The Ohio Chapter ISA continued efforts is to advance responsible tree care practices through research, technology, and education while promoting the benefits of trees. This month Tree-Of-The-Month is commonly known as the Bald Cypress(Taxodium distichum).
The Bald Cypress is a beautiful tree. Its buttressed trunk is very pleasing to the eye, and its soft feathery needles add to the overall beauty of the tree. The Bald Cypress also inspires many artists. In Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem Evangeline, he writes about how the “towering and tenebrous boughs of the cypress met in a dusky arch, and trailing mosses in mid-air.” The Bald Cypress is a large, slow-growing but long-lived, deciduous conifer, which frequently reaches 100 to 120 feet in height and 3 to 6 feet in diameter. As a member of the Baldcypress Family, it is also related to Dawn Redwood and Giant Redwood. The Bald Cypress is only one of five conifer species that sheds its needles in the fall (hence, its “bald” namesake). Its trunk can become massive, tapered, and buttressed with age. The leaves are alternate, linear, and flat with blades generally spreading around the twig. The bark is thin and fibrous with an interwoven pattern of narrow flat ridges and narrow furrows. It has both male and female flowers form slender tassel-like structures near the edge of the branchlets. Bald cypress trees produce cone fruit. It develops a taproot under ideal soil conditions as well as horizontal roots that lie just below the surface and extend 20 to 50 feet before bending down. It develops knees that grow above water, providing additional support. Bald Cypress is generally restricted to very wet soils consisting of muck, clay, or fine sand, where moisture is abundant and reasonably permanent. It is usually found on flat or nearly flat topography at elevations less than 100 feet above sea level.
The Bald Cypress is an excellent tree species for rehabilitating margins of surface-mined lakes. Cypress domes (large plantings) can serve as tertiary sewage treatment facilities for improving water quality and recharging groundwater. Bald Cypress is often used to reduce damage from floods and act as sediment and pollutant traps as they cause floodwaters to spread out, slow down, and infiltrate the soil.
The Bald Cypress’s wood is valuable for building construction, fence posts, planking in boats, river pilings, doors, blinds, flooring, shingles, garden boxes, caskets, interior trim, and cabinetry. The Bald Cypress’s seeds found in its cones are often eaten by wild turkey, wood ducks, evening grosbeak, squirrels, waterfowl, and wading birds. Also, Cypress domes provide unique watering places for a variety of birds and mammals and breeding sites for frogs, toads, salamanders, and other reptiles. The tops of Bald Cypress trees often provide nesting sites for bald eagles, ospreys, herons, and egrets.
Bald Cypress is a tree species that have been historically planted as a water-tolerant tree species used for shading and canopy closure in mosquito control programs. It has been successfully planted throughout its range as an ornamental and along roadsides.
Easily grown in average, medium to wet, moisture-retentive but reasonably well-drained soils in full sun. Prefers moist, acidic, sandy soils, but tolerates a wide range of soil conditions ranging from somewhat dry soils to wet soils in standing water. It can be planted in sites that are entirely "land-locked" with no ill effects. It thrives in full sun to partial sun and is found in zones 4 to 11.
Cultivars, Improved, and Selected Materials (and area of origin)
This tree species is often sold and is available from nurseries throughout the Ohio region. Bald Cypress is widely distributed along the Atlantic Coastal Plain from southern Delaware to southern Florida, westward along the lower Gulf Coast Plain to southeastern Texas of the southeastern states and north in the Mississippi Valley to southeastern Oklahoma, southeast Missouri, southern Illinois, and southwestern Indiana. It typically grows along streams and other bodies of water. In Ohio, it grows in all regions and typically was planted, not naturally occurring.
There are different cultivars of Bald Cypress that offer unique shapes and forms that are commercially available at many local nurseries and garden centers. Those cultivars are:
Cascade Falls' is a weeping bald-cypress has a serpentine growth habit that requires staking early in its development until it develops a central leader and upright-growing branches that no longer require support. This cultivar is also available as a standard where the scion or “head” of ‘Cascade Falls’ is grafted at least five feet high up on T. distichum understock. When the trunk is thick enough to support the head, all of the side branches are removed. Either form allows its branches to arch downwards. Fall color is peachy-orange-brown.
‘Falling Waters’: This weeping bald-cypress will only grow as high as it’s staked. It can be espaliered against walls or draped over walls to allow its branches to cascade; 20 feet high and wide at maturity. Needles turn bronze in the fall.
Green Whisper® (‘JFS-SGPN’): Discovered in South Carolina, this vigorous cultivar has an upright to pyramidal form and grows 55 feet high and 30 feet wide in 20 years. Its feathery-looking bright green leaves turn rusty orange in the fall.
Shawnee Brave™ (‘Mickelson’): Strong narrow pyramidal to columnar form with a dense crown; 50 to 75 feet high and 15 to 20 feet wide. The parent is 75 feet tall and 18 feet wide. Needles turn orangish-brown in the fall. Introduced by Earl Cully of Heritage® Trees, Inc. Jacksonville, IL.
‘Pendens’: Weeping pyramidal form has nearly horizontal branches with drooping or nodding tips.
‘Peve Minaret’: Although a dwarf cultivar with closely spaced dark green needles, it can grow to a height and width of 20 feet and 8 to10 feet, respectively. This cultivar tolerates selective pruning that allows it to be “sculpted” into a variety of shapes and purposes.
Lindsey’s Skyward™ (‘Skyward’): Dwarf, compact selection with a columnar habit that’s well-suited for small landscapes. This cultivar matures to a height of 25 to 30 feet and a spread of 5 to 10 feet. Green needles turn golden copper than bronze before being shed.
Autumn Gold™ (‘Sofine’): Has a compact pyramidal habit and sage-green needles that turn rust-orange in the fall. The expected height and spread is 50 to 60 feet and 20 to 25 feet, respectively.
It is reported that in Native American tribes used the Bald Cypress mainly for its wood and fiber. Many of these cultures used the Cypress to create dugout canoes. The Seminole were particularly famous for this use of the Bald Cypress, and one Seminole in particular was famous for his well crafted canoes. This man's name was Charlie Cypress. Charlie Cypress was a Mikasuki Seminole of the Otter Clan born in 1869 in a Seminole Village. When he was older he worked at the Seminole tourist village at Silver Spring between the 1930s and 1950s. During this time, he probably made a 23-foot long canoe that is now in possession of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum located in Clewiston, Florida. Since canoe usage has dwindled due to the drainage of the everglades and addition of roads, less and less Seminoles have been participating in this art. However, more recently many of the tribes have begun to build canoes again as a way to connect to their heritage and bring Seminoles together. Other Native American cultures such as the Timucua, Seminole, and Mikosukee would use the wood the Cypress to create fibers, houses, cooking tools, toys, drums, and oxbows, and the Choctaws would use the bark of the tree to make cordage.
The Ohio Chapter ISA recommends working with an ISA Certified Arborist when selecting or caring for any tree in your landscape. To better guide you on the vital plant information for the Red Buds use our friendly users guide below:
Tree Selection Tips
|Plant Family||Cupressaceae (The Cypress family)|
|Life cycle||Perennial woody|
|Origin||Native to the United States|
|Tree form||Narrowly pyramidal unless a unique cultivar|
|Does it produce shade?||Yes|
Soil Preference: Acid soil, Wet soil
Tolerances: Dry sites, Wet sites, Occasional flooding, Clay soil
Acid Soils: Prefers
Alkaline Soils: Moderately Tolerant
Salt Spray: Tolerant
Soil Salt: Intolerant
Drought Conditions: Moderately Tolerant
Poor Drainage: Tolerant
May and inconspicuous and not showy.
|Fruit||Fruits (actually round cones) mature in one season, becoming prominent green balls that appear to be engraved with curving grooves on the cone surface. Triangular seeds are released from the brown cones in autumn and winter.|
|Plant height||60-80 feet|
|Plant spread||20-30 feet|
|Suitable for planting under or near electric(utility) wires||No|
|Potential Concerns||No serious insect or disease problems. Chlorosis often occurs in alkaline soils. Bagworms, gall mites and spider mites are occasional disease pest. Brown procket not known as "pecky cypress" which is caused by the fungus Stereum taxodi attacks the heartwood. The forest tent caterpillar (Malacosma disstria) and fruit-tree leafroller (Archips argyrospila) larvae build webs and feed on needles causing dieback and eventually death.|
|Unique Traits||In wet sites, the trunk exhibits a great degree of basal fare, and the roots rise up to form woody knees (lower right), which are elongates projections that rise just above the waterline. The bark of Bald Cypress is tan to reddish-brown and has a shredded and stringy appearance, similar to that of Eastern Red Cedar and Arborvitae.|
Written by Mark A. Webber BCMA, CPH, LTE, MArborA, OCMNT, TRAQ
Peterson. BALD CYPRESS Taxodium distichum (L.) L.C. Rich. United States Department of Agriculture. 2002
Photograph sources Mark A. Webber 2019