Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tuesday's Trees- Baldcypress

This past week while at an Arboriculture class at the extension, one of the slides was of  Baldcypress.  It was funny as the trees in the slideshow were the ones I have taken photos of as we drive by.   I had a red light on my way to the extension office that morning next to these trees.  Camera in hand I rolled the window down and tried to get a good picture....again. 

Taxodium distichum, Baldcypress is one of two cypress in the southeastern United States.  Many people think of Baldcypress as the swamp tree with the knees.  When I first heard of 'knees' on a tree, I wasn't sure what it meant.   If you look at the photo below, the knees are visible along the back edge of the water.   These are not big knees, but they are above the water line.  The knees are part of the root system.  At one time it was believed that the knees were above the water to provide oxygen to the roots. 

 In the article from the Arnold Arboretum there is an incredible photo of the root system.  It is an amazing underground structure.  It is now believed that the root system is a scaffolding support system to hold the trees erect in the swampy conditions...buttressing the base of the tree.  My favorite reference, National Forestry Service Silvics manual, has both answers for the knees.   Trees are such interesting structures.

When learning the difference between the Baldcypress and Dawn Redwood I had two different people give me their methods of knowing which is which.  Taxodium distichum vs Metasequoia glyptostroboides.  One said Taxodium DISTichum ---leaves arranged like discs, one on top of the other, alternating along the stem or METAsequoia...the leaves meet--arranged opposite.  The other person said the Metasequoia is MEATIER...thicker leaves. Right Les

 Baldcypress is called bald because it loses its leaves in the fall, after turning a glorious golden color.  It is  uncommon for a conifer to lose its leaves.  This tree is native to the US, its native range is from along the Virginia southern coast through the Carolinas, moving west into the Piedmont, south to Florida and west to Texas, including the plains of the Mississippi basin. 
The bark is reddish brown and as the tree ages it becomes shredded and coarse...it can peel off in strips.  The young tree is pyramidal in shape, but as the tree matures, the top flattens out.    The trunk flares out at the base, often quite enlarged.   
The moist wetlands of river basins are the choice sights for these trees.  Knees seem to form more often in wet areas.  The varied wetland environments are an interesting read (more detail) on the Forestry sight mentioned above.   The Baldcypress do not do as well in stillwater forested wetlands as those in terrestrial forests.
The leaves are soft to the touch and drop in the late fall. In the spring the new leaves emerge for the new season.

 It is a monoecious tree, its fruits mature in one growing season.  The female fruits are rounded cones, either in clusters of two, three or alone. 

This native tree is a large tree, growing to heights of 150 feet tall.  It is a very slow grower and can live
400- 600 years.  It takes approximately 200 years to reach sufficient size to for lumber to be harvested.  After 200 years old many do not get any larger and start to die back from the top from a fungus, causing rot from the tip. 
This last photo was taken in downtown Asheville.  I was so surprised to see a number of these Baldcypress planted in an urban setting.  Maybe these are a smaller cultivar?  One can only hope. 

The seeds are eaten by wild turkeys, squirrels, various birds and ducks.  The tall tree tops are often the nesting sites of Bald Eagles and Osprey. 
The timber is used for construction, fences, planking in boats, and many other areas.  Mulch is another product from the cypress tree and one of my commentors, Bill, sent this link along--http://chronicle.augusta.com/news/metro/2011-01-19/state-cypresses-endangered that ecosystems are endangered from over harvesting.

Florida Forest Trees sight still says the knees are for obtaining oxygen-- so  the debate still goes on. 
 Virginia Tech has some good photos of the fruits of this tree. Floridata is another reference in a concise format.
Next week's tree---do you have a favorite?  Taking suggestions.....

words and photos by Janet,The Queen of Seaford.


  1. Lovely post...I've always thought these are beautiful and fascinating trees.

  2. Love the Bald Cypress! Wonderful photos and info from you.


  3. Very neat way to remember the difference between the two trees. Makes sense. Too funny on your trees bring in the slideshow.

  4. Janet,
    Certainly you have some native stands of this tree somewhere close to you. I have seen knees surrounding the tree in a very cool effect. What about the smaller Pond Cypress?

  5. Very interesting post, Janet. Since we don't have the bald cypress here in the Midwest, I found this all really fascinating, especially how the root system can support these large trees in swampy conditions. I'm still wondering about that tree planted next to the tall building, though--you wonder if whoever planted it knew what he was doing.

  6. It is interesting that they lose their "leaves" in winter. Our Ponderosas lose their needles about every three to five years. I really thought the trees were dying when we first moved here ten years ago.

    These bald cypress are magnificent!

    I always learn something new when I visit your blog, Thanks.

  7. Enjoyed your article on this tree. I'm not sure they get as tall here, there is a grove of them at Dawes Arboretum in Ohio in swampy ground, and I tried one in my front yard.

  8. Good grief Janet, one can only hope that you are right, and the tree planted so close to all those modern buildings is indeed a rather smaller cultivar... I find conifers that lose their leaves fascinating. I wonder if genetic analysis will end up showing they are sufficiently different from their evergreen coniferous cousins to rate a different classification?

  9. Wonderful post. We have them everywhere around here. I do find them fascinating when they go through their cycle.

  10. Love Bald Cypress! I was inspired by the beautiful specimens on the NC State campus to try it from seed.

  11. I'll have to check out that cypress in downtown Asheville sometime. We have them near me at the campus of Furman University.

    Also, this post is just perfect for How to Find Great Plants, and the deadline is tomorrow. :)


  12. great post! I always like learning more about the plants. I had seen some back at my country, they look amazing when they restart their cycle

  13. I remember studying these in botany class - there was a pond on campus with a few bald cypresses planted around the edges. I always thought they were such delicate-looking trees, like the redwoods. It surprises me that such large trees can have such feathery foliage. So pretty.

  14. The growing demand for cypress mulch have made the cypress forests of Coastal Georgia's wetlands among the top 10 most endangered natural ecosystems in the Southeastern United States


  15. Hi Janet, I love anything that has fern-like foliage. This is a beautiful tree! Have a great weekend! Jennifer

  16. Fascinating stuff! A most informative post. Let's hope the apartment blocks in your picture have a planned lifetime of less than 200 years, otherwise they could be in trouble...

  17. I will resist the temptation of using the word "f....ite". My first memory of this tree was actually from a place im Maryland where my family held a reunion. It was at a state park on the Pocomoke River and there were natural stands growing along the river. I remember being fascinated by the knees and dragging my parents over to look at them and to tell me what they were. Later on, much later, I realized that this northern outpost was quite unique.

  18. What a lovely tree. My personal favourite is Cornus contraversa, not sure if you have them in the US. It has beautiful form and gorgeaous coloured leaves.

  19. The difference between Bald Cypress and Dawn Redwood seems to me to depend on the leaf arrangement (and how the leaves drop in fall).

    Cones, etc. are diagnostic, too, but the two species are basically hard to tell apart on first glance.


  20. Trees are amazing Janet. So true. I never knew Bald Cypress lost their leaves. I remember seeing them in Virginia but I was much younger then and not really into gardening or "nature" so I'm sure I wasn't paying attention!
    ps I need you at my house ~ I guess I'm a horrible pruner so I need to learn to like it as you do.

  21. Scott, thanks, I like these trees too.

    Cameron, thanks!

    Tina, I thought the trees in the slideshow was rather ironic.

    Randy, this is a rather rural area and lucky for me, there are great trees around.

    Rose, these are really interesting trees. I wonder about that tree in Asheville too.

    Rosey, the first time I saw them lose their leaves I was concerned as we were in drought conditions. Luckily it was a normal event.

    fialka012, thanks for coming by and thanks for your comment.

    Ilona, really swampy areas will allow these trees to get to their mature size....and they are slow growers, maybe yours haven't been there long.

    Janet, I hope I am right too! I am not sure about the reclassification, they are a marvel though.

    Lola, Glad you have some nearby, they are great trees.

    Sweetbay, I love them too! Trying it from seed is really cool-- keep me posted.

    Eliza, I linked to your Great Plants postings. thanks! I imagine you do have them near campus, they are widely planted here in the upstate.

    fere, I like learning about plants too. You are from Mexico, right?

    VW, this is a great tree to study I bet...so unusual. Feathery is a good word.

    Bill, thanks for the great info, I am going to link your info into the text of the post.

    Jennifer, thanks! Hope you had a good weekend.

    Mark, thank you so much. One can only hope with the apartment complex....who knows?

    Les, you can use the 'f...ite' word if you like. Glad it was a fond childhood memory.

    Martin, I will look up the Cornus contraversa, I think I have heard of it....?? maybe?

    Lisa, With an extension agent and a nurseryman who is the tree guy teaching me I figured I had it on good authority.

    Kathleen, you buy --I'll fly!
    :-) I do like pruning. I wasted a lot of opportunity in my youth. Oh well, making up for lost time now!

  22. Great post-Thanks for the info. I love the foliage/leaves of this tree :)

  23. thanks Rebecca, appreciate you stopping by. These leaves are super.


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