Fitzroya cupressoides

How fares the singular Patagonian Cypress, the Alerce, these majestic 200+ foot trees, with lifespans exceeding 4,000 years, populating the western shores of temperate South America? From Chile’s mediterranean mid-section, southwards until the escarpments of the Andes begin to moderate into a broader expanse of multiple ridges and mountain ranges, rainwatered from the Atlantic, through river gorges and ascending rolling and rugged hillsides alike, deeper and deeper into the south towards land’s end, these awesome, white-barked giants are trees of surpassing beauty and grandeur. How is the Alerce doing? And why can’t I grow them in California?

The Alerce Cypress
Fitzroya cupressoides

For well over 10 years we’ve had Alerce seeds on order and there never seems to be a seed-gathering climber available down in those parts, and another seed-gathering expedition is always just around the corner, but still no seeds.

How many seed suppliers even list the Fitzroya cupressoides, after all? We want to grow these trees, either via seeds or seedlings, and we vote. This email recently arrived from one reader:

Dear Ed: I was recently reminded of your project up in S.F., growing large canopy trees for future projects. I was wondering if your contact in Chile had ever come through for you with seeds of/for the Alerce tree.

If by some chance you have managed to acquire some seeds, I was wondering if you might be interested in selling a few for my own experimentation with growing the Alerce trees both here in southern California, as well as my property in southern Oregon. Any help you might be able to give would be humbly appreciated. I had no luck in trying to go after professors at Chilean Universities; very best regards, Robert E. Lee

This inquiry from Mr. Lee, arrived just last week, is not the first since we created an Alerce information record, and reported on the Alerce in our May 1995 EcoWorld report entitled “Flagships of the Forest,” where this was said about the Alerce:

The western slopes of the Andes somewhere between Santiago and Tierra Del Fuego are home to one of the most majestic of all trees, the Patagonian Cypress, or the Alerce (pronounced a-ler-say). The tree is also known by the latin name of Fitzroya Cupressoides. These severly endangered trees are slow growers, but live longer than anything else on earth, over 4000 years. They are giants, growing well over 200 feet in maturity, with trunk diameters over 30 feet at the base. The Alerce looks a lot like a Sierra Redwood (Sequoiadendron Giganteum), with nothing but massive trunk until a third to a half way up the tree, where huge knarly branches poke out with foliage at last. The bark of the Alerce is smooth and white, giving the tree an uncommonly striking appearance. EcoWorld has contracted with the representative of a gatherer who is in Chile right now obtaining Alerce seeds. This marvelous species of trees needs new homes, as well as greater protection in their own country. If you want to get some Alerce seeds, or if you have information on where Alerces grow or could grow, or any reports on how the threatened stands of ancient Alerces are doing, please let me know at

So any of you out there – how can we get these beautiful trees that would likely grow on the west coast of North America just as wonderfully as they do in South America? And how are they doing in their native range? Are new forests of Alerce being planted? How do the Alerce grow? Does anyone know?

What possible explanation can there for the unavailability of Alerce seed or seedlings to North Americans? Are Alerce invasive? Is their import discouraged simply because they’re an alien species? On the lovely moors of California’s Pt. Reyes, White Tailed Deer live on borrowed time, the price of being alien. Where does it end, this species nativism?

How would Alerce be received in California? We part company with many because we love the smell and the sights of Eucalyptus in Marin County, for example. Do we need to plant new forests full of Eucalyptus in California? Probably not (unless as a qualified CO2 offset project – let that image percolate), but can’t we let them stand, these spectacular and aromatic, still remaining groves of alien Eucalyptus? The Alerce’s legacy in North America might eventually be just as illustrious as the Eucalyptus, if not better. Planting an Alerce Cypress in North America would be a labor of love, an investment in nature, an affirmation of life, a pleasure and a privilege; regardless of whatever strictures or swings of the pendulum might otherwise inform science or society. So what’s stopping us? Where is my Alerce seedling?

Categorized | Trees & Forestry
2 Responses to “Fitzroya cupressoides”
  1. Todd Loveless says:

    I am also interested in growing an Alerce tree in Maryland where I live. I enjoy growing different and unusual species of trees. I have a Monkey Puzzle tree (Aracaria) and although it was a very small seedling when I received it in the mail from an internet supplier and the first one that was sent to me died, it is growing very slowly but doing just fine and about 4 feet tall after 8 to 10 years. I also have a Giant Redwood and although way out of its territory, it is growing very slowly and surviving the short but cold winters and generally dry summer in Maryland.

  2. Mike Baad says:

    I too long for a source of Fitzroya seed or plants to try in our campus Arboretum. Sacramento stands a chance as a successful habitat, but I admit to securing one tree 10 years ago about 8 inches tall and having it die on me after about 6 months in the ground across the hot summer. My source that time was an outfit called Forest Farm Nursery in Williams, Oregon. Since that time, the plant is no longer listed in its catalog. Another mystery! Please include me on the list of passionate seekers of the “alerce”.


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