark red or brown and has deep grooves. Can you see any little spherical cones, either on the tree or on the ground? The seeds in the cones will be sterile. The tree has shallow roots, this might be why it has not been planted much for forestry purposes. However, for many years it was the biggest selling item in every garden centre in Great Britain, making up to 10% of their total sales. But perhaps today, in a more environmentally aware climate, we could look to planting alternatives to Leylandii hedges for instance, a mixed native hedge with flowers and berries, providing shelter and privacy but also a haven for wildlife.