The bald cypress (scientific name Taxodium distichum) is native to the southeastern United States. It is a large and very adaptable tree that can be grown in most areas of the United States. They can live up to 2000 years, and grow slowly. They can stand up to hurricane-strength winds, which they regularly withstand in their natural habitat.
The bald cypress is a large deciduous conifer tree growing to 80 feet high with a 35-foot spread. It has short flat green needles about a third of an inch to three quarters of an inch long. The needles turn red-brown in the fall before they drop. The bark is fibrous and red-brown. The tree sometimes develops a buttressed base and knees.
Bald cypress is very tolerant and adaptable to different growing conditions. It survives in USDA zones 5 through 10. It loves constantly wet or damp soil, but it can live in dry soil as well. It prefers a slightly acidic soil but can tolerate alkaline soil up to pH 7.5. It needs full sun. This tree requires very little care to thrive.
Bald cypress is perfect for swampy areas with poor soil or in standing water. It does very well next to ponds and streams. In drier areas it can be used as a large specimen tree or in sidewalk plantings, where the roots tend to not disturb the pavement like other trees do. Knees only develop when it is grown in wet areas. The trees can also be trained when young to grow as a hedge.
The lumber is rot resistant, which makes it very desirable, but because the trees grow so slow, it is expensive. Sapling wood is not as rot resistant. It has also been used as a bonsai tree.
Bald cypress is native to the swampy areas along the Gulf Coast, from East Texas to the Atlantic, where it thrives in areas that are flooded all or most of the year. One of the most well-known of these swamps is Fakahatchee Strand in southern Florida. Because bald cypress is one of the only trees able to grow in standing water, it has dominated the ecosystem. Its branches play host to numerous rare species of air plants, and its seeds feed local wildlife.
One of the most interesting characteristics of the bald cypress is that it produces what are called knees. Knees are properly referred to as pneumatophores. These arise from the roots around the trunk of the tree to above the water level. They help stabilize the tall tree in wet, unstable ground and transport oxygen to the roots in waterlogged soil.