Buçaco cedar: a genus sharing its name with a Portuguese National Forest


Indigenous from Mexico, the Cupressus lusitanica genus is referred to as both  buçaco-cedar and buçaco-cypress. Its lusitanica designation derives from the fact that it was classified for the first time in Portugal. But its presence in Portugal is quite prominent and this particular species is the ex-libris of the Bussaco National Forest, in the region of Coimbra.

The issue around the name of this tree may stir some controversy, and there is one (or more than one) reason for that. The reason behind its name may be traced back to the Carmelites who thought that this species belonged to the cedar family, as it reminded them of the cedars of Lebanon (Cedrus libani), of the Pinaceae family, referred to in the Bible.

The confusion ensued in the 17th century, when the French botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort classified it as a native species in 1689, more specifically as indigenous from Serra do Buçaco . This mistake happened because such classification was made based on specimens from Portugal, where they had been introduced in the early seventeenth century, hence the designation Cupressus lusitanica. However, as a species, it is actually a cypress (Cupressus), from the Cupressaceae family and indigenous from Central America (Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica).

The Buçaco cedar enjoyed exceptional ecological conditions in Portugal and can be found easily in places such as Mata do Buçaco (Bussaco is another of the spellings used) and even in Quinta de São Francisco, a property managed by The Navigator Company.

With a pyramidal canopy, cylindrical trunk and brownish bark, this tree can reach 30 meters in height. With persistent foliage, it has scaliform leaves with pointed extremities and green or glaucous shades. The branches, on the other hand, are divergent and with slightly pendulous extremities. The “flowering” season occurs from January to April, and the fruit (galbula) is between 10 and 15 mm. It can contain up to 75 seeds and is provided with a small handle.

Tournefort não a classificou como um cedro (Cedrus), mas sim como um Cupressus (cipreste), o que está correto. Quem a denominou cedro foram os carmelitas, como está dito no paragrafo anterior. Reformulei para fazer sentido!

Did you know that…

The word Bussaco may derive from the expression “sacred woods”, translating the religious connection of these woods to Man. The woods were therefore there before this species, which later inherited the name of the place and the designation given by the barefoot Carmelites who found here a place to live in.

The Buçaco cedar is the most widespread species of Cupressus in Portugal among all the specimens present in the Buçaco Forest (where there are about 700 species of trees, exotic and indigenous) and in the Pena and Monserrate Park, in Sintra and other places in Portugal.

Buçaco cedar is a Cupressus species, a variety covering some species to be found present in Portugal, such as the cemetery cypress  (C. sempervirens) or the Monterey cypress (C. macrocarpa).

In the botanical family of this species, Cupressaceae, we can find plants known as junipers (Juniperus spp.), sequoias (Sequoia sempervirens), cryptomeria (Cryptomeria japónica) or Thuja (Thuja spp.), among many others.

In the Príncipe Real garden in Lisbon, there is a seven metre-high 150-year-old specimen and with an unusual configuration. Thanks to its longevity, size, historical importance and landscape, it became the first tree in Lisbon to be classified as a Tree of Public Interest since 1940, by the ICNF – Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests.

As this is a fast-growing species, the Buçaco cedar is used to produce good quality firewood, and its wood is used to make furniture, and carpentry items, among others. From an ornamental perspective, it is used for protection as living hedges and shelter curtains to protect against the wind, while in the warmer seasons, it allows the shading of the soil given its abundant branches, thereby reducing the development of heliophilic bushes.

In order to get to know these magnificent trees, there is a lot of mapping and georeferencing work to take place at the beginning of 2023, with the help of a LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensor.

  • Buçaco-Cedar

    Cupressus lusitanica

  • Plant

  • Common names

    Buçaco-cedar, goa-cedar, buçaco-cypress

  • Genre:


  • Family:


  • Conservation status:

    Least concern

  • Habitat:

    Woodlands and mountain regions

  • Origin

    Alien species, indigenous from Mexico and Guatemala

  • Distribution:

    North America and Southern Europe

  • Size:

    20 to 30 meters high

  • Use:

    Ornamental and wood production

How do tend to this species?

At the Quinta de São Francisco arboretum, a biodiversity hotspot located in the Aveiro region, there are hundreds of exceptionally-sized trees spread over 14 hectares and preserved under protection of Navigator, including the Cupressus lusitanica species, as mentioned in the book Árvores Monumentais de Portugal (Monumental Trees of Portugal), by Ernesto Goes from 1984. Among them, there are two monumental specimens 35.3 and 33 m high, respectively.