Description & Overview

Taxodium distichum, the Baldcypress, is a lovely, lofty, deciduous, yet coniferous tree with a slender, pyramidal habit. Baldcypress grows naturally in the southern swamps and bayou, the coastal regions from Maryland to Texas, and in the lower Mississippi River valley to as far north as Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois. Baldcypress is a tough tree that is adaptable to different soil types and textures and is quite drought tolerant. Baldcypress is noted for its burnt orange to rusty red fall color.

Core Characteristics

Category: Conifer

Wisconsin Native: No - Native to North America

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 4

Mature Height: 50-70 feet

Mature Spread: 20-30 feet

Growth Rate: Slow

Growth Form: Pyramidal.

Light Requirements: Full Sun

Site Requirements: Tolerates a wide range of soil conditions but thrives in moist soils..

Flower: The male flowers appear in long drooping panicles. The female blooms appear at the end of the branches.

Bloom Period: Spring

Foliage: Fine - textured medium green needles.

Fall Color: Rusty red / brunt orange.

Urban Approved: Yes

Fruit Notes: The cones on the bald cypress are round, wrinkled, 3/4 to 1 - inch in diameter, and purplish green that matures to brown.

Suggested Uses

Baldcypress is a stately tree that can be planted in various sites with differing conditions. This plant is tough and urban-approved, meaning it’s an eligible street tree. When you see Baldcypress as a street tree, it’s typically the upright, columnar cultivar ‘Shawnee Brave’; the straight species would still work in sites not limited by space. Baldcypress appreciates being planted in mesic locations and is often found growing in hydric conditions, but thanks to its adaptability, it can thrive in your average soils. Baldcypress is drought tolerant once established, but I would consider a different tree if your site is xeric.

Baldcypress has plenty of ornamental interest, from reddish-brown exfoliating bark, soft, fine-textured foliage, and gorgeous fall color. It’s well suited as a shade or specimen tree. Thanks to its love for the water, you can use baldcypress in a rain garden or as a border planting for rivers and ponds. Seeds can travel some distance by floating on water; otherwise, they don’t wander far.

Wildlife Value

Moth caterpillars known to feed on baldcypress include the Angle-Winged Emerald, Bald Cypress Sphinx, and the Forest Tent Caterpillar. The seeds may be eaten to some extent by birds such as the Wood Duck, Gadwall, Mallard, and Wild Turkey; they are also eaten to a limited extent by tree squirrels. Baldcypress provides nesting habitat for a wide variety of birds, including the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Bald Eagle, Osprey, Yellow-Throated Warbler, and various herons and egrets.
Barred Owls often roost in this tree in swampy areas of southern Illinois.

Maintenance Tips

The baldcypress is a low-maintenance tree with easy fall cleanup. Because this conifer is deciduous, it will shed its foliage come fall. It may look like a needled evergreen in summer but will be “bald,” as the name suggests, in winter.

Pests/Problems

Baldcypress has few insect and disease pests. Bagworms, gall mites, and spider mites are occasional insect pests, but these are problems hardly worth mentioning. While deer are unlikely to eat your baldcypress, you ought to consider placing a trunk guard on your tree to protect against buck rub. Better safe than sorry!

Leaf Lore

Taxodium is a genus of three species of highly flood-tolerant conifers in the cypress family (Cupressaceae). The genus name Taxodium comes from the Latin word Taxus, meaning “yew like,” and the Greek word eidos, meaning “resemblance,” for its similarity of leaf shape and being known for its heartwood. Baldcypress has been called the “wood eternal” because its heartwood Is resistant to decay.

The roots develop knobby, conical “knees” usually when the tree is grown near or in water for most of the time. These knobby root growths will protrude above the water or soil surface around the tree. Trunks are often buttressed and develop a large flare with a nice taper. The actual function of these knees is currently a subject of ongoing research. It is theorized that the knees help with aeration. Another hypothesis is they are storage organs for carbohydrates. After nearly 200 years of speculation and research, the true purpose remains an enigma.

Baldcypress is the closest relative of Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides.

Baldcypress is the Louisiana State Champion and is also home to the National Champion. It is located near St. Francisville, at Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge. It is 91 feet tall, with an 87-foot crown spread. Its trunk circumference is an astounding 626 inches!

The oldest living plant in Illinois is a millennia-old Baldcypress in the Cache River State Natural Area. The oldest Baldcypress in the United States is found along the Black River in North Carolina, estimated to be nearly 2,700 years old. It is the oldest tree east of the Mississippi River.

Companion Plants

Thanks to the incredible adaptability of Baldcypress, it can be partnered with various landscape plants depending on where you are using Baldcypress.

Because baldcypress thrives in mesic to hydric sites, consider pairing with other wet soil-loving plants such as Red Milkweed, Shreve’s Iris, Joe-Pye Weed, Cardinal Flower, Giant Soloman Seal, Lungwort, Silky Dogwood, Buttonbush or Tamarack.

Taxodium distichum, the Baldcypress, is a lovely, lofty, deciduous, yet coniferous tree with a slender, pyramidal habit. Baldcypress grows naturally i…
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Written by Miles Minter