Did you know about…Bald Cypress trees

Oct 20, 2017

Did you know bald cypress trees can flourish with their trunks completely submerged in water? Indeed, most bald cypress trees, whose scientific name is Taxodium distichum, live in standing water throughout their lifecycle. Now, for the sake of transparency, I am not a botanist, arborist, landscape artist or gardener. I am a native of south Louisiana who had the privilege of growing up under the shade of bald cypress trees and now have the good fortune of viewing over 50 of these marvels of nature from my front porch when I’m on our Louisiana property.

They can grow as tall as 130 feet with a trunk diameter as large as 10 feet in circumference. The bald cypress is the most prolific tree found in a swamp. They capture the sunlight they need by standing in water away from competitors who cling stubbornly to land. It’s amazing, really.

These tall, majestic trees have seed pods that are round and about the same size as a walnut. They are as hard as a baseball. When I was a kid, we used them as “grenades” during our games of “war”. Getting beamed in the head with a bald cypress seed pod was no laughing matter.

Instead of leaves, bald cypress trees have needles. The needles are smaller than pine needles. They are bright green in the spring and summer and turn rusty brown in the fall. Like trees with leaves, bald cypress trees drop their needles in the fall leaving the tree…well…bald.

The trunk of the tree is slender with a sparse number of limbs. The canopy is broad and flat on top to maximize the amount of sunlight the tree can absorb. The skirt of a bald cypress is expansive at the base with a beautiful structure extending deeply into the ground. The base resembles poodle skirts that were popular with young women in the 1950’s. Some trees have hollows in their skirts that make for great hiding places if you’re a kid. However, tell your kids to be aware of the snakes and spiders that hide under cypress skirts.

It is believed that bald cypress trees are able to live with their trunks persistently submerged in water because of their knees. Yes, that’s what I said…knees. Just like the one in your leg. It is part of the root structure that grows up through the water or ground (not all bald cypress trees are in the swamp), to absorb oxygen for the tree. They are called knees because they look like a bent human knee when viewed from the side.

When you think of a movie or a story set in a Louisiana swamp, you immediately think of bald cypress trees. The Spanish moss hanging from the sparse tree limbs resembles an old woman’s long hair in the breeze. The bald cypress tree became the official tree of Louisiana in 1963. These amazing trees are quite adaptable. They flourish as far north as Wisconsin and in dry climates, like the Texas hill country.

To close, I quote an author who was also enthralled with bald cypress trees. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published his ballad poem entitled “Evangeline” in 1947.

"Over their heads the towering and tenebrous boughs of the cypress
Met in a dusky arch, and trailing mosses in mid-air
Waved like banners that hang on the walls of ancient cathedrals."

 

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