Bald Cypress Adds Year-round Interest

— Written By Katy Shook and last updated by
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Bald Cypress Street TreesMysterious in habit, the bald cypress tree, Taxodium distichum, is a native species that has a rich history in coastal North Carolina. It’s frequently recognized for growth along coastal waterways, but the bald cypress tree is also growing in popularity among residential landscapes. The tree reaches an average height of 60 to 80 feet but has the potential to reach over 100 feet in wet settings.

Fine pale-green needles are produced in the spring and turn a coppery-red in the fall before dropping and revealing the “bald” characteristics of the tree. Year-round interest continues with peeling bark and persistent cones. The tree is pyramidal in shape, but develops a broad shade-producing, spreading habit with age.

Bald cypress tolerates a wide range of soil conditions including clay, sand, wet, and dry. Plant in full sun for best performance. When successfully established, bald cypress is resistant to most pests and is suitable for use in parking lots, lawns, screens, and street plantings. Its single trunk feature allows the tree to withstand wind damage and reduces the need for pruning. It is also successful in withstanding air pollution, poor drainage, compacted soil, and drought.

The tree will not produce “knees” unless planted near a water source. Bald cypress has provided benefits to humans and nature for thousands of years. Today, humans further value the tree for its ability to improve water quality while providing flood control in wet areas. Animals, including bald eagles and ospreys, rely on the branches for nest building, while wood ducks, wild turkeys, and squirrels appreciate the food supply. Even aquatic animals such as catfish find shelter in the tree’s root projections (“knees”) that are produced in wet areas. For more information on smart gardening with bald cypress, check out the NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox.

—Katy Shook

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