If you had asked me ten years ago what my favorite tree was, I don’t think I could have come up with just one selection. My yard in Georgia contained Japanese Maples, magnolia, arborvitae, crape myrtle, pines, and oaks and I thought they were all fantastic (and still do). However, after living in Northwest Florida during the last decade and watching how trees perform in sandy soil through droughts, floods, and a devastating hurricane, one tree has won my heart as the favorite: Baldcypress Taxodium distichum.
This stately delicate leafed conifer grows quickly but has strong wood that is resistant to breakage and holds up in high winds. It is native to North America with a range covering the Southeast from Texas up to Illinois and Indiana, down to Florida then up the Atlantic Coast all the way to Delaware. The natural environment for this tree is along stream banks and wetlands making it very tolerant of flooding, but also able to withstand drought once established. Baldcypress thrives in sun, shade, sand, clay, acidic, or slightly alkaline soils making it incredibly versatile. It even has moderate salt tolerance so it can be used in areas that may get salt spray on occasion. The mature size is 100-150 feet tall by 40-50 feet wide in the wild, but in landscapes a more moderate 60-80 feet by 25-35 feet is more typical.
Baldcypress grows upright with a straight central leader which creates a very symmetrical canopy without pruning or training when grown in full sun. The light green leaves turn copper in the fall then drop off in the winter but are so fine textured they really do not require raking. The trunk is reddish brown with linear striations giving visual texture in the winter. Since baldcypress is a conifer, it forms cones as the fruit which is attractive to birds. A few insects rely on baldcypress for food and habitat, but damage is minimal and does not require any action – this is a very low maintenance tree!
One distinctive feature of baldcypress that gets a bad reputation is one of my favorites, the formation of knees. Knees are woody projections that rise vertically out of the ground from baldcypress roots. The function of knees is not known, but there are many theories. It is recognized that they tend to be more prevalent when the tree is grown in areas that alternate between dry soil and flooding or trees that grow in shallow water. The most common complaint I hear is that it is difficult to mow under a baldcypress because of the knees, but growing turfgrass in the shade of a tree canopy is not recommended so a simple solution is to just mulch the bed and minimize mowing!
If you are looking for a reliable, low maintenance shade tree for your landscape consider baldcypress. This is a beautiful native tree that will take care of itself once established and thrives in some of our toughest landscape situations.
For more information about baldcypress visit https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/ST620
An Equal Opportunity Institution. UF/IFAS Extension, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Andra Johnson, Dean. Single copies of UF/IFAS Extension publications (excluding 4-H and youth publications) are available free to Florida residents from county UF/IFAS Extension offices.