Crooked Run Valley
baldcypress (Taxdium distichum)
Cupressus disticha L.
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Not confirmed. A single specimen
has been observed in Sky Meadows Park; however, it was severely
damaged and its survival is in doubt.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name for bald-
cypress is Taxodium distichum L. Rich. The species is divided into
two commonly recognized varieties that are differentiated by
morphology, habitat, and distribution: 1) Taxodium distichum var.
distichum, (baldcypress), and 2) Taxodium distichum var. imbricarium
(Nuttall) Croom, (pondcypress). Pondcypress is less likely than bald-
cypress to have knees, and when it does have them, they are shorter
and more rounded. Its fluted base tends to have rounded rather than
sharp ridges and its bark is usually more coarsely ridged. Its branches
are more ascending than those of baldcypress. Seedlings and fast-
growing shoots of pondcypress, however, are much like the typical
variety of baldcypress. Despite the usual differences in the two
varieties, it is sometimes very difficult to distinguish them. Pond-
cypress grows in shallow ponds and wet areas westward only to
southeastern Louisiana. It does not usually grow in rivers or stream
swamps. Baldcypress is more widespread and typical of the species.
Its range extends westward into Texas and northward into Illinois
NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States.
GENERAL BORTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Cypress is
a large-sized, native, deciduous, conifer, frequently 100 to 120 feet
(30-37 m) in height. It is slow growing and very long-lived. Individual
trees have been reported up to 1,200 years old in Georgia and South
Carolina. In the forest, baldcypress typically has a broad, irregular
crown, often draped in curtains and streams of gray Spanish moss.
The trunks of older trees are massive, tapering, and particularly
when growing in swamps, buttressed at the base. The deciduous
leaves are linear and flat with blades mostly spreading, fastened
alternately around the twig. Cypress is monoecious with its male
and female flowers forming slender tasslelike structures near the
edge of the branchlets. The bark of cypress is usually quite thin and
fibrous with an interwoven pattern of narrow flat ridges and narrow furrows. Cypress develops a taproot as well as horizontal roots that
lie just below the sur- face and extend 20 to 50 feet (6-15 m) before
Cypress knees are a unique polymorphic structure of cypress trees.
They start out as small swellings on the upper surface of a horizontal
root and then protrude above the mud and water providing extra
needed support. They vary in height from 1 to 12 feet (0.3-3.7 m)
depending on the level of the water.
REGENERATION PROCESS: Baldcypress produces seed every
year, and good seed production occurs at intervals of about 3 years.
Because of the large size of the seeds and the relatively small wing
size, cypress seeds are not dispersed to any distance by the wind.
Flood waters disperse the seed along rivers and streams.
The exact requirements for moisture immediately after seed dispersal
seems to be the key to the survival and distribution of cypress. Under
swamp conditions, the best seed germination generally takes place
on a sphagnum moss or a wet-muck seedbed. An abundant supply of
moisture for a period of 1 to 3 months after seedfall is required for
germination. Seed covered with water for as long as 30 months may
germinate when the water recedes. On better drained soils, seed usual-
ly fails to germin- ate successfully because of the lack of surface water.
After disturbance, cypress will sprout from the stumps of young trees.
Trees up to 60 years of age send up healthy sprouts. Trees up to 200
years of age may also sprout but not very vigorously.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Cypress is usually restricted to very
wet soils consisting of muck, clay, or fine sand where moisture is
abundant and fairly permanent. More than 90 percent of the natural
cypress stands are found on flat or nearly flat topography at elevations
less than 100 feet (30 m) above sea level. The upper limits of its
growth in the Mississippi Valley is at an elevation of about 500 feet
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: Cypress swamps represent an edaphic
climax; they are held almost indefinitely in a subfinal stage of succes-
sion by physiographic conditions. Cypress is intermediate in shade
tolerance. Best growth occurs under a high degree of overhead light,
but the tree persists under partial shade.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: The flower buds of cypress trees
appear in late December or early January. The flowers appear in
March and April; fruit ripens from October through December.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Baldcypress grows along the Atlantic
Coastal Plain from southern Delaware to southern Florida, westward
along the lower Gulf Coast Plain to southeastern Texas almost to the
Mexican border. Inland, it grows along streams of the Southeastern
States and north in the Mississippi Valley to southeastern Oklahoma,
southeastern Missouri, southern Illinois, and southwestern Indiana. It
is cultivated in Hawaii. Pondcypress is generally confined to areas
from southeastern Virginia to southern Florida and southeastern
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION:
Tree specimens can be found on trails marked in red.
Appalachian Trail/Old Trail
South Ridge/North Ridge
Rolling Meadows/ Lost Mountain
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES: Baldcypress
has been included as an indicator or dominant in the following vege-
tation types: The phytosociology of the Green Swamp, North Carolina
Southern mixed hardwood forest of north-central Florida Plant com-
munities in the marshlands of southeastern Louisiana Plant commun-
ities of the Coastal Plain of North Carolina and their successional
Common tree associates of bald and pondcypress are: American elm
(Ulmus americana), water hickory (Carya aquatica), red maple (Acer
rubrum), green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica), sugarberry (Celtis
laevigata), sweetgum (Liquidambar sylvatica), loblolly-bay (Gordonia
lasianthus), and sweetbay (Magnolia virginia).
IMPORTANCE AND USES: Baldcypress seeds are eaten by wild
turkey, wood ducks, evening grosbeak, and squirrels. The seed is a
minor part of the diet of waterfowl and wading birds. Yellow-throated
warblers forage in the Spanish moss often found hanging on the branches
of old cypress trees. Cypress domes provide watering places for a variety
of birds, mammals, and reptiles of the surrounding pinelands.
The tops of cypress trees provide nesting sites for bald eagles and
ospreys. Warblers use the old decaying knees for nesting cavities, and
catfish spawn below cypress logs. Cypress domes provide breeding sites
for a number of frogs, toads, and salamanders. Cypress domes also pro-
vide nesting sites for herons and egrets.
Baldcypress has been successfully planted on the margins of surface-
mined lakes in southern Illinois, southwestern Indiana, and western
Kentucky. Cypress swamps help to maintain high regional water tables,
and they can also be used to provide advanced wastewater treatment
for small communities. Research has shown that cypress domes can
serve as tertiary sewage treatment facilities for improving water quality
and recharging groundwater. Baldcypress has been planted as a water
tolerant tree species used for shading and canopy closure to help reduce
populations of the Anopheles mosquito.
Baldcypress has been successfully planted throughout its range as an
ornamental and along roadsides.
Baldcypress wood is highly resistant to decay, making it valuable for a
multitude of uses. It is used in building construction, fence posts, plank-
ing in boats, doors, blinds, flooring, shingles, caskets, interior trim, and