203. Tuscawilla Park - Trio of Bald Cypress

203. Tuscawilla Park - Trio of Bald Cypress

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(Taxodium distichum)

When people think of “the South”, one of the most frequent natural images that comes to mind is the “Bald Cypress”. This species of tree is uniquely designed to survive in conditions that would kill the majority of other tree species.

Bald Cypress thrive in soils that are either seasonally or constantly saturated with water. This situation results in both low-oxygen and a rather unstable ground for the tree to grow in. Cypress overcome these obstacles by growing the famous “knees”… those knobby structures that stick up around the base of the trunk. It was once thought that the primary function of cypress knees was to provide oxygen to the tree. But current thought is that the main purpose is for stability. When the soil is totally saturated with water, these “extensions” of the trunk and root system provide extra strength. Even a hefty hurricane seldom knocks over a healthy stand of cypress trees!

Another interesting adaptation these amazing trees have is that-- the seeds can remain alive completely submerged in water for almost 3 years! While they cannot actually sprout underwater, they do remain viable. Once the seeds locate on moist, mossy ground, they will spring into action. They need to grow fast - in order to get above flood levels, so it’s not unusual for a seedling to grow 40 inches in that first year! How quickly they grow depends largely on where they are planted. Constant flooding seems to slow their growth. Bald Cypress trees can live a very very long time! One specimen in North Carolina is over 1,620 years old, making it one of the oldest living plants in eastern North America!