The Gymnosperm Database


Specimen in native range (Xenopoulos et al. [date unkn.]).


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Conservation status

Cupressus dupreziana var. atlantica

(Gaussen) Silba 1998

Common names

Azel (Berber), Atlas cypress (Stewart 1981), Cyprès de l'Atlas, Cyprès du Maroc (Cupressus Conservation Project).

Taxonomic notes

Syn: C. dupreziana Gaussen 1950; Cupressus sempervirens var. atlantica Silba 1981. This variety has a geographic distribution highly disjunct from the type variety; the ecological differences are such that a subspecies distinction may be warranted, but that combination has not been made. The relationship to C. sempervirens has generally been discounted on morphological grounds; the molecular analysis of Mao et al. (2010), however, places C. dupreziana and C. sempervirens as sister species, and Farjon (2005) notes that there was a Pleistocene continuum across North Africa entailing all three taxa; the more eastern C. sempervirens, however, has been geographically disjunct for somewhat longer than the two varieties of C. dupreziana (a similar but less well-informed conjecture was made by Dallimore et al. 1967). All three taxa have been described as varieties of C. sempervirens, but such usage is now not common.


Medium-sized tree to 35 m high and 130 cm dbh. Conical form with straight trunk; no fastigiate forms have been reported. Bark grey-brown, longitudinally fissured, lacking decortication. Branches set at large angles, upward curving. Branchlets of 1st and 2nd order distichous. First order shoots are slightly flattened in section, very fine (diam 0.5 mm). Foliage cupressoid scales, opposite, decussate, imbricate, appressed, acuminate, strongly keeled, 1 mm long, with conspicuous, active resin gland. General aspect of foliage fine-grained, slightly glaucous, especially on young tree. Seedlings have two apiculate cotyledons and glaucous apiculate leaves (Stewart 1981).

Farjon (2005) distinguishes it from the type variety in having slightly rounder cones (ovoid-globose rather than ovoid-oblong) and in having angular (vs. "not angular") seeds.

Distribution and Ecology

S Morocco: Endemic to the High Atlas Mountains of Southern Morocco (11°W, 31° N), where it occurs on rocky limestone slopes and sandy stream beds in very open shrubland or degraded woodland; other trees include Pistachia letiscus, Juniperus phoenicea, and Tetraclinis articulata (Farjon 2005). The trees grow at 1100-2000 m elevation in a Mediterranean climate with rainfall of 350-700 mm/year. Summer maxima are likely to average about 30°C and winter minima less than 0°C. Extreme frosts of -15°C are thought to occur and have been measured at an [unspecified] arboretum (Stewart 1981, WCMC 1999).

There are several stands and a number of isolated trees distributed over a total area of about 200 km2. One or two small groves remain in dry woodland on steep scree slopes in Oued n'Fiss Valley south of Marakech. Estimates of the area of occupancy declined from 5500 ha in 1950 to 1460 ha in 1986, largely because of habitat degradation, overgrazing and to some extent exploitation. In 1997 a survey found a complete absence of natural regeneration. One subpopulation was fenced and attempts were being made to replant the species, but the rate of success was very low (Stewart 1981, WCMC 1999).

Big tree


On the basis of "growth rates", ages of 2,000 years have been attributed (Stewart 1981). This suggests that ages exceeding 200 years probably occur (there's not much data on "growth rate" estimation errors, but I once checked a Sequoia claimed to be 12,000 years old on the basis of growth rates, and got a 1,200-year age estimate).


Described as potentially useful (Stewart 1981).


The species is drought-resistant, frost-resistant and tolerates a variety of soils. It can produce long, high-grade sawlogs and has an attractive aromatic wood. It is very durable (Stewart 1981).



The forests of Atlas cypress are managed by the Moroccan Forest Service with the objective of maintaining and improving them. However, the future depends on natural regeneration, and it remains to be seen how successfully the conditions for this can be recreated despite continued grazing. The Forest research station of Rabat has undertaken a long-term programme of research on the species, including the designation of plus trees for seed collection (Stewart 1981).


Stewart, P.J. 1981. Cupressus atlantica. In: FAO Forestry Department (compiler). Databook on endangered tree and shrub species and their provenances. Rome: FAO.

Xenopoulos, S., Claudine Andreoli, A. Panconesi, J. Pinto Ganhao, and J.J. Tuset. [date unkn.] Importance of Cypress, pp 1-14 in J. Ponchet (ed.), AGRIMED research programme. Progress in EEC research on cypress diseases. Results of the Agrimed project (1980-1988). Luxembourg: Commision of the European Communities.

[WCMC] World Conservation Monitoring Centre - Trees database, URL=, accessed 1-Jul-1999.

Yani, A., P. Baradat and C. Bernard-Dagan. 1990. II. Chemotaxonomy of Cupressus species, pp 29-38 in J. Ponchet (ed.), AGRIMED research programme. Progress in EEC research on cypress diseases. Results of the Agrimed project (1980-1988). Luxembourg: Commision of the European Communities.

See also

The species account at Threatened Conifers of the World.

Boudy, P. 1950. Economie Forestiere Nord-Africaine. Lorose, Paris, Vol. II, pp 764-72 and Vol. III, pp 230-98.

Boulhol, P. 1946 Le Cypres en Afrique du Nord. rev. Geog. Maroc. No.1.

Destremau, D.X. 1974 Precisions sur les Aires Naturelles des Principaux Coniferes Marocains. Ann. Rech. Forestiere Maroc, Rabat.

FAO Forestry Department. 1986. Databook on endangered tree and shrub species and their provenances. Rome: FAO. 524 pp.

Farjon (2005) (as Cupressus dupreziana var. atlantica) -- provides a detailed account, with illustrations.

Frankis, Michael P. 2006. Photos at the Cupressus Conservation Project website.

Gaussen, H. 1968. Les Gymnospermes actuelles et fossiles, fasc. xii. les Cypressaceae. Trav. Lab. forestier Toulouse.

Silba, J. 1998. A monograph of the genus Cupressus L. Journal of the International Conifer Preservation Society 5(2):1-98.

Last Modified 2017-12-29