Cypress, symbol of Tuscany

Cypresses marching across the hill

So … if you’re always asking questions like me, you might have wondered how the pencil-thin cypress, a conifer, got to feature on every hilltop, along every driveway, and beside every castle and church in Tuscany. It’s not even indigenous to Italy. The Cupressus sempervirens, also known (in more recent times) as the Mediterranean or Tuscan or Italian cypress, or even the pencil pine, was historically significant in Persia (Iran) but can also be traced back to Mediterranean regions, particularly Greece, Turkey, Lebanon and Syria. It might even be native to North African countries such as Tunisia and northern Libya. Cypresses arrived in Tuscany via the eastern Mediterranean.

Going back to the earliest times, people living close to the land witnessed hardy cypresses outliving frigid weather and the harshest of seasons. They also proved highly resistant to fire (the wood contains a fragrant-smelling resin) and are known to survive for over 1,000 years. Given these qualities, cypresses grew to symbolise immortality, and slowly were planted beside graves to aid the people buried there safe passage to the afterlife. Some myths tell of the perfumed resin keeping evil spirits at bay. More importantly, the powerful fragrance masked the smells emanating from the burial grounds. Nice.

Cypresses are also excellent windbreaks, which is why they line ridges, hilltops, avenues, to protect lands and crops and homesteads from wild winds.

So now you know. You don’t even have to ask the question. I’ve answered it for you.