Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) is a great swamp conservation plant. It helps filter sediment so they don’t enter our waterways. Floodwater slows down, causing sediment to settle and not enter the rivers. This majestic tree is one of relatively few species that can even survive such environments.
Cypress trees grow best when soil pH is below neutral. This is rarely a problem in our area. Most swampland soils are well in the acid range which serves these trees well, but extremely acid soils inhibit growth too. Trees grow best at a pH range of 5.5 to 6.5.
Trees can attain impressive size. That makes them a great candidate for forestry use. Harvesting can pose problems, but cypress trees can be profitable.
Bald cypress wood is very durable. It is one of the more decay resistant lumbers found anywhere. Because of this bald cypress is often used for fencing and outdoor furniture. Shredded cypress mulch lasts longer than other mulches since it’s slow to break down, so many landscapers like it.
So are there any other uses for this great filter tree? One would assume it would make a fine landscape shade tree for wet places, since that’s where we find them. It certainly does, but it doesn’t end there.
I maintain this tree’s greatest landscape application is to plant it on upland sites. Bald cypress grows well on well drained soils. When given plenty of light, young trees develop broad attractive canopies. Trees usually require little pruning. They also have relatively few insect and disease problems.
One problem bald cypress has in waterlogged places is that it produces distinctive “knees”, which can cause problems for lawn mowers. These knees can be used in crafts and creative furniture, but most of us don’t want to hit them with the mower every week. On drier soils these trees don’t produce these woody appendage-like growths.
Bald cypress is a conifer and has needles like pine and hemlock trees. However, one factor that makes it a great shade tree is that this foliage is deciduous. That means trees are bare in the winter.
Good shade trees shade us from the sun in summer but let the light enter our houses in winter. In my opinion, evergreen trees should be planted on the north facing side of a building and deciduous trees should be planted on the south facing side. To me that’s common sense.
Another attribute shade trees should have is seasonal color. Bald cypress fall color can be attractive. It’s brownish orange and mixes well with other species. One problem you’ll have though is that people will constantly tell you your pine tree is dying.
When I was in the landscape business I got several calls every fall from people who thought their trees were dead. Those trees were a different species of deciduous conifer called tamaracks.
Bald cypress is also a native tree. Using natives is hot right now and there are many reasons for using them. Usually natives are adaptable and they generally don’t become invasive and threaten other wild plants.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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