The bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) grows throughout the American southeast in areas of wetlands and swamps. A deciduous conifer, the tree is famous for its root outgrowths at its base which are commonly referred to as "knees." The tree can easily attain a height of 150 feet. The cypress is valuable timber tree coveted for its heartwood that takes the tree 200 years to attain. Heartwood is resistant to any type of decay.
The bald cypress prefers slightly acidic soil conditions. In its natural state, it is found in swamps, waterways, bogs, flood plains and along standing water. Despite the tree's tolerance for wet roots, it will also grow in dry soil conditions which makes it an acceptable landscape tree. Once established, the tree is drought tolerant. It is hardy from Zones 5 to 10 according to Floridata.
Sunlight and Growth
The tree can tolerate partial shade but prefers full sunlight. Avoid planting cypress next to other towering trees which will continue to shade out the young tree as it grows. The tree is fast growing and can easily gain 2 feet per year according to the University of Arkansas.
The bald cypress requires moist soil conditions when first planted. Keep the tree regularly watered, and do not allow the seedling to dry out for extended time periods. Despite its affinity for moisture, a young seedling will tolerate a wide range of soils form sandy loam to heavy clay. Plant bare root seedlings between November and March according to the University of Florida. Container grown nursery cypress will easily establish when planted year round. Avoid freezing weather because the young trees roots are highly susceptible when first planted.
Plant seedlings at least 10 feet apart to offer the trees ample growth space. Cypress that is grown for timber harvest is often planted 8 feet apart. Plant seedlings in areas of standing water, or keep the soil moist until the seedlings have a chance to establish themselves.
Knees of the Cypress
The bald cypress tree only grows its characteristic "knees" when planted in water, in a flood zone or very near water. When the tree is planted in a yard as a landscape specimen, it never grows knees but instead resembles a normal conifer tree trunk.