Tree of the month: July
ALL THE WAY FROM THE SWAMPS OF SOUTH-EASTERN USA
Taxodium distichum (Swamp cypress, Moerassipres)
Taxodium distichum is a conifer that grows naturally in the saturated and seasonally inundated soils of the south-eastern parts of North America. It is a large tree reaching 25 – 40 m, with a trunk diameter of 2 – 3 m. The tallest known individual specimen grows in Virginia and is more than 44 m tall, while the oldest specimen in North Carolina is more than 1600 years old, making this one of the oldest living plants in eastern North America. The swamp cypress has been chosen as the national tree of the State of Louisiana.
Unlike most other species in the family Cupressaceae, the swamp cypress is deciduous, losing its leaves in winter, hence the common name bald cypress. In their natural swamp habitat many T. distichum trees have so-called knees growing around the main trunk. These woody projections are usually above the normal water level. Their function is not entirely clear, though it is likely that they support the tree and stabilise it in the flooded or flood-prone areas where the trees naturally grow. The De Waal Park specimens do not have knees.
For a short period in late autumn the leaves of the swamp cypress are a lovely, rusty red.
The swamp cypress is monoecious, with separate male and female flowers on the same tree. The male catkins are about 2 mm in diameter and are borne in slender, drooping clusters. The small female cones are found singly or in clusters of two or three. The bark of the tree is gray-brown to red-brown, shallowly vertically fissured, with a stringy texture.
This species is a popular ornamental tree, grown for its light, feathery foliage and orange-brown to dull red colour in autumn. Cultivation is successful far to the north of its native range and it is also commonly planted in Europe, Asia and elsewhere in temperate to subtropical climate zones. It does, however, require hot summers for good growth.
There are more than a dozen swamp cypresses in De Waal Park, most of them growing well in the heavy clay soil that becomes heavily water-logged in winter. One of the largest specimens, in the central part of the park above the fountain, provides shade to a long wooden table and benches.
The typical bark of the swamp cypress with its grey-brown colour and stringy texture.