December 9, 2019

Ancient Trees: The Baldcypress

Baldcypress along the  Arkansas River.
Image by Linda Tanner
The Baldcypress, Taxodium distichum, is an evocative symbol of southern lakes, river bottomlands, and swamps. These ancient members of the Cypress family occur as far north as Southern Illinois and Maryland and as far west as South-Central Texas.
The Famous Arbol del Tule Montezuma Cypress, Oaxaca, Mexico.
Image by Gengiskanhg
Baldcypresses, along with several related genera like the Redwood and Sequoia, were placed in their own family, the Taxodiaceae. Now, all are classified in the same family with a number of other conifer genera, such as true Cypress and Juniper. Surprisingly for such a well-known genus, it seems that its three members have hardly any genetic differences between them, and are either varieties of a single species or perhaps two. Baldcypress wood is extremely rot-resistant to water. Submerged trunks, lost during historical logging activities, are valuable, and often salvaged for milling. 
Along the Wacissa River, Jefferson County, Florida.
Image by Arnold Dent
I’ve seen the trunks of trees toppled during the terrible hurricanes of the nineteen twenties lying in shallow water in the Big Cypress Swamp.  The species, when not topped by storms or lightening, is the tallest tree east of the Rockies, potentially growing to more than 140 feet. Old growth Baldcypress can still be found outside of preserves. Some squat, misshapen trees with little commercial use were never cut. Other trees survived logging by growing in deep water along rivers. Trees commonly live for several centuries. The oldest living tree, still hearty along the Black River of North Carolina, has reached the incredible age of 2624 years. It’s the oldest Eastern U.S. tree, the oldest wetland tree, and the fifth oldest tree in the world.   

Dwarf Pond Cypress in the Florida Everglades.
Image by Daniel Kraft

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