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Swamp Cypress Taxodium distichum

Other Common Name(s):

Previously known as:

  • Taxodium distichum var. distichum
Phonetic Spelling
taks-O-di-um DIS-ti-kum
Description

The bald cypress is a long-lived, pyramidal, deciduous conifer, and a cone-bearing tree that grows 50 to 70 feet tall and 20 to 30 feet wide.  Old trees develop a wide, spreading base that narrows up the trunk with diameters as thick as 3 to 6 feet. A younger tree typically has a pyramidal habit; however, older specimens have an irregular flat top.  It is one of the longest living trees in the world and its rings hold years of climate data.  Although it looks like a needled evergreen in summer, it is deciduous or "bald" as the common name suggests. It is native to southern swamps, bayous, and rivers, primarily being found in coastal areas from Maryland to Texas and in the lower Mississippi River valley to as far north as the southeast corner of Missouri. In the deep South, it is a familiar sight growing directly in swampy water, often in large stands, with its branches heavily draped with Spanish moss. In cultivation, however, it grows very well in drier, upland soils.

The genus name, Taxodium, is Greek and means "yew like." This references a family of trees known for their hardwood. The epithet, distichum, means 'two ranked," meaning the leaves grow in two rows. 

The bald cypress is easily grown in average, medium to wet, moisture-retentive but reasonably well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. It prefers moist, acidic, sandy soils but tolerates a wide range of soil conditions, from somewhat dry soils to wet soils in standing water. This species has been known to tolerate flooded conditions for extended periods. The bald cypress is a low-maintenance tree with easy fall cleanup. It has a large taproot and is slightly salt tolerant. 

The roots develop knobby, conical "knees" or "cypress knees" that usually occur when the tree is grown near or in water most of the time. Exfoliating reddish-brown long narrow strips of bark are noted on younger trees, but older trees tend to peel much less. The base of the tree tends to be wider in older trees. The leaves are narrow, flat, alternate, spiral around the stem, and do not have any banding. The fall foliage is reddish-brown. The male cones are yellow to brown, long, pendulous measuring 1/8 inch wide, and appear in clusters. The female cone is globular, glaucous green to brown, and has short stalks.

 The heavy, straight-grained, rot-resistant wood has been used for various purposes, including barrels, railroad ties, and shingles.  The sapwood is cream-colored while the heartwood is brown.

Seasons of Interest: 

Bark: Year-round                     Bloom: Spring                        Foliage: Spring, Summer, and Fall            Fruit:  Fall 

Quick ID Hints:

  • deciduous, conifer, 50 to 70 feet tall with a pyramidal habit, 
  • narrow, long strips of reddish-brown exfoliating bark on younger trees
  • widened base of the tree with age
  • the leaves are narrow, flat, non-banding, alternate, two-ranked, and spiral around the stem
  • male cones are long pendulous, 1/8 inch wide, yellow to brown, and appear in clusters
  • female cones are round, glaucous green to brown, and appear on short stalks

 Insects, Diseases, or Other Plant Problems:  Twig blight is an occasional disease pest. Chlorosis often occurs in alkaline soils.

VIDEO Created by Elizabeth Meyer for "Trees, Shrubs and Conifers" a plant identification course offered in partnership with Longwood Gardens.

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
'Cascade Falls', 'Codys Feathers', 'Falling Waters', 'Green Whispers', 'Imbricarium Prairie Sentinel', 'Jims Little Guy', 'Lindsey's Skyward', 'Monarch of Illinsis', 'Nutans', 'Peve Minaret', 'Secrest', 'Shawnee Brave', 'The Senator', var. imbricarium, var. mexicana
Tags:
#deciduous#drought tolerant#interesting bark#wildlife plant#native tree#conifer#salt tolerant#cover plant#tsc#air pollution tolerant#standing water tolerant#showy fruits#food source wildlife#highly beneficial coastal plants#cpp#fire low flammability#NC native#deer resistant#children's garden#native garden#playground plant#Braham Arboretum#fantz#nesting sites#food source fall#food source spring#Coastal OBL#food source herbage#Piedmont Mountains OBL#wet soils tolerant#clay soils tolerant#bird friendly#food source hard mast fruit#tsc-cg#flood tolerant#Audubon#coastal plant#landscape plant sleuths course
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
'Cascade Falls', 'Codys Feathers', 'Falling Waters', 'Green Whispers', 'Imbricarium Prairie Sentinel', 'Jims Little Guy', 'Lindsey's Skyward', 'Monarch of Illinsis', 'Nutans', 'Peve Minaret', 'Secrest', 'Shawnee Brave', 'The Senator', var. imbricarium, var. mexicana
Tags:
#deciduous#drought tolerant#interesting bark#wildlife plant#native tree#conifer#salt tolerant#cover plant#tsc#air pollution tolerant#standing water tolerant#showy fruits#food source wildlife#highly beneficial coastal plants#cpp#fire low flammability#NC native#deer resistant#children's garden#native garden#playground plant#Braham Arboretum#fantz#nesting sites#food source fall#food source spring#Coastal OBL#food source herbage#Piedmont Mountains OBL#wet soils tolerant#clay soils tolerant#bird friendly#food source hard mast fruit#tsc-cg#flood tolerant#Audubon#coastal plant#landscape plant sleuths course
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Taxodium
    Species:
    distichum
    Family:
    Cupressaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    The wood is used for construction, flooring, cabinetry, and fences. It improves water quality while providing flood control in wet areas. Native Americans used the bark for string and rope. Others used the wood to make canoes or houses.
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Seed
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Eastern North America from DE to FL, west to Texas and Mexico
    Distribution:
    Mexico and Guatemala; USA: AL, AR, FL, GA, IL, IN, KY, LA, MD, MO, MS, NC, NJ, OH, OK, PA, SC, TN, TX, and VA.
    Fire Risk Rating:
    low flammability
    Wildlife Value:
    Wood ducks eat the seeds, as well as wild turkey, evening grosbeak, squirrels, waterfowl, and wading birds. Older trees form natural hollows and catamites that are used as cover by wildlife. Cyprus domes provide cover and breeding sites for frogs, toads, salamanders, and catfish. Spanish moss is often found hanging on the branches and provides food for Yellow-throated warblers.
    Play Value:
    Wildlife Cover/Habitat
    Wildlife Food Source
    Wildlife Nesting
    Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems):
    Resistant to fire, moderately resistant to damage by deer, slightly salt tolerant,
    Dimensions:
    Height: 50 ft. 0 in. - 70 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 20 ft. 0 in. - 30 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Broad
    Horizontal
    Open
    Pyramidal
    Growth Rate:
    Medium
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Fine
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    High Organic Matter
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Occasionally Wet
    Available Space To Plant:
    24-60 feet
    more than 60 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    4a, 4b, 5b, 5a, 6b, 6a, 7b, 7a, 8a, 8b, 9b, 9a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Green
    Purple/Lavender
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Fruit Length:
    1-3 inches
    Fruit Width:
    1-3 inches
    Fruit Description:
    The cones on the bald cypress are round, wrinkled, 3/4 to 1-inch in diameter, and purplish green that matures to brown. The scales are thick and irregular. Each tree produces either male cones (pollen-bearing) or female cones (seed-bearing). The cones are pollinated by the wind in the spring. Displays in October.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Purple/Lavender
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Insignificant
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Description:
    The male flowers appear in long drooping panicles. The female blooms appear at the end of the branches. They bloom from March to April.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Soft
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Whorled
    Leaf Shape:
    Lanceolate
    Linear
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    < 1 inch
    Leaf Width:
    < 1 inch
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are small, linear, 1/4 to 3/4 inches long with flat needles in two ranks on each branchlet. It is soft, feathery, yellowish green in the spring, sage green in summer, and orange/cinnamon-brown in the fall. Branchlets fall to the ground, leaves still attached, soon after.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Dark Brown
    Light Brown
    Light Gray
    Red/Burgundy
    Surface/Attachment:
    Exfoliating
    Bark Description:
    The bark is a fibrous, dark red-brown to gray with many thin, vertical exfoliating strips. Trunks are flared or fluted (buttressed) at the base. In water, they develop knobby root growths ("knees") which protrude above the water surface.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Description:
    The stems may be deciduous or non-deciduous. The non-deciduous stems are slender, alternate, rough, and brown. The buds are round.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Coastal
    Pond
    Recreational Play Area
    Riparian
    Landscape Theme:
    Children's Garden
    Rain Garden
    Design Feature:
    Shade Tree
    Specimen
    Attracts:
    Small Mammals
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Erosion
    Fire
    Pollution
    Salt
    Wet Soil