The Swamp Cypress is May's plant of the month.
Common Name: Swamp Cypress, Bald Cypress
Botanical Name: Taxodium distichum
Habitat and Distribution
The native range extends from south eastern New Jersey in the United States to south Florida and west to East Texas and south eastern Oklahoma, and also inland up the Mississippi River. Ancient swamp cypress forests, with some trees more than 1,700 years old, once dominated swamps in the Southeast.
This species is native to humid climates. Although it grows best in warm climates, the natural northern limit of the species is not due to a lack of cold tolerance, but to specific reproductive requirements: further north, regeneration is prevented by ice damage to seedlings. Larger trees can tolerate much lower temperatures and lower humidity.
Taxodium distichum is a large, slow-growing, and long-lived tree. It typically grows to heights of 10–40 m and has a trunk diameter of 0.9–1.8 m.
The main trunk is often surrounded by cypress knees. The bark is greyish brown to reddish brown, thin, and fibrous with a stringy texture; it has a vertically, interwoven pattern of shallow ridges and narrow furrows.
The needle-like leaves are 1.3 to 1.9 cm long and are simple, alternate, green and linear, with entire margins. In autumn, the leaves turn yellow or copper red. The bald cypress drops its needles each winter and then grows a new set in spring.
This species is monoecious, with male and female flowers on a single plant forming on slender, tassel-like structures near the edge of branchlets. The tree flowers in April and the seeds ripen in October. The male and female strobili are produced from buds formed in late autumn, with pollination in early winter, and mature in about 12 months. Male cones emerge on panicles that are 10–13 cm long. Female cones are round, resinous and green while young. They then turn hard and then brown as the tree matures. They are globular and 2.0–3.5 cm diameter. They have from 20 to 30 spirally arranged, four-sided scales, each bearing one, two, or rarely three triangular seeds. Each cone contains 20 to 40 large seeds. The cones disintegrate at maturity to release the seeds. The seeds are the largest of any species of Cupressaceae, and are produced every year, with heavy crops every 3–5 years.
The oldest known living specimen, found along the Black River in North Carolina, is at least 2,624 years old, rendering it the oldest living tree in eastern North America.
In 2012 scuba divers discovered an underwater cypress forest several miles off the coast of Mobile, Alabama, in 20 m of water. The forest contains trees that could not be dated with radiocarbon methods, indicating that they are more than 50,000 years old and thus most likely lived in the early glacial interval of the last ice age. The cypress forest is well preserved, and when samples are cut they still smell like fresh cypress.
Where to see the Swamp Cypress in Centennial Parklands
Musgrave Pond. Map Ref: O14