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Publication #ENH-778

Taxodium distichum: Baldcypress1

Edward F. Gilman, Dennis G. Watson, Ryan W. Klein, Andrew K. Koeser, Deborah R. Hilbert, and Drew C. McLean2

Introduction

Narrowly to broadly pyramidal when young, baldcypress, the state tree of Louisiana, eventually develops into a broad-topped, spreading, open specimen when mature. Capable of reaching 100 to 150 feet in height, most landscape specimens are rarely seen in this open form because they are usually much younger and shorter. Trees grow at a moderately fast rate, reaching 40 to 50 feet in about 15 to 25 years. Although it is native to wetlands along running streams, growth is often faster on moist, well-drained soil. The green, needle-like leaves turn a brilliant coppery yellow in fall before dropping, but the bare branches and reddish gray, peeling bark provide much landscape interest during the winter. The trunk grows unusually thick toward the base, even on young trees. The small seeds are used by some birds and squirrels.

Figure 1. 

Full Form—Taxodium distichum: baldcypress


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General Information

Scientific name: Taxodium distichum

Pronunciation: tack-SO-dee-um DISS-tick-um

Common name(s): Baldcypress

Family: Cupressaceae

USDA hardiness zones: 5A through 10B (Figure 2)

Origin: native to the southeastern United States, in addition to east Texas and Atlantic costal states as far north as Delaware

UF/IFAS Invasive Assessment Status: Native

Uses: street without sidewalk; screen; specimen; reclamation; parking lot island < 100 sq ft; parking lot island 100–200 sq ft; parking lot island > 200 sq ft; sidewalk cutout (tree pit); tree lawn 4–6 feet wide; tree lawn > 6 ft wide; urban tolerant; highway median; shade; hedge

Figure 2. 

Range


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Description

Height: 60 to 80 feet

Spread: 25 to 35 feet

Crown uniformity: symmetrical

Crown shape: pyramidal, upright/erect

Crown density: dense

Growth rate: fast

Texture: fine

Foliage

Leaf arrangement: alternate

Leaf type: simple

Leaf margin: entire

Leaf shape: linear, lanceolate

Leaf venation: none, or difficult to see

Leaf type and persistence: deciduous

Leaf blade length: ½ - ¾ inch

Leaf color: green

Fall color: yellow to copper

Fall characteristic: showy

Figure 3. 

Leaf—Taxodium distichum: baldcypress


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Flower

Flower color: brown

Flower characteristics: not showy

Figure 4. 

Flower—Taxodium distichum: baldcypress


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Fruit

Fruit shape: round or ovulate, cone

Fruit length: ½ to 1 inch

Fruit covering: dry or hard

Fruit color: green when young, then turns brown and hard with maturity

Fruit characteristics: attracts birds; not showy; fruit/leaves not a litter problem; resinous

Figure 5. 

Cone—Taxodium distichum: baldcypress


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Trunk and Branches

Trunk/branches: branches droop; showy; typically one trunk; no thorns

Bark: gray and/or reddish brown, smooth, fibrous, with extremely shallow or completely lacking furrows, and with a buttressing base

Pruning requirement: little required

Breakage: resistant

Current year twig color: green

Current year twig thickness: thin

Wood specific gravity: 0.46

Figure 6. 

Knees—Taxodium distichum: baldcypress


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Figure 7. 

Bark—Taxodium distichum: baldcypress


Credit:

Gitta Hasing


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Culture

Light requirement: full sun to partial shade

Soil tolerances: sand; loam; clay; acidic; slightly alkaline; wet to well-drained

Drought tolerance: high

Aerosol salt tolerance: moderate

Other

Roots: not a problem

Winter interest: yes

Outstanding tree: yes

Ozone sensitivity: tolerant

Verticillium wilt susceptibility: resistant

Pest resistance: resistant to pests/diseases

Use and Management

Although often seen at water's edge where it will develop "knees", or root projections, that will extend above the water, baldcypress can also be grown in dry locations and makes an attractive lawn, street, or shade tree. Cypress knees do not generally form on these drier sites. Cities from Charlotte, NC, Dallas, TX to Tampa, FL currently use it as a street tree and it should be used more extensively throughout its range in urban landscapes. It provides a good vertical accent to the landscape and should be used more often in urban areas. Baldcypress can be clipped into a formal hedge, creating a wonderful soft screen.

Surprisingly, the roots do not appear to lift sidewalks and curbs as readily as some other species. Its delicate, feathery foliage affords light, dappled shade, and the heartwood of baldcypress is quite resistant to rot. However, most lumber available at lumber yards today is sapwood and is not resistant to rot.

Baldcypress is ideal for wet locations, such as its native habitat of stream banks and mucky soils, but the trees will also grow remarkably well on almost any soil, including heavy, compacted, or poorly-drained muck, except alkaline soils with a pH above 7.5. Locate where the sun will strike the tree on all sides for best symmetrical development. Baldcypress is relatively maintenance-free, requiring pruning only to remove dead wood and unwanted lower branches which persist on the tree. It maintains a desirably straight trunk and a moderately dense canopy and does not form double or multiple leaders as do many other large trees.

The cultivar 'Monarch of Illinois' has a very wide-spreading form and 'Shawnee Brave' has a narrow, pyramidal form, 15 to 20 feet wide. 'Pendens' has drooping branchlets and large cones. Taxodium ascendens is native to wet, boggy areas with standing water, whereas Taxodium distichum is more common along streams.

Propagation is by seed.

Pests

Bagworms can defoliate portions of the tree. Mites can be particularly troublesome in dry summers without irrigation, causing early leaf browning and defoliation in mid to late summer.

Diseases

Twig blight is caused by a weak pathogen and is usually present on dead or dying tissue. When the tree is stressed the fungus can kill branch tips. Dead tips can be pruned off. Do not let dead or diseased branches remain on the tree. Keep trees healthy with regular fertilization.

References

Koeser, A. K., Hasing, G., Friedman, M. H., and Irving, R. B. 2015. Trees: North & Central Florida. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Koeser, A.K., Friedman, M.H., Hasing, G., Finley, H., Schelb, J. 2017. Trees: South Florida and the Keys. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Footnotes

1.

This document is ENH-778, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 1993. Revised December 2006 and December 2018. Visit the EDIS website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu for the currently supported version of this publication.

2.

Edward F. Gilman, professor emeritus, Environmental Horticulture Department; Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Agricultural Engineering Department; Ryan W. Klein, graduate assistant, Environmental Horticulture Department; Andrew K. Koeser, assistant professor, Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center; Deborah R. Hilbert, graduate assistant, Environmental Horticulture Department, GCREC; and Drew C. McLean, biological scientist, Environmental Horticulture Department, GCREC; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.