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Bald Cypress Tree: Native Plant of the Month

Cypress tree growing at the edge of the lake behind Tara Lodge

Cypress tree growing at the edge of the lake behind Tara Lodge

When you picture Mississippi swamps and lakes, you probably think of bald cypress trees growing in the water, with their knees sticking out of the water like so many miniature hills in a landscape.

We’ve got some of these trees growing just outside the door of Tara Lodge, at the edge of the lake. Their branches dip down towards the water, creating shady spots for fish, reptiles, amphibians, and insects.

Wildlife Value of Bald Cypress Trees

Birds and small mammals use the trees for nesting and roosting locations in these swamps and wet areas. Clusters of bald cypress trees are often used as rookeries by nesting herons, egrets, and other wading birds. Eagles may also use these trees for nesting sites.

Bald cypress knees

Bald cypress knees

When growing in water, bald cypress trees provide breeding habitat for frogs, toads, and other reptiles and amphibians. Alligators also use the habitat in and around stands of bald cypress trees.

Bald cypress trees produce small round-shaped cones that have triangular-shaped seeds in them. The cones are solid and green at first, turning brown and opening to release seeds when mature. These seeds are a food source for ducks, wild turkey, songbirds, squirrels, and some wading birds.

Native Range

Bald cypress trees (Taxodium distichum) are native to the southeastern and eastern U.S. from Texas to North Carolina and northward to New York. They are also found growing in the states bordering the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. View a range map here

Bald cypress leaves in fall

Bald cypress leaves in fall

Plant Description

Although these trees have a slow to medium growth rate, they can grow to be 120 feet tall with a thick, 6-foot-wide trunk. We typically associate bald cypresses trees with wet soils or water, they can grow in many soil types including dry soil.

When they are growing in water, these trees produce cypress knees – which look just like tall kneecaps – that protrude above the water line. Scientists believe that these structures help provide support and stability to the tree.

The branchlets of bald cypress trees resemble small feathers, with lots of tiny, soft needle-like leaves on them. They are deciduous conifers, so their leaves turn brown or red-brown in the fall, and the trees are bald in the winter.

Bald cypress branches laden with green cones

Bald cypress branches laden with green cones

Fun Facts

  • Some of the oldest and largest bald cypress trees can be found at the Sky Lake Wildlife Management Area near Belzoni, Mississippi. There is a boardwalk and canoe trail that allows you to view the trees up close.
  • The bald cypress tree is the state tree of Louisiana, designated in 1963.
Bald Cypress - Taxodium distichum - Native Mississippi Tree providing habitat and food for birds, reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals.

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