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Cypresses can be found in almost every garden, either as a solitary plant, in a bucket or as a dense hedge. They are versatile. These are evergreen coniferous trees. The market offers numerous cultivated forms, which differ in their growth form and color. However, a planting should always be well thought out, because cypresses, as beautiful as they look, can cause damage to health.

Cypress or false cypress?

Visually, there is hardly any difference between the two. The true cypress (Cupressus) has its origins in the Mediterranean region and false cypresses (Chamaeocyparis) are mainly native to Northwest America, Northwest Africa and East Asia. There are also numerous cultivated forms, the bastard cypress (Cupressocyparis). However, all types are:

  • evergreen
  • conditionally hardy
  • extremely robust with fast and dense growth
  • easy to care for and durable

Typical features distinguish the cypress from the other evergreen conifers such as

  • the growth habit from narrowly or broadly conical to narrowly columnar, pyramidal, stiffly upright, densely closed, single-stemmed, well branched and slightly overhanging tips
  • scaly, small, pinnate foliage
  • needle-shaped, dense foliage stands decussate from the branch
  • different colors from green to yellow to blue
  • ovoid cones, size dependent on species
  • Cones only open after years in high heat
  • trunk becomes very woody in old age

Compared to the real cypress, the false cypress has somewhat flattened branches, smaller cones and earlier seed ripening.

false cypress

tip: Crushed cypress needles give off a light lemon scent.


Both the real cypress and the false cypress are all parts of the plant poisonous, but mainly

  • the tips of the leaves
  • the wood
  • the cypress juice and
  • the fruiting bodies

The essential oils it contains can cause skin irritations and even symptoms of poisoning. Sometimes the simple touch of the skin is enough. On the other hand, the consumption of leaf tips and shoots, as well as the sap of the cypress can lead to severe poisoning.

The main toxic components in cypress are

  • thujene
  • pinene
  • terpenes
  • camphene
  • cedrol
  • furfural
  • Semperviral
  • Sylvestren
  • flavonoids and
  • various tanning agents

tip: Despite its toxicity, cypress oil (Oleum cupressi) is produced from the fruits and young leaves by distillation. This is often used in homeopathy as a remedy for gout, rheumatism, gastric catarrh, eye and ear infections in small doses. It has a disinfecting and vasoconstrictive effect.

risk groups

children and pregnant women

The essential oils present in cypress are generally more or less harmful to health. However, they can cause more damage to children than to adults. The child's organism is not yet fully developed and is therefore far more vulnerable. With existing cypress plantings in the garden or with buckets on the balcony and terrace, it is advisable to always keep a close eye on the children. Of course, depending on their age, they should also be informed about the toxicity of the coniferous tree.

In addition, pregnant women should also keep their distance from these plants and thus avoid contact. Cypress trees are not only poisonous for the expectant mother, but the poison can also harm the unborn child. It can even lead to miscarriages.


The ingredients of cypress and false cypress are not only dangerous for humans, but also for dogs, cats, rodents (guinea pigs, hamsters) and also for grazing animals such as horses.

Due to the pronounced play and hunting instinct of dogs and the curiosity of cats, it can quickly happen that these animals come into contact with parts of plants. By ingesting leaves, for example, and then chewing them, the essential oils can easily be absorbed through salivation and symptoms of poisoning such as

  • Stomach and intestinal complaints
  • cramps
  • Changes in the liver and kidneys
  • increased urine volume with simultaneous low excretion
  • up to death


Horses can also be life-threatening if they eat more leaves, which they like the smell of. Disturbances of consciousness can occur. There is also an increased risk of infection.

Caution is also required when pruning cypresses if there is a garden pond with fish nearby. If clippings fall into the pond, fish can also have health problems. Depending on the concentration of essential oils, these can even lead to death.

tip: If there are small children or pets, the planting of cypresses should be avoided if possible.


First signs of poisoning

Normally, care should always be taken to ensure that there is no poisoning from parts of the cypress plant, regardless of whether it is touched or eaten. However, should it happen, action must be taken as quickly as possible. For this it is also necessary to recognize symptoms of poisoning. The first signs can be

  • through touching severe irritation of the skin up to the formation of blisters
  • severe dark red, painfully itchy rashes
  • Occurrence of pronounced tissue damage
  • after oral intake severe irritation of the mucous membranes
  • nausea
  • severe vomiting (greenish possibly bloody, typical smell of essential oils)
  • seizures
  • Gastrointestinal complaints
  • diarrhea
  • gas
  • Kidney damage with discharge of bloody urine possible
  • Irritation of the urinary tract
  • Signs of paralysis, possible respiratory paralysis
  • miscarriage in pregnant women
  • death possible in case of severe poisoning

tip: Cypress trees can also release the toxins into the air. This fact must be considered when planting. This can already damage the health of sensitive people.

Taxodium distichum, Bald Cypress

First aid

In the event of poisoning from parts of the cypress plant, immediate action is required to prevent worse consequences. Small children in particular can put them in their mouths and swallow them quickly. If it is not certain whether it really is poisoning by cypress trees, the poison control center must be called immediately. All further measures can then be clarified here. The following information must be provided:

  • Describe the exact symptoms
  • assumptions about the cause
  • what amount was taken
  • how long ago the recording was made
  • who is affected (age, body weight)

At the same time, it is also necessary either to see a doctor or to call an ambulance. Until then, the following should be noted:

  • always keep calm
  • Follow poison control center recommendations
  • ensure appropriate plant parts
  • also vomit
  • avoid hasty or dangerous assistance
  • First aid only in emergencies if the doctor is not on site quickly enough
  • Inform the doctor about all measures and information from the poison control center

In most cases, those affected vomit by themselves after ingesting poisonous parts of the plant. If this is not the case, then something can be done to help, always in consultation with the doctor or poison control center:

  • Put your finger deep in your mouth and press down hard on the base of your tongue
  • Administer 1 to 2 glasses of lukewarm raspberry juice or lukewarm water
  • stable lateral position, if the injured person is unconscious, observe breathing, be careful with vomit - danger of suffocation
  • if conscious - place the child in a prone position over the thighs
  • The head must hang slightly downwards so that vomit does not get into the trachea
  • never salt water give (especially dangerous for small children)
  • never milk administer (accelerates toxin absorption from the intestine)
  • In consultation with the poison control center or doctor, administration of activated charcoal drink possible (1 g medicinal charcoal per kg body weight)
Leyland Cypress

tip: Activated charcoal binds toxins in the digestive tract and thus prevents absorption in the body. Also used for poisoning in dogs. Activated charcoal should therefore not be missing from any emergency pharmacy.

Prevent cypress poisoning

However, poisoning does not always have to occur immediately. A few measures should be taken into account:

  • always wash your hands when handling cypresses
  • do not touch your face, mouth or eyes with your hands
  • always wear gloves, long-sleeved clothing and, if necessary, eye protection (possible absorption of the poison through the skin)
  • Do not leave the cuttings lying around, dispose of them immediately
  • Keep an eye on children and pets
  • keep sufficient distance to the neighboring property
  • also keep a large distance from the fence if a pasture is adjacent
  • perhaps generally refrain from planting cypresses

tip: Alternatively, hornbeam, common beech or bamboo can also be used for hedge planting.

notice: Please note that this article is by no means a substitute for a doctor's visit. There is no guarantee of the correctness of medical statements.
Detailed information on first aid in the event of poisoning and important information on the poison control centers can be found here.

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