Appearance''Taxodium distichum'' is a large slow-growing and long-lived tree typically reaching heights of 30–35 m and a trunk diameter of 1–2 m.
The bark is gray-brown to red-brown, thin and fibrous with a stringy texture, having a vertically interwoven pattern of shallow ridges and narrow furrows.
The leaves are alternate and linear, with flat blades borne on the twig that are spirally arranged on the stem, but twisted at the base to lie in two horizontal ranks, 1–2 cm long and 1–2 mm broad. Unlike most other species in the family Cupressaceae, it is deciduous, losing its leaves in the winter months, hence the name 'bald'.
It is monoecious , with male and female flowers forming on slender tassel-like structures near the edge of the branchlets. The male and female strobili are produced from buds formed in the late fall, with pollination in early winter, and mature in about 12 months.
The seed cones are green maturing gray-brown, globular, and 2-3.5 cm in diameter. They have from 20 to 30 spirally arranged, four-sided scales, each bearing one or two triangular seeds. The number of seeds per cone ranges from 20 to 40. The cones disintegrate when mature to release the large seeds. The seeds are 5–10 mm long, the largest of any species in the cypress family, and are produced every year, but with heavy crops every three to five years. The seedlings have three to 9 cotyledons.
The main trunks are surrounded by cypress knees.
The tallest known individual specimen, near Williamsburg, Virginia, is 44.11 m tall, and the stoutest known, in the Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has a diameter at breast height of 521 cm. The oldest known specimen, located in Bladen County, North Carolina, is over 1,620 years old, making this one of the oldest living plants in eastern North America.
StatusIn 2002, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources identified ''T distichum'' as a state protected plant with the status of Threatened.
HabitatThe seeds remain viable for less than one year, and are dispersed in two ways. One is by water; the seeds float and move on water until flooding recedes or the cone is deposited on shore. The second is by wildlife; squirrels eat seeds, but often drop some scales from the cones they harvest. Seeds do not germinate under water and rarely germinate on well-drained soils; seedlings normally become established on continuously saturated, but not flooded, soils for one to three months. After germination, seedlings must grow quickly to escape floodwaters; they often reach a height of 20–75 cm in their first year. Seedlings die if inundated for more than about two to four weeks. Natural regeneration is therefore prevented on sites that are always flooded during the growing season. Although vigorous saplings and stump sprouts can produce viable seed, most specimens do not produce seed until they are about 30 years old. In good conditions, Bald-cypress grows fairly fast when young, then more slowly with age. Trees have been measured to reach 3 m in five years, 21 m in 41 years, and 36 m in height in 96 years; height growth has largely ceased by the time the trees are 200 years old. Some individuals can live over 1,000 years. Determination of the age of an old tree may be difficult because of frequent missing or false rings of stemwood caused by variable and stressful growing environments.
Bald cypress trees growing in swamps have a peculiarity of growth called cypress knees. These are woody projections from the root system project above the ground or water. Their function was once thought to be to provide oxygen to the roots, which grow in the low dissolved oxygen waters typical of a swamp . However, evidence for this is scant; in fact, roots of swamp-dwelling specimens whose knees are removed do not decrease in oxygen content and the trees continue to thrive. Another more likely function is structural support and stabilization. Bald cypress trees growing on flood-prone sites tend to form buttressed bases, but trees grown on drier sites may lack this feature. Buttressed bases and a strong, intertwined root system allow them to resist very strong winds; even hurricanes rarely overturn them.
Many agents damage ''T. distichum'' trees. The main damaging agent is the fungus ''Stereum taxodii'', which causes a brown pocket rot known as "pecky cypress". It attacks the heartwood of living trees, usually from the crown down to the roots. A few other fungi attack the sapwood and the heartwood of the tree, but they do not usually cause serious damage. Insects such as the cypress flea beetle and the bald cypress leafroller can seriously damage trees by destroying leaves, cones or the bark. Nutrias also clip and unroot young bald cypress seedlings, sometimes killing a whole plantation in a short amount of time.
ReproductionBald cypress is monoecious. Male and female strobili mature in one growing season from buds formed the previous year. The male catkins are about 2 mm in diameter and are borne in slender, purplish, drooping clusters 7 to 13 cm long that are conspicuous during the winter on this deciduous conifer. Pollen is shed in March and April. Female conelets are found singly or in clusters of two or three. The globose cones turn from green to brownish-purple as they mature from October to December. The cones are 13 to 36 mm in diameter and consist of 9 to 15 four-sided scales that break away irregularly after maturity. Each scale can bear two irregular, triangular seeds with thick, horny, warty coats and projecting flanges. The number of seeds per cone averages 16 and ranges from two to 34. Cleaned seeds number from about 5600 to 18,430/kg .Bald cypress is one of the few conifer species that sprouts. Thrifty sprouts are generally produced from stumps of young trees, but trees up to 60years old also send up healthy sprouts if the trees are cut during the fall or winter. However, survival of these sprouts is often poor and those that live are usually poorly shaped and do not make quality sawtimber trees. Stumps of trees up to 200 years old may also sprout, but the sprouts are not as vigorous and are more subject to wind damage as the stump decays. In the only report on the rooting of bald cypress cuttings found in the literature, cuttings from trees five years old rooted better than those from older trees.
UsesThis species is a popular ornamental tree, grown for its light, feathery foliage and orange-brown to dull red fall color. In cultivation, it thrives on a wide range of soils, including well-drained sites where it would not grow naturally due to the inability of the young seedlings to compete with other vegetation. Cultivation is successful far to the north of its native range, north to southern Canada. It is also commonly planted in Europe, Asia and elsewhere with temperate to subtropical climates. It does, however, require hot summers for good growth; when planted in areas with cool summers oceanic climates, growth is healthy but very slow , and cones are not produced.
One of the oldest in Europe, was planted in the 1900s in the Arboretum de Pézanin, Burgundy, France.
Bald cypress has been noted for its high merchantable yields. In virgin stands, yields from 112 to 196 m³/ha were common, and some stands might have exceeded 1000 m³/ha. Bald cypress swamps are some of the world's most productive ecosystems.
The odorless wood of bald cypress, closely resembling that of ''Cupressus'' spp., has long been valued for its water resistance, thus is called 'wood eternal'. Still-usable prehistoric wood is often found in swamps as far north as New Jersey, and occasionally as far as Connecticut, although it is more common in the southeast. The somewhat-mineralized wood is mined from some swamps in the southeast, and is highly prized for specialty uses such as wood carvings. Pecky cypress, caused by the fungus ''Stereum taxodii'' is used for decorative wall paneling.
The bald cypress was designated the official state tree of Louisiana in 1963. It is considered by some to be a symbol of the southern swamps.
Cypress trees can be used in the making of shingles. Joshua D. Brown, the first settler of Kerrville, Texas, made his living producing shingles from cypress trees growing along the Guadalupe River of the Texas Hill Country. Shingles produced from cypress were also one of the main industries for early pioneers in Kissimmee, Florida . One of the main bodies of water in the area, Shingle Creek, is named in homage of their importance to the growth of the city.
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