By James T. Midcap
and Gary L. Wade
University of Georgia
The swamp is its natural habitat. But the tree is surprisingly adaptable to dry sites. Bald cypress is a native American tree with a wide growing range.
It's a common wetland plant from Delaware to Florida and from Indiana to Texas. It has prehistoric roots in the evolution of our planet and was likely a common species when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Think bigBald cypress is a deciduous conifer. It grows to a large, stately tree, reaching 50 to 80 feet tall and 20 to 30 feet wide at maturity. It's best used in large, open spaces such as parks or large home landscapes.
It's often overlooked as a street tree, but it's spectacular in clusters of three or more along a pond or lake. However, its large size may limit its use in small home landscapes.
Bald cypress was one of the most highly rated trees among the more than 200 species in an Auburn University evaluation program. It's a tough, widely adaptable tree. It naturally grows into an attractive, pyramidal form, too, that requires little pruning.
The tree prefers sites in full sun. It adapts to both wet and dry soils but prefers soils that are acidic. Its soft-textured, flat needles are 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch long, spiraling around the twigs.
The needles emerge yellow-green in spring and turn bright green by summer. They turn bronze-orange in fall before they drop for the winter.
Always impressiveIt's not ugly in the winter landscape, though. As the tree ages, the bark becomes fibrous and turns reddish-brown, making a dramatic statement in the landscape.
Male and female flowers form separately on the tree. The male flowers are drooping panicles 4 to 5 inches long. Female flowers are more compressed along the stems and develop into round, 1-inch cones that turn brown in fall.
Cypress knees are vertical root extensions commonly seen on trees submerged in water. They help the tree absorb oxygen. Knees don't form on plants growing on upland sites.
Bald cypress has a strong taproot system and is hard to transplant from the wild. It's best planted from a container.
Fertilize established trees on upland sites once in spring with a complete fertilizer like 16-4-8 or 12-4-8. Don't fertilize trees growing in standing water. The fertilizer may hurt the biology of the pond or lake.
(Jim Midcap and Gary Wade are Extension Service horticulturists with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)