Taxodiaceae
The Baldcypress Family
 
 
    Fossil plant records indicate that at one time, the baldcypress family was very abundant and formed vast forests throughout the world, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere.  Today, there are 8 genera and 14 species in this family of plants.  These are found distributed in the forested regions of Tasmania, Formosa, Japan, China, and North America.  One genera, Taxodium, is found in the southeastern U.S.
 
 

 Click on the links below for introductions to some of the trees of this family:
 
baldcypress
pondcypress
 
 
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Taxodium distichum var. distichum
baldcypress
 
 

Habit

    The baldcypress is an intriguing tree, 100-150 feet in height, 3-6 or more feet in diameter.  It develops a heavily buttressed, excessively tapered, and commonly fluted bole.  The crown is open and narrowly pyramidal.  Old trees are characterized by a more nearly cylindrical bole and irregular, often ragged, flat-topped crown that is often laden with Spanish moss.  This tree has a very distinctive root system which consists of numerous "sinkers" that provide anchorage, which are supported by a wide-spreading, lateral system of shallow roots.  From the lateral roots arise peculiar, cone-like structures commonly known as "knees".  The purpose of these knees remains a mystery, but scientists believe that these structures provide structural support.  

 
Leaves

    Leaves are linear and deciduous, a rare feature among conifers.  Leaves are 1/2-3/4 inch long, 2-ranked, and are yellow-green in color.
 

Flowers
 
    The male clusters are purplish-brown.  Females are solitary or in clusters.
 

Fruit
 
    The cones are 3/4-1 inch in diameter, with club-shaped, leathery, yellowish-brown scales.  Seeds are irregularly 3-angled and 3-winged.
 

Twigs

    The terminal twigs are light green through the growing season, becoming reddish-brown during the winter.    
 

Bark

    The bark is fibrous, scaly, or commonly peeling off in long, thin strips.  It is reddish-brown, but is often weathered to an ashy gray.
 

Habitat

    The baldcypress is typically a tree of permanent swamps and river channels and floodplains, where it occurs in extensive pure stands or occasionally with water tupelo.  On somewhat higher ground it is found with bottomland hardwoods such as American elm, red maple, green ash, sweetgum, and some oaks.  It grows best on deep, moist, sandy loams, but it is rarely found on such sites because of its inability to compete with hardwoods.  It is found on the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains, in the lower Mississippi River Valley, and in the bottomlands of adjacent drainages.
 

Use

    The wood of this tree is very durable and is used in the construction of docks, bridges, silos, tanks, caskets, and general millwork.  The resin extracted from the cones is used locally as an analgesic for lesions of the skin.  The knees are sometimes fashioned into wooden novelties.  The baldcypress is infrequently planted as an ornamental.

 

Click on the links below to see more information on and/or images of this tree (use the "Back" function to return here):
 
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Query the USDA Plant Database
 

 
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Taxodium distichum var. ascendens
pondcypress
 
 

    The pondcypress is very similar to baldcypress, except that it does not attain the grandeur or widespread occurrence of baldcypress.  It is readily distinguished by its scale-like leaves, which appear to be more ascending in form than the leaves of baldcypress.

 
Leaves

    Leaves are linear and deciduous, a rare feature among conifers.  Leaves are 1/2-3/4 inch long and have a scale-like appearance, appressed along the twigs in several ranks.  They appear somewhat similar to the leaves of the plants in the cedar family.
 

Flowers
 
    The male clusters are purplish-brown.  Females are solitary or in clusters.
 

Fruit
 
    The cones are 3/4-1 inch in diameter, with club-shaped, leathery, yellowish-brown scales.  Seeds are irregularly 3-angled and 3-winged.
 

Twigs

    The terminal twigs are light green through the growing season, becoming reddish-brown during the winter.    
 

Bark

    The bark is fibrous, scaly, or commonly peeling off in long, thin strips.  It is reddish-brown, but is often weathered to an ashy gray.
 

Habitat

    The pondcypress is found in shallow ponds with still water, from the Dismal Swamp of Virginia to Florida and Alabama.
 

Use

    The pondcypress has similar uses as those of baldcypress.

 

Click on the links below to see more information on and/or images of this tree (use the "Back" function to return here):
 
Query the USDA Plant Database
 
 
 
Taxodiaceae Menu / Trees of Florida Menu / Glossary / References / Home