Cypress trees are among the oldest types of tree in the world, dating back over 150 million years to the late Jurassic period. They include the tallest and largest trees in the world, the coast redwood and the giant sequoia, respectively. They are long-living trees and are able to endure harsh climates, poor soil, flood waters and otherwise poor growing conditions. Cypress trees have multiple meanings including death, life and afterlife.

Cypress knees reach for the sky in a Louisiana swamp.
Cypress knees reach for the sky in a Louisiana swamp.

Death and Afterlife

Greeks and Romans called cypress trees the "Mournful Tree" and would plant it near graves, or place bodies on cypress branches. Even today, cypress trees are planted in both Christian and Muslim cemeteries to help ward off evil spirits.

In many countries, including China and Japan, cypress is one of the woods commonly used in coffin construction. Death jewelry was also made from cypress wood because of its durability. It is believed that cypress was one of the woods used in Christ's crucifixion cross.

Life-Affirming

Yet, the cypress is also considered a sign of life. In Genesis 6:14, the story of Noah and the Ark, God commands Noah, "So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out." In some translations this is called gopher wood. While it may never be proven what Noah made his ark from, cypress wood is known to be water-resistant, strong and durable. It is a commonly used wood in boat-making even today.

Cypress trees and palmettos growing side by side in a Louisiana swamp.
Cypress trees and palmettos growing side by side in a Louisiana swamp.