Tuesday Topics – Nature
The Bald Cypress is a unique tree: it can thrive in standing water, it has “knees” that act as snorkels for its roots, and it is a conifer (usually evergreens) but it loses it needles every fall, and is, therefore, deciduous.
The Bald Cypress is the tree of southern United States swamps (where, covered with Spanish moss, it makes a great setting for creepy swamp-monster movies), but is also found throughout the Mississippi River Basin and along the coastal plain to the mid-Atlantic region. Although associated with wet, swampy areas, they also do well in dryer soils. They are available as ornamental trees for larger yards.
Each fall, the needles turn tan to fiery orange after which they fall from the tree, leaving it “bald.” Young trees typically have a pyramid ship much like a Christmas tree, but as they grow taller—up to 120 feet tall—straight with a spreading crown. Cypress trees can live to be 600 years old and can be up to six feet in diameter at the base.
They are an important part of aquatic ecosystems in their range, providing nesting for bald eagles and ospreys as well as shelter and breeding areas for frogs, toads and salamanders, and catfish spawn around their submerged trunks. Other trees will die if their roots remain flooded for long periods. Roots require air. The Bald Cypress has adapted to aquatic environments with woody protrusions, called “cypress knees” that rise above the water line, allowing the roots to breathe.
Cypress wood is rot-resistant and has been used for fence posts, flooring, boats, and caskets. It is not used as much now as in the past. Trees grow slowly, have been heavily harvested and, because of their normally swampy habitat, are harder to cut.
Scientific Name: Taxodium distichum
State Tree: Louisiana