Native to the southern US, this stately, deciduous native has a pyramidal shape, lacy needles, and a straight trunk with a flared and sometimes beautifully fluted base. A relative of the giant and dawn redwoods, this tree bears small, globe-shaped cones containing triangular seeds that are prized by birds and mammals. Unlike other cone-bearing trees, bald cypress loses its needles each winter and grows a new set in spring. The soft needles shift colors from yellow-green to soft green in summer to russet-red or cinnamon in fall.
While bald cypress may be most familiar as the southern swamp tree with cone-shaped “knees” protruding from the water, it does very well when planted in landscapes. It grows best in full sun and wet, acidic soil, but adapts to and grows less competitively in a wide range of soils and drier conditions. In the wild, bald cypress is found in swamps and wet areas, which is where it sends up "knees."
In Ohio, it’s often planted in groupings in parks and larger spaces, along streets, and around lakes. It makes a beautiful specimen or shade tree in yards and naturalized areas.
Grows 50-80’ tall and 30’ wide.
Prefers full sun but adapts to part shade.
Prefers wet, acidic soil but will grow in clay, dry, sandy, loamy, and silty soils. It’s adaptable to wet or dry conditions and can withstand flooding.
Dormant male catkins elongate in late winter to pollinate nearby female flowers.
Short needles are arranged in pairs along slender branchlets.
Bark is reddish brown and has shredded appearance similar to eastern red cedar.
In its native range, bald cypress hosts 8 specialist moths, including the bald cypress sphinx. In central Ohio, larva of the imperial and cecropia moths feed on bald cypress. Birds and mammals use the tree for cover and food, and groves of trees in swampy areas support complex ecosystems.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
Various parts of the tree have been used to prepare ointments or infusions for a variety of inflammatory conditions. The leaves and seeds have been used to treat malaria and liver disease.
While it has medicinal uses, bald cypress does not appear as even emergency food in common foraging resources.
The bark has been used to make cordage. Native Americans used cypress wood, which is lightweight and not easily warped, for their homes, canoes, drums, and coffins. Settlers and loggers found the wood to be extraordinarily rot resistant (they called it “the wood eternal”), and the trees were heavily harvested so that populations decreased. Currently, the trees are being rapidly depleted because they are used for mulch.
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