Taxodium distichum / bald cypress

Its deciduous foliage is arranged in two flat flanks, similar to Taxus with a delicate, feathery appearance. The fresh, yellow-green needles in spring darken for summer and then turn russet in fall. The roots develop cypress knees when grown near water, or with plenty of moisture.

[ Sandra McLean Cutler, in Dwarf & Unusual Conifers Coming of Age A Guide to Mature Garden Conifers ] Requiring full sun but tolerant of part shade, it is fast-growing but not a dwarf. The form is narrow when young; pyramidal as it matures with long level branches. Growth is 2-4'/yr, 16 H/8 W, 60'/UH; found in Z5 southeastern USA, New Jersey to Texas.

Taxodium distichum, as described in 1810 by (Linnaeus) Louis Claude Marie Richard (1754 – 1821), in Annales du Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle vol.16 no.298, is commonly known as bald cypress, cypress, or swamp cypress. The species name is derived from the word distichous, meaning arranged alternately in two opposite vertical rows, describing the nature of the foliar arrangement. Bald cypress is the state tree of Louisiana.

Taxodium distichum drawing

Description. Bald cypress is a deciduous, coniferous species of tree that grows to mature heights of 125 feet (40 m) tall, with a trunk up to 10 feet (3 m) in diameter, measured at breast height; usually with a single straight trunk, a broad base, and often with brown, woody “knees” projecting up to 40 inches (1 m) from the ground nearby; forming a pyramidal crown that flattens in old trees.

  • Bark is light brown in color, turning gray, exfoliating in long, thin strips.
  • Foliar shoots are dimorphic and slender, colored green to light brown, with each year’s growth consisting
    of a single indeterminate long shoot with multiple determinate lateral short shoots.
  • Leaves are variably deciduous (with the shoot, as is general in Cupressaceae) depending on location (short or long shoots) and climate; winter-deciduous in temperate areas, but lasting a year or more in subtropical areas. Leaves grow in 2 ranks, measuring 0.4 to 0.68 inch (10 - 17 mm) long.
  • Pollen cones measure 0.08 to 0.12 inch (2 - 3 mm) long growing from the ends of reproductive shoots that measure up to 10 inches (25 cm) long.
  • Seed cones are round, measuring 0.6 to 2.4 inches (1.5 - 4 cm) in diameter. They are green and fleshy when young, and brown and woody at maturity. Seed cones consist of 5 to 10 seed scales.
Native range of <em>Taxodium distichum. </em>
Native range of Taxodium distichum.

Distribution. This species is native to USA — Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia; Mexico; and Guatemala; where it can be easily found growing in riparian and wetland habitats.

Hardy to USDA Zone 5 (-10 to -20°F / -23.3 to -28.9°C).

Attribution from: Frank D. Watson; Taxodiaceae. Flora of North America Editorial Committee (editors.): Flora of North America North of Mexico, Vol. 2. ©1993. Oxford University Press.

Taxodium distichum — This 10-year-old bald cypress pictured here is growing at the edge of a lake. The trunk had begun to flare at the base and it has developed two knees. The photo was taken in November 1999 and shows the rich autumn color.
Photo by Charlene Harris
Taxodium distichum / bald cypress at Cay Nature Center and Wetlands, Boynton Beach, Florida; photo from October 2020.
Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss
Taxodium distichum knees — a great example of bald cypress knees. These are on a small grouping at Dawes Arboretum in the Conifer Glen. Photo taken on a sunny 60-degree day in January of 2002.
Photo by Prairie Barger
Taxodium distichum — a closeup of trunk and lots of cypress knees, probably tinged red from soil / water chemistry.
Katherine Wagner-Reiss
Taxodium distichum — a closeup of foliage detail.
Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss
Closeup of Taxodium distichum twig with immature seed cones and foliage. Note alternate leaf arrangement. Seed cones are about the size of a ping pong ball
Photo by Phil Syphrit
Taxodium distichum — a closeup of foliage and seed cones This heavy coning was probably induced by the severe weather conditions of the summer 2002 and winter 2003 in Wooster Ohio. There are three trees growing in a row and all are laden with cones.
Photo by Bill Barger
Bald cypress roots on a 15-year-old specimen created by slowly exposing roots through irrigation.
Photo by Len Stubenfoll
Taxodium distichum — a swampside grouping of trees in Nature in Florida.
Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss