Baldcypress, Alligators, and Wooly Mammoths

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Baldcypress Taxodium distichum fall color
Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) turns a smoky-orange color in October.

Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum), a deciduous conifer, makes the color calendar during the week of October 11 with duckling-soft foliage that turns a smoked-salmon color.  In contrast to most broadleaf trees which color from the outside-in, deciduous conifers develop fall tints from the inside-out, glowing more each day until the entire tree is saturated with color.  Baldcypress offers fall color through November 7th as it changes from pastel green, to coppery orange, to a warm, rusty brown.

A native of Southern swamps, baldcypress rises from alligator-populated waters there like a prehistoric sentinel.  Related to the giant redwoods of the West, it is one of the longest-lived trees found in the Eastern United States and can live to the unfathomably old age of 1,800 years.  Plants don’t typically get taller than 100 feet, so they don’t compare to redwoods on that level, but they do build outrageously wide buttressing trunks; the largest living ones have a DBH (Diameter Breast-Height) of 17 feet.

Despite its Southern pedigree, baldcypress is hardy to Zone 4 and adapts to a wide variety of growing conditions (preferring those that are acidic).  When grown in boggy sites, the species’ quirky, characteristic “knees” rise from the water, though these don’t develop in well-drained soil.

‘Peve Minaret’ is a compressed version of the species much in vogue among plant connoisseurs.  It is compact, but not miniature—a 10-inch start planted at the JC Raulston Arboretum in 2003 was 20 feet tall after 10 years.  A weeping variety, ‘Cascade Falls’, must be grafted to keep it from snaking along the ground, and thus treated becomes a 20-foot wooly mammoth in green.  A landscaper friend once told me that after planting a weeping white pine in his own front yard, a helpful neighbor assured him that if he watered it, the tree would “perk right up.”  I can only imagine what a lost cause the neighbor would have thought a weeping baldcypress to be had it turned orange, and then brown, and dropped all of its needles in a heap at its feet!


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5 Responses

  1. Win
    Win at | | Reply

    Amy Bald Cypress is truly the most environmentally versatile plant I know. I am looking forward to future posts. Win

  2. wsrubio
    wsrubio at | | Reply


    ‘Peve Minaret’ is a compressed version of the species much in vogue among plant connoisseurs.  It is compact, but not miniature—a 10-inch start planted at the JC Raulston Arboretum in 2003 was 20 feet tall after 10 years.  A weeping variety, ‘Cascade Falls’, must be grafted to keep it from snaking along the ground, and thus treated becomes a 20-foot wooly mammoth in green.  A landscaper friend once told me that after planting a weeping white pine in his own front yard, a helpful neighbor assured him that if he watered it, the tree would “perk right up.”  I can only imagine what a lost cause the neighbor would have thought a weeping baldcypress to be had it turned orange, and then brown, and dropped all of its needles in a heap at its feet.”
    I disagree. Look at
    http://dailywag.marthastewart.com/2013/09/do-you-know-about-bald-cypress-knees.html

    1. Brian Heinz
      Brian Heinz at | | Reply

      I feel obligated to chime in the discussion. As a caretaker of several hundred-plus year old Bald cypress trees, I have observed several that are just twenty yards away from the lake—no knees. The ones along the water’s edge have huge, numerous knees. Sometimes it can be the watering practices of the property owner more than the unadulterated soil conditions. 14 year old bald cypress on another part of the property have small knees, like the ones in your link, but the lawn around them has irrigation and the trees, while having good drainage, are moderately moist for the majority of the growing season. Without constant supplemental irrigation the cypress should have tiny knees, if any, as they grow to their massive potential.

  3. Blocker Don
    Blocker Don at | | Reply

    This plant it one for the ages as it has proved. Looking forward to more introductions in the future. Would love a true columnar form one day.

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