Cypress trees adapt to a wide variety of soil types, be it wet, dry or swampy. The cypress has many names, bald cypress, swamp cypress, white cypress, tidewater red cypress, gulf cypress, and red cypress. The scientific name is Taxodium Distichum.

A cypress tree is a large, slow-growing tree that has a long life. Typically, it grows to heights of 35 – 120 feet and a trunk diameter will range from 3 to 6 feet. [1] Cypress’ knees surround the main trunk. The bark of the tree is a grayish brown to reddish brown, thin with a fibrous stringy texture. There is a vertical interwoven pattern of shallow ridges and narrow furrows.

A cypress tree has needle-like leaves that are ½ to ¾ of an inch long. They are simple, alternate, green and linear, with entire margins. During Autumn, their leaves turn yellow or copper red. During the winter, a bald cypress will drop its needles, and then a new set grows in the spring.

The native range in the United States extends from southeastern New Jersey south to Florida, west to East Texas and southeastern Oklahoma and finally inland up the Mississippi River. At one time, ancient bald cypress forests, with some trees more than 1,700 years old dominated swamps in the Southeast. An underwater cypress forest was located in 2012 by scuba driver off the coast of Mobile, Alabama, in 60 feet of water. The trees could not be dated with radiocarbon methods, indicating that they are more than 50,000 years old, and most likely lived in the early glacial interval of the last ice age. The forest is well preserved, and when cut they still smell like fresh cypress.

Bald cypress is hardy and can be planted in hardiness zones in the United States. Due to its light feathery foliage and orangey brown to dull red autumnal color, the cypress is a popular ornamental tree. A cypress does require hot summers for good growth.

The bald cypress is the official state tree of Louisiana. It is also considered to be the symbol of the southern swamps of the United States.

[1] Cypress’ knees are a distinctive structure forming above the roots of a cypress tree. Their function is unknown and is seen in trees growing in swamps. Knees are woody projections above the normal water level, vertically from the roots with a near-right-angle bend. This takes them vertically upward through the water. An early assumption was that their function was that they provide oxygen to the roots.

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