Tree of the Month – Bald Cypress

Tree of the Month – Bald Cypress
By Carrie Tauscher, Crown Hill Arborist

This quad of bald cypress is a beautiful example of how a grouping of trees can be greater than the sum of its parts.

Bald cypress is a native Indiana tree that is a deciduous (loses its leaves in fall) conifer (produces cone fruiting structure like a pine or spruce tree) and is part of a very small set of plants that grow cones and lose their leaves seasonally. These trees have fine, feathery compound leaves that turn a vibrant copper color around the first frost each year. They hold on to their beautiful copper plumes for a week or two and then shed them to the ground, leaving a soft, barefoot-traversable layer of self-created mulch.

Generally, this species is associated with wet forests and grows in and around bodies of water, creating these mesmerizing (though sometimes inconvenient) root adaptations called cypress knees. These root adaptations allow bald cypress to tolerate water inundation better than most other trees as the knees act like little root snorkels allowing for oxygen exchange and respiration when the majority of the root system is being suffocated by water. This is also why bald cypress make pretty great urban street trees as they can tolerate low oxygen, compacted urban soils.

Because bald cypress trees are highly adaptable to wet areas, I strongly recommend them for planting along waterways in low water holding areas on properties to help reduce the duration of wet soils with the caveat that if the tree sends up knees you cannot cut them off or mow over them. You must give this water-tolerant conifer some respect and work around its amazingly evolved adaptations by allowing for companion vegetation to grow or to mulch around the knees if you want to be able to walk amongst them.

On our site, we will be working to plant new bald cypress in wet or water holding areas where the trees will be the most content and healthy.