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Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)

Lee Squires, Superintendent
Cave Hill Cemetery

The Bald Cypress is one of the most unusual trees that you can find growing in Louisville. It is classified as a deciduous conifer with fine needles similar in appearance to our native hemlocks. When the leaves turn a beautiful burnt orange in the Fall the casual observer may think that the “evergreen” is dying and many people have asked me what is killing the “pine trees” around our lakes. After I explain what type of tree they are seeing, most visitors want one for their property.

The Bald Cypress resembles the Dawn Redwood that I have written about in a past article, but the needle-like leaves of the cypress are half the size of the redwood. Cypress leaves are alternately arranged on the stems and the Dawn Redwood leaves are opposite in arrangement. This is a primary clue to proper identification.

The tree grows to over 100 feet in height and has a beautiful, wide spreading, pyramidal growth habit. The leaves being small and brittle are easy to dispose of in the Fall by grinding up with a lawn mower. No leaf bags are necessary for the convenience of the homeowner.

 

It has a unique characteristic of growing in water or on dry land; and is found from Delaware to Florida and west to Minnesota. I have collected wild specimens growing in western Kentucky in swampy areas while taking a break from wood duck hunting. They are surviving today in my home landscape.

In the late 1970’s our lake had a small leak and the water level dropped. Our landscape crew planted a six-foot specimen, which we had grown from seed, in the mud bottom eight feet from shore. The tree now is surrounded by water and is surviving with a wide buttressed trunk at the water line. We also have some great specimens growing in dry ground around the Tingley Fountain on our Main Rd. They are over 80 years old and are flourishing.

Hollywood has done a great job in advertising the Bald Cypress when they have movies filmed in swampy areas from Florida to Louisiana to Georgia, as the police chase convicts through swamps studded with cypress trees draped in Spanish moss. In wet areas, you will see the characteristic “knees” protruding above the water line or along the shore. These help in oxygenating the root system.

In addition to the common Bald Cypress, there is the Pond Cypress that has ascending branches with deeply furrowed bark on the trunk. Two are planted at the front steps of the Satterwhite Memorial. There are several varieties of the Bald Cypress: ‘Shawnee Brave’, a narrow growing tree for smaller spaces and ‘Falling Waters’ and ‘Cascade Falls,’ beautiful weeping varieties for landscape interest. The ‘Peve Minaret’ is an upright, semi-dwarf tree with oddly arranged leaves that is great for the plant collector.

Please visit Cave Hill and look at these trees for ideas to include in your home landscape.

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