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Northern Cypress Pine/Blue Cypress

Northern cypress pine (Callitris intratropica syn. C. columellaris, Cupressaceae) is an evergreen native to Australia.1 The slow-growing tree can grow up to 75-100 feet in height but is often smaller. The trunk’s diameter can be between 1 to 2 feet, and the tree’s foliage has a blue-green hue. Tree population benefits from mild controlled burning, which was not occurring in the early to mid-1990s, and the decline and areas of extinction resulted because of the lack of aboriginal practices. There are farms that grow this species of pine. According to David Bowman, “This tree species is most probably like the miners' canary, signalling that fundamental ecological changes are occurring in response to the breakdown of traditional Aboriginal land management and a shift to intense fires, many of which are deliberately lit.”2

The Tiwi people of Melville and Bathurst Islands, who call this tree, Karntirrikani, have an origin story of an old blind woman, Mudangkala, who created the land by crawling through the dark, barren landscape, carrying three babies. 2 As she journeyed, sea water filled the imprints she left, and she populated the land with plants, Karntirrikani is specifically named, along with other living creatures. The Tiwi use the infusion of the inner bark to treat sores, cuts, and abdominal cramps, topically, and occasionally internally for abdominal pain. The bark was also applied to stanch bleeding after childbirth. The smoke from this wood’s fire has been used as an insect repellent. Wood ash mixed with water has been applied to sore and painful parts of the body as an analgesic. The crushed plant was used as a skin cleanser and moisturizer. The tree sap was utilized as an adhesive.

European settlers originally thought to use the timber for building structures as it is resistant to climate wear and tear as well as to termites. However, the slow growth of the tree made this inviable. Around 1995, the discovery of an essential oil distilled from the wood occurred. Known as blue cypress essential oil, the oil is blue due to the chemical component, guaiazulene, which is formed during the distillation and is rare in wood essential oils.3,4 Guaiazulene does not occur when only the heartwood is distilled, but does when the heartwood, bark, and sap are distilled together. Other components include ß-eudesmol, bulnesol, dihydrocolumellarin, guaiol, ɣ-eudesmol, and α-eudesmol. The essential oil’s applications include for arthritic and other inflammatory conditions, asthma, skin conditions, such as rosacea and aging, grounding, and as a perfume fixative. The aroma is woody, balsamic, and slight medicinal tang, with hints of sweet, metallic notes.

Lori Glenn
HerbClip™ Managing Editor



1Earle CJ, ed. Callitris columellaris. The Gymnosperm database website. Accessed June 7, 2022.

2Bowman DMJS. Why the skillful use of fire is critical for the management of biodiversity in northern Australia, Proceedings of the 1994 symposium on biodiversity and fire in North Australia. 1994; Darwin;103-109.

3Robbins W. Blue cypress essential oil. Aromaweb website. Accessed June 7, 2022.

4A brief guide to blue cypress essential oil. Monq Aromatherapy website. February 18, 2022. Accessed June 7, 2022.