Modoc cypress (Hysperocyparis bakeri) is a rare tree that grows in only a few isolated sites in northern California and southwest Oregon. The literature inventories nine small, scattered Modoc cypress populations at altitudes of 3,000 to 6,600 feet. Some of these historic stands may have died off or may now only contain a few specimens. The conservation status is considered “vulnerable”.
The “Timbered Crater” population of Modoc cypress is located about an hour’s drive from our house. Leonard and I decided to make an effort to locate a Modoc cypress. The only directions we had were “at Timbered Crater” and “extreme southeastern Siskiyou County” in California. After hiking around Timbered Crater (Shasta County) for a day we had to admit our first attempt was unsuccessful. About a week later we returned to an area north of Timbered Crater that was just over the Siskiyou County CA line. Much to our delight, this time we were successful and found a small group of Modoc cypress.
Modoc cypress are slow-growing trees that are restricted to serpentine soils and old lava flows. Its ability to tolerate these sites allow Modoc cypress to avoid competition from faster growing trees.
Modoc cypress usually grow from 30 to 80 feet in height. The bark of young trees is smooth and red-brown and peeling becoming greyish and developing layers with age. The scale-like leaves are slightly glaucous (having a white powdery “bloom”) and range from grey-green to blue green. The leaves have gland ducts that produce a droplet of resin. Male pollen cones are a light brown and are located at the tip of branchlets. The greyish, globose seed-bearing cones have six to eight scales and are covered with resin glands. Green or brownish at first the seed cones mature to a grey color about 20 to 24 months after pollination. Each cone produces about 50 tan, winged seeds.
The mature cones often remain closed and stay on the tree for many years, only opening when the parent tree is killed in a wildfire. Because seed release and germination are fire dependent, fire suppression policies have limited Modoc cypress reproduction.
Modoc cypress was originally classified as Cupressus bakeri. In 2009 the tree was moved to a new genus, Hysoperocyparis. The debate continues as to whether the North American cypresses should be removed from Cupressus. Siskiyou cypress and Baker cypress are other common names for H, bakeri. The species name, bakeri, honors Milo S. Baker who in 1898 discovered and described the first Modoc cypress trees near Timbered Crater.
Leonard and I were so excited to finally find this rare cypress and are glad we persisted.