Cypress plants are conifer evergreen trees and shrubs. They belong to the genus Cupressus as well as Thuja and Chamaecyparis, about 140 species in total. A native of Asia, Europe and North America, symbolism is attached to cypress trees on all three continents. A single cypress is also the most photographed tree in the world, a trademarked corporate symbol of the Pebble Beach Company.
According to legend, the cypress tree grew from the sorrow of a youth who mistakenly killed a pet deer belonging to Apollo. As told by Ovid in his "Metamorphoses," young Cyparissus threw himself on the ground, mourning for all time. His body was transformed into a cypress tree, with Apollo proclaiming the cypress should "preside at every funeral rite." The tree symbolises sacrifice as well as Hades, god of the underworld.
The cypress tree is also a Christian symbol for death. In this interpretation of the meaning of the tree, it is not associated with the underworld. It has a universal symbolism of Heaven's calling. The dense and narrow Italian cypress (C. sempervirens) became a graveyard tree because of its association with the heavens and divine light. The evergreen leaves of the cypress are symbolic of resurrection.
The cypress tree is a favourite of Iranians. It is symbolic of truthfulness, youth and freedom. It has also been associated with perfection because of its evergreen leaves. Artists have depicted one cypress, the giant Zoroaster cypress of Kashmar, in numerous paintings. A small metallic version of a cypress tree is now carried at the front of some mourning processions, symbolic of the Zoroaster tree.
Native American Symbols
Among Native Americans, the cypress not only symbolises things, it has been used to make additional symbols. Western red cedar (Thuja plicata) is a sacred tree used to make totem poles and thuja is part of the cypress family. According to Fred Hageneder in his book, "The Meaning of Trees," Brule and Lakota Sioux link cedar (cypress) with music. A dream reveals a hollow branch with holes dug in it by a woodpecker to a young hunter. According to legend, this is how the flute came to earth.
Overlooking the Pacific Ocean is the Lone Cypress, a trademarked term owned by the Pebble Beach Company. A drawing of a solitary Monterey cypress (C. macrocarpa) has been used as a logo since 1919 for the Pebble Beach real estate development and golf course. The tree is believed to be at least 250 years old. The company states the cypress tree is symbolic as an "icon of solitude." Since 2008, in the United State Patent and Trademark Office, the company also claims a trademark on the term "Lone Cypress" when used on clothing, shirts, golf shirts, jackets and trousers.