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Bald Cypress

Taxodium distichum

Bald cypress are able to grow in standing water in swamps.
Bald cypress are able to grow in standing water in swamps.

The bald cypress is a tall deciduous tree with needle-like leaves and distinctive “knees” that rise up from the soil or water around it. It grows in swamps and forests in parts of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

Appearance:

  • Tree is cone- or pyramid-shaped. Older trees may have a flattened top.
  • Feathery, flattened, needle-like leaves
  • Young trees have pale green foliage that becomes darker green as they mature
  • In autumn, foliage turns golden brown before falling off
  • Small, round cones at the ends of the stems. New cones are green and turn brown as they mature.
  • “Knees” that protrude from the water or soil around the tree. The knees are part of the tree’s root system.
  • Smooth, stringy, grayish-brown bark
  • Trunk base is swollen when the tree grows in water
  • Can grow more than 100 feet tall with a trunk diameter of 3-6 feet

Habitat:

  • Grows in rivers, swamps and wet woods
  • Able to grow in standing water

Range:

  • Grows in the southern portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, including parts of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia
  • Specific locations include Maryland’s Battle Creek and Pocomoke River and Virginia’s Chickahominy River

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Cones mature in October
  • Each cone contains about 16 winged seeds, which are spread by wind, water and animals
  • Trees produce seeds every year, but good seed production only occurs every 3-5 years
  • Seeds must be saturated in water for 1-3 months after falling to germinate
  • Tree stumps may also sprout after being disturbed
  • May live to be hundreds of years old

Other Facts:

  • Gets its name from its “bald” appearance in winter
  • Related to the redwoods and sequoias that grow in California
  • Even though it is a conifer, bald cypress trees are not evergreen. They lose their leaves every autumn and grow new ones in spring.
  • TrapPond State Park in Delaware has the northernmost stand of bald cypress in the United States
  • Snakes, turtles, birds and other animals rely on bald cypress swamps for habitat. Bees, wood ducks and barrel owls nest in hollow bald cypress trunks.

Sources and Additional Information:

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