ARTICLE Anya Kussler
Strong, long-lasting and pleasing to the eye, macrocarpa has been a a favourite building material in our neck of the woods ever since the early 20th century. Ideal for constructing everything from exposed beams and flooring to wall panelling, it’s great for outdoor usage as well. A growing trend in landscaping, it adds an elegance and rich organic feel to everything from retaining walls, decking, steps and raised planter beds, to outdoor furniture like bench seats and tables, and even pergolas.
About the tree… and a bit of history
Macrocarpa is a medium-sized coniferous evergreen native to the Central Coast of California, where it is commonly known as Monterey Cypress. Its wood is golden brown, featuring a rare speckled lustre and low to medium density that’s reminicient of our native kauri here in New Zealand. When freshly cut, the wood excudes an alluring spicy aroma, while its bright-green leaves release a zesty lemon-like fragrance.
It first arrived in New Zealand in the 1860s, where its hardiness made it popular for use as a windbreak tree on farms, typically grown in shelter belts or rows. For the same reason, it has been used here for railway sleepers, and been in high demand as a construction material ever since the early 1900s.
A number of macrocarpa varieties are grown in our country, including ones that can withstand poor soil qualities, but the main plantation cypress cultivated here and especially in the North Island is Lusitanica because of its natural resistance to the canker fungus.
Oh so eco-friendly
One reason why macrocarpa continues to be the flavour of the century is that it’s stable yet has a soft surface, which makes it easy to saw into quality timber even in small dimensions, and easy to work with. Another pure plus is the Kiwi climate – which appears to be more favourable to its growth than in its native California. Spoilt with warm summers and mild winters, as well as the absence of many disease-causing microorganisms, the trees here naturally tend to grow to a much larger size, some of them shooting up to 40 metres and sporting 3 metre-wide trunks.
This, and the fact that the timber is naturally resistant to rot and insect attack without having to chemically treat it, makes macrocarpa one of the most eco-friendly and safest timbers produced in Aotearoa. This is especially important when adding outdoor features that involve edibles – think compost bins, garden beds and veggie planter boxes. What’s more, any timber waste like shavings or sawdust will directly break down as compost in your garden soil without contaminating it.
Another eco-friendly spin-off is that macrocarpa will fade to a silvery grey when left untreated or stained – a look that tends to blend in well with any home design or natural garden surroundings.
How and where to use it
When used outdoors, it is recommended that you choose macrocarpa heartwood (the inner bit) – the sapwood (the living, outer part), needs to be treated to keep insects at bay treatment and cannot be treated for decay.
Plus it’s best that you use the heartwood above ground – that way it will last for two to three decades when exposed to sun and rain, or even twice as long when protected from the elements! By comparison, a stake of heartwood will only last the distance for about 10 to 15 years under ground and is therefore not really the bee’s knees when it comes to in-ground posts for fencing, decking and pergolas.
The solution for those under-ground bits? Pour cement or treat it…
See how Macrocarpa was used in this Suburban Zen garden transformation.
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*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.
The costs in this article reflect the prices at the time of publication. Learn more here about the importance of planning your project ahead to minimise industry disruptions.