Bald Cypress

Taxodium distichum

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Illustration of bald cypress leaves and cones.
Bald cypress, Taxodium distichum.
Paul Nelson
Other Common Name
Baldcypress
Family

Cupressaceae (cypresses)

Description

Bald cypress is a large tree up to 130 feet tall, with a swollen base. The growth habit is pyramidal, or else with an open, flat-topped crown. Often has cone-shaped “knees” emerging from roots of the tree if growing in water. Loses its leaves in the fall.

Leaves are needlelike, opposite, in 2 rows along small twigs. Each leaf is ¼–¾ inch long, flat, linear, green, turning reddish brown in autumn. Leaves are shed in autumn still attached to the small twigs.

Bark is cinnamon brown to gray, thick, with long, narrow grooves and flat, long ridges that peel off in fibrous, narrow strips.

Twigs are light green on new growth, turning reddish brown with age, smooth, flexible. Side twigs green, falling with leaves still attached.

Flowers March–April. Male and female cones are found on the same tree.

Fruit, ripining October–November, is a round cone 1 inch in diameter, green changing to purple, with tightly closed, shield-shaped scales that turn woody and brown and open at maturity to release seeds.

Size

Height: to 130 feet.

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bald cypress
Bald Cypress Tree leaves

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bald cypress
Bald Cypress

Cypress Trees at Allred Lake

Photo of bald cypress trees and lowland habitat at Allred Lake
Cypress Trees at Allred Lake
Swampland dominated by bald cypress trees once covered much of Missouri's Bootheel.

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Photo of swollen, buttressed bald cypress trunks growing in swampy water
Bald Cypress at Allred Lake Natural Area
Bald cypress's swollen, buttressed trunk bases and cone-shaped “knees” are adaptations for growing in swampy habitats.

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Bald Cypress

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Photo of bald cypress trees showing fall color, growing in a pond.
Bald Cypress, Fall Color
Bald cypress occurs in swamps, sloughs, and wet bottomland forests. It is also widely planted as an ornamental.
Habitat and conservation

Occurs in swamps, sloughs, and wet bottomland forests; widely planted as an ornamental. The oldest bald cypress trees in Missouri can be found at Allred Lake Natural Area, where they range from 500 to 1,000 years old — this is the last remaining stand of old-growth bald cypress in the state.

image of Bald Cypress Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

The natural distribution is the swampy, wet areas of Missouri’s Bootheel, but this tree is widely planted and naturalized elsewhere.

Human connections

A popular ornamental, this tree was planted in European landscapes as early as 1640. Its majestic form graces many large public landscapes. The soft, durable wood has been used for paneling, construction lumber, barrels, caskets, boats, shingles, railroad ties, fence posts, and bridge beams.

Ecosystem connections

Many birds, including wood ducks, eat the seeds. In addition to providing food for wildlife, large trees provide habitat as well, supporting in their boughs nests of many species and becoming crucial habitat for more animals after the trees die, fall, and begin to rot on the forest floor.