Bald Cypress (Taxodium Distichum)

The bald cypress is a native tree to the southeastern United States that grows in the Mississippi Valley drainage basin, along the Gulf Coast, and up the coastal plain to the mid-Atlantic states. Bald cypresses are well-adapted to wet conditions along riverbanks and swamps. They are also found in dry areas and are frequently planted as ornamental trees.

Unlike most cone-bearing trees, bald-cypress loses its needles each winter and grows a new set in spring. In fact, they get the name “bald” cypress because they drop their leaves so early in the season.

The bald cypress is the official state tree of Louisiana state from 1963. Common names include bald cypress, swamp cypress, white cypresstidewater red cypressgulf cypress and red cypress. Hardy and tough, this tree adapts well in different soil types, whether wet, dry, or swampy.

Bald Cypress is a large tree, capable of reaching heights of 100 to 120 feet (30 to 37 meters). A tree growing in wet soil is strongly buttressed about the base, and its horizontal roots often send conical woody projections called “knees” above the waterline. Originally thought to provide a source of oxygen for the root system, knees are now thought to provide structure and support for the trees.

Appearance/Characteristics

  • Bald cypresses are long-lived and old trees are usually hollow. A young bald cypress is symmetrical and pyramidal. As it matures, it develops a coarse wide-spreading head.
  • Bald Cypress is a slow-growing tree, especially in its early years.
  • The foliage of Bald Cypress is needle-like. The needles turn a rusty brown, cinnamon or fiery orange before falling off in the autumn.
  • The needles are arranged in two rows along the stem, which gives rise to the species name “distichum,” meaning in two ranks.
  • Its tapering trunk is usually 30 metres (about 100 feet) tall and 1 metre (3.3 feet) in diameter. 
  • The bark of young trees is smooth and grayish-brown, while older trees develop a more fibrous and reddish-brown bark with deep furrows.
  • Bald Cypress produces small cones about 1 inch in diameter. The cones are green initially but turn brown as they mature. They typically have a globular shape and release seeds when mature.
  • Branches are often draped with clumps of Spanish moss. 
  • The trunk grows unusually thick toward the base, even on young trees.

Landscaping and other Uses of Bald Cypress Tree

  • Wetland and Riparian Plantings : It can be used for planting in wetland and riparian zones. Given that it can thrive in waterlogged soils it works well when it comes to stabilizing the soil along rivers, ponds, or other water bodies.
  • Shade Tree: With its tall and pyramidal shape, it works well as an effective shade tree. Planting it strategically in residential or public spaces can provide cooling shade during hot summer months.
  • Ornamental Focal Point: The attractive, feathery foliage and its unique bark make it a visually appealing tree. Planting it as a focal point in a landscape design can enhance the overall aesthetics of the area.
  • Screening and Windbreaks: The tree can be used to create natural screens or windbreaks. When planted in rows, the dense foliage provides privacy and helps mitigate the impact of strong winds.
  • Street Trees and Urban Landscaping: Due to its adaptability and tolerance of urban conditions, it is suitable for street plantings and urban landscaping projects. Its deciduous nature allows for seasonal interest, with leaves turning rusty brown in the fall.
  • Soil Erosion Control: Planting this cypress along water bodies or on sloping terrain can help control soil erosion. The extensive root system of the tree stabilizes the soil, preventing erosion and promoting water quality.
  • Wildlife Habitat Enhancement: Planting it in natural areas or as part of wildlife corridors can contribute to biodiversity by attracting birds, insects, and other fauna.
  • Lumber and Wood Products: While not strictly a landscaping use, the high-quality wood of Bald Cypress makes it a valuable resource for outdoor construction projects. The wood is resistant to decay, and can be used for applications like fencing, decking, and outdoor furniture.

How to grow Bald Cypress

  • Select a planting site with well-draining soil and that receives full to partial sunlight.
  • Prepare the soil by ensuring good drainage, as Bald Cypress prefers consistently moist conditions.
  • Plant Bald Cypress in the spring or fall when the soil is moist and temperatures are moderate.
  • Dig a hole that is as deep as the root ball and twice as wide. Place the tree in the hole, ensuring the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface.
  • Bald Cypress requires consistent moisture, especially during the first few years of growth. Water the tree regularly, particularly during dry periods. However, mature trees are generally drought-tolerant.
  • Bald Cypress generally requires minimal pruning. Remove any dead or damaged branches. Pruning is typically done for shaping purposes or to maintain a single leader for a strong central trunk.
  • Bald Cypress can be attacked by a fungus, Stereum taxodi, that causes a brown pocket rot known as “pecky cypress.” Cypress flea beetles can also cause discoloration and damage.

What are the Different Types of Bald Cypress?

TypeSizeCharacteristics
Taxodium distichum var. distichum100-120 feet tall– Native to the southeastern United States.
-Typically found in swampy or wetland areas.
– Deciduous needles turn rusty brown in the fall.
Taxodium distichum ‘Peve Minaret’10-15 feet tall– Dwarf cultivar.
– Compact, pyramidal shape.
– Suitable for smaller landscapes or as a specimen plant.
Taxodium distichum ‘Cascade Falls’15-20 feet tall– Weeping or cascading growth habit.
– Graceful, arching branches.
– Suitable for adding a unique form to landscapes.
Taxodium distichum ‘Pendens’20-30 feet tall– Weeping form with branches that cascade towards the ground.
– Offers a graceful appearance and is often used for ornamental purposes.
Taxodium distichum ‘Shawnee Brave’30-40 feet tall– Upright, columnar growth habit.
– Tolerant of a variety of soil conditions.
– Can be used for vertical accents in landscaping.
Taxodium distichum ‘Red Fox’30-50 feet tall– Compact and narrow growth habit.
– Foliage turns a rich burgundy color in the fall, providing added ornamental value.
Taxodium distichum ‘Skyward’40-50 feet tall– Upright, narrow growth habit.
– Compact size suitable for smaller spaces.
– Ascending branches create a distinctive form.

Common Pests and diseases that affect bald cypress

Pests

PestsSymptoms and DamagePrevention and Control
Spider Mites (Tetranychidae family)– Fine webbing on foliage.
– Stippling (small, discolored spots) on leaves.
– Weakened growth.
– Regularly hose down the foliage to reduce mite populations.
– Introduce natural predators like predatory mites.
– Use insecticidal soaps or horticultural oils.
Aphids– Stunted growth.<br> – Yellowing leaves.<br> – Honeydew secretion, leading to sooty mold.– Encourage natural predators such as ladybugs.
– Use insecticidal soap or neem oil.
– Prune and dispose of heavily infested plant parts.
Bagworms (Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis)– Cone-shaped bags on branches.<br> – Defoliation and damage to foliage.– Handpick and destroy bags when feasible.
– Apply biological insecticides.
– Encourage natural predators like birds.
Scale Insects– Tiny, immobile pests on bark or leaves.<br> – Yellowing leaves and premature leaf drop.– Prune and dispose of heavily infested branches.
– Use horticultural oil or insecticidal soap.
– Introduce natural predators like ladybugs.

Diseases

DiseasesSymptoms and DamagePrevention and Control
Canker Diseases– Sunken, discolored lesions on bark.
– Dieback of branches.
– Resin or gum production.
– Prune affected branches to remove infected areas.
– Promote good air circulation through proper spacing.
– Apply fungicides in severe cases.
Root Rot (Phytophthora spp.)– Yellowing or wilting of leaves.
– Reduced growth.
– Stunted appearance.
– Improve soil drainage to prevent waterlogging.
– Plant in well-draining soils.
– Avoid overwatering.
Needle Blight (Seiridium spp.)– Browning and death of needles.
– Cankers on branches.
– Premature defoliation.
– Prune and dispose of infected branches.
– Apply fungicides preventively in spring.
– Promote overall tree health through proper care.

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