Bald Cypress – A Complete Profile On This Native Tree

The Bald Cypress tree is a deciduous conifer native to the Midwest, Southeast, and Mid-Atlantic areas of the United States.  Scientifically known as Taxodium distichum, it grows 100-120′ tall in full sun and wet to medium-moist soil.  Valuable for it’s timber & as food and habitat for wildlife, it hosts several caterpillars as well as other insects[1][2][3].

A truly majestic tree, Bald Cypress and it’s unique shape are one of the distinguishing features of the swamps and floodplains of the south eastern united states.  With its pyramidal shape and beautiful drooping green conifer foliage it makes for an impressive sight.

A mature specimen, clearly showing it’s pyramidal shape

But when one examines the tree more closely you may begin to notice the unique pine cones in summer and fall.  With their round shape and unique scale construction, the surface resembles a planet or moon in outer space more than a pinecone.

One can plant Bald Cypress outside of it’s native range, but the further north you go, the more likely it is to loose it’s leaves (needles) in Winter, and it will look quite barren.  But in the South one may find them covered in Spanish Moss, which keeps them looking nice even in Winter.

Bald Cypress in a swamp. The flared out roots are clearly visible.

I first began to notice this tree when I used to travel to Savannah Georgia for work, where I would encounter driving through parts of Georgia or along a canal bank.  And a few years ago I found a few specimen in Pennsylvania, which were planted in a local park.  And I even managed to germinate some from seed a couple years back.

But this will be a full and comprehensive profile on this truly unique tree.  Click on the buttons to skip ahead to various sections.

Native Range

The primary native range of Bald Cypress is from Southeast Texas to Florida along the coastal plains, up the Mississippi River valley into Northern Missouri and Southern Illinois. And up the Atlantic coastal plains from Florida to Maryland/Delaware, going inland to the Appalachian Mountains[1][2][3].

As it is sometimes grown as an ornamental tree, it has established itself in other areas such as Michigan, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Natural Habitat

You are most likely to encounter Bald Cypress near rivers, streams, and areas that periodically flood.  Consider that most (90% or more) of the native range is near sea-level (<100’).  And while it can grow very near water, the water cannot tolerate much salt, and it has been found that water with more than 0.9% salt may kill the tree[2][5].

Reference Table

Scientific NameTaxodium distichum
Common Name(s)Bald Cypress, Baldcypress, Gulf Cypress, Red Cypress, Tidewater Red Cypress, White Cypress, Yellow Cypress, Cypress
Native Range, USDA ZoneSoutheastern United States. USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9
Growth RateMedium, 12-18″ per year in optimum conditions.
Height50-120′ (15-36m)
Spacing / Spread20-50′ (7-15m)
Light RequirementsFull sun
Soil TypesSandy to clay loam
MoistureWet to medium
Fauna Associations / Larval HostsAttracts birds, ducks, habitat for amphibians / hosts several caterpillars
References [1][2][3]



The drooping leaves and shape of Bald Cypress is majestic and beautiful, if not a bit mysterious. In it’s southern range the branches are often covered in Spanish Moss, which can also add interest in the winter.


The lumber made from older (>63 years old)[6] Bald Cypress is very resistant to decay and is frequently used as fence posts, dock pilings, boat construction, raised bed gardens, flooring, and general building construction.


Bald Cypress provides food for various birds and mammals in the Winter via seed.  And it provides habitat for nesting of birds, eagles, herons, egrets, and shelter for amphibians.

Fights global warming

Bald Cypress is one of the most effective trees at sequestering carbon from the atmosphere[10].  Even 40 years ago it was known to add significant amounts of biomass in the form of wood each growing season. In a floodplain forest in Florida it was observed to add up to 15700 kg/ha (14000 lb/acre) in a single growing season[2], a significant portion of which would be in the form of CO2 being converted to carbon.

Identification and Characteristics

Growth Rate

Initial seedling growth rate of Bald Cypress is heavily dependent on available sunlight and moisture.  In full sun and moist conditions, 5 year old seedlings can reach heights of 10’ and  1.5” d.b.h.  While seedlings in shadier areas may only grow 6” per year.

More mature trees tend to develop slower, growing roughly 6”-1’ per year.


Bald Cypress trees can live for 200 or more years, and generally take 200 years to reach their maximum height[2].  There are some specimens in the Southern United states that are suspected of being over 1000 years old.  However it has been reported that in certain years they may have the appearance of two growth rings, which has been a cause of overestimation of age of trees[2].


At maturity Bald Cypress typically reaches 80-120’ tall with an oblongoid crown and pyramidal shape.  The trunk is often flared out or wider at the base which can provide extra stability in the moist environments where one often finds it growing.  The wide base also provides an interesting appearance.

The tallest Bald Cypress measured have been upwards of 150’ tall, while other species have reached 205” d.b.h.[2].


The bark is red-gray to brown gray and thin, which often peels off in strips as it ages[4].  Younger bark is generally red and smooth.

Bark of the Bald Cypress


Branching on the tree is generally horizontal and spreading. Now, Bald Cypress has both deciduous and non-deciduous twigs.  So yes, some of the twigs will fall off.  The non-deciduous twigs are red-brown color and will have the deciduous twigs develop on them, while deciduous twigs stay green and have leaves resembling needles that appear to be compound with a pinnate structure. 


Leaves of a Bald Cypress tree
Leaves of a Bald Cypress tree

Leaves are short, ¼-3/4” long, linear yet flattened shape, and have a soft texture[4]. As they are deciduous, they will have a dark green color in Summer, and a fire-orange or bronze color in Fall.


Trees are either male or female (monoecious) in that they will either produce only male cones or female cones that are wind-pollinated.  Male cones have dropping panicles that are roughly 7” long +/- 3”.  The female cones are are spherical or globoid in shape with a textured/wrinkled surface that almost resembles a planet or moon in outer space.  They are ½-1.5” diameter with 9-15 four-sided scales.  They are green during the growing season, turning brown to brown-purple color in Autumn[2].  Large crops of cones/seeds occur every 3-5 years.

How to save Bald Cypress seeds

As Autumn progresses into winter, the cones begin to fall apart, which releases seeds.  As the cone breaks apart there will be two small seeds at the bottom of each scale from the cone. A single female cone contains between 2-34 seeds[2].

Seeds are about ¼” long with a triangular cross-section and strange, non-uniform shape[4].  Seeds should be stored in sealed plastic containers in the refrigerator to help preserve viability.

Root system

The root system of Bald Cypress seedlings is initially a taproot, and maintains this until they are roughly 10” diameter[2].  As the tree ages it will eventually form several descending roots as well as lateral roots to provide anchorage.  In moist areas or environments prone to flooding, lateral roots may grow conical structures commonly known as ‘knees’[2].  The complete root system of Bald Cypress makes it extremely strong against the wind, and it has been noted that it almost never is overturned, even in hurricanes[7].

A knee can get quite large, reaching heights upwards of 12’ (3.7m).  And these knees give it quite a distinct appearance.  Trees grown in areas that are not subject to flooding may still grow knees, although they tend to be much smaller.

The evolutionary purpose of the knees is not clear, although several strong theories have been made.  The most likely function is to provide better anchorage in swampy or wet areas, as the knees grow substantial masses of roots that will help anchor and weigh down the tree.  It has also been postulated that the knees help for aeration, but still, the knees are not critical to the basic survival of the tree (excluding anchoring).

How Bald Cypress spreads

Bald Cypress trees spread via seed. Trees grown inland often have their seeds staying close to the parent tree, while trees near water can have their seeds travel far by floating on top of the floodwaters[2][4].

Growing conditions for Bald Cypress

Bald Cypress will prefer full sun and wet to moist soil[3][4].  This tree is not drought tolerant, as it is a wetland or at best, medium-moist tree.  It cannot survive long periods without access to moisture, but often grows best on sites that experience intermittent flooding.  Also, it likes a slightly acidic soil and is tolerant of nearly any texture provided it receives it’s necessary moisture, thus sandy river banks, clay soils, or loam are perfectly fine.


Bald Cypress should not require any fertilizer to be healthy, vigorous, and strong.

How to Grow Bald Cypress from seed

Bald Cypress seeds have a dormancy mechanism that will prevent premature germination.  It needs nearly constant moist conditions, and cold-moist stratification[11]

You can direct sow seeds ¼” deep in Autumn right after seeds begin to ripen.  Or you should consider winter sowing seed.  And, as always, you can always simulate a winter for 90 days by placing the seeds in moist coarse sand or vermiculite and keeping in the fridge (make sure it stays moist).  Also, it helps to soak the seeds for a few days in water prior to winter sowing or cold-stratifying[2].

Bald Cypress seeds and cone.
Bald Cypress seeds and cone.

In the wild, seeds germinate readily in moist conditions, but not when submerged under water.  However, the seeds can survive for 24-30 month under water[2].

If you attempt to grow from seed, consider using a growing medium that doesn’t drain as well as conventional seed starting mixes or potting soils.  Also, consider frequent watering to keep seeds moist! 

I’ve attempted to grow Bald Cypress from seed one time, using a handful of seeds.  I had left the cone in-tact after harvest and stored it in my garage for a couple months before breaking it up to find the seed.  I then winter sowed the seed in a milkjug, and was able to have some germinate.  Unfortunately, a deer decided it needed the seedling more than me, and ate it while still in a pot in early summer.

Bald Cypress seedling
Bald Cypress seedling

Now, I had a fairly poor germination rate, and I attribute this to my using of a potting mix that mostly contained sphagnum peat moss, which drains well.  For Bald Cypress, one should try to keep the seeds nearly constantly moist for the best germination.  I failed to do this, but was able to grow at least one tree.  I may try again next Winter, although I will change my set-up drastically.


Seedling growth and development is heavily dependent on available sunlight and moisture.  So, select a location that receives full sun and has plenty of moisture available to get your trees established quickly.

Seedlings grown in shady swamps have been observed to only reach 30” in five years.  While seedlings grown in sunnier areas with weed control have reached nearly 10’ within five years[2].

Wildlife, Pests, and Disease associations

Insects supported

Bald Cypress hosts several moth caterpillars including the Angle-Winged Emerald moth, Bald Cypress Sphinx moth, and the Cypress Emerald.

Several wood boring insects also feed on the wood including the Burpestid beetle, Flat-Headed Bald Cypress Borer, and several other beetles.  In addition to the caterpillars and beetles there are numerous other leaf-eating bugs that feed on the foliage[2].


Seeds are sometimes eaten by various species of duck, grosbeak and turkey.  Other small mammals will eat the seeds as well.

And numerous birds build nests in the trees such as woodpeckers, the Bald Eagle, Osprey, Owls, Warblers, and other large water birds such as herons and egrets.

Other wildlife

Deer will browse the foliage of Bald Cypress.  And the crown of the tree can provide habitat for amphibians and reptiles such as frogs, salamanders and toads[3].  Nutria are a major threat to young seedlings[8] and catfish have been known to spawn in hollow, submerged Bald Cypress logs[2][9].


A fungus known as ‘pecky cypress’(stereum taxodi) damages heartwood. The primary symptoms are brown pockets of rot[2][7].  It is thought to enter in the upper crown and slowly work it’s way down the tree.  Given enough time it will kill/fell the tree, and damage a significant portion of the heartwood in the process.

Also, tent-caterpillars, bagworms and leafrollers can severely defoliate trees leading to premature death[3].  Although the leafrollers primarily appear to be a threat to pole sized or smaller sized trees[2].

Uses of Bald Cypress

Landscaping Uses

Bald Cypress is nearly a perfect choice for a conifer in the Southern United States to line a pond, grow near rivers, creeks, or areas that occasionally flood.  When selecting a location, access to moisture matters more than soil texture, as while the tree doesn’t need to be submerged (obviously), it needs moisture.  Also consider that roughly 90% of it’s native range is within 100’ of sea level.

So, if you are growing it in sandy soil, make sure it is close enough to a reliable water sources.  Likewise, soils that drain more poorly are ok if the area doesn’t experience drought.

Erosion control

The extensive root system of Bald Cypress make it a natural choice for erosion control along river banks, flood plains, and other areas. The fact that it tolerates occasional flooding only adds to the value.


When it comes to lumber made from Bald Cypress, the sapwood is basically white in color while the heartwood is yellow-brown to dark-brown. It has been observed that lumber from the tidewater regions (coastal flood plains) is usually darker in color. The further inland the tree, the lighter the heartwood color[4].

The principal uses of Bald Cypress is for posts, pilons, and general construction. Dark colored heart wood can be desirable for siding, flooring, and cabinetry due to its attractiveness and rot resistant[2].

Rot resistant lumber

The heartwood of Bald Cypress is very rot resistant as it contains toxic substances that resist decay[4][12]. It takes many decades to develop sufficient heartwood. And the sapwood does is not rot resistant.

Companion Plants

Some companion trees that like similar, or can at least grow near Bald Cypress include Silver Maple, Red Maple, Butternut, Black Walnut, Persimmon, and Northern White Cedar. Care should be taken to make sure that Bald Cypress isn’t shaded out by some of the taller hardwoods though, so give it some room and protection.

Native American uses

The thin strips of bark was used to cordage by the Choctaw Tribe[13].

Final Thoughts

Bald Cypress has a truly unique and interesting form giving it a beautiful and somewhat mysterious profile. Whether covered in Spanish Moss in the South, or full of it’s unique pinecones in the North, this is a one of a kind species. Although slower to grow, it is one of the more moisture or flood tolerant trees, and as a bonus it can support large amounts of wildlife from hosting caterpillars to providing nesting sites for large water-loving birds. This is a truly American Tree that everyone can find some aspect to admire.

Find more native trees here


[1] – Taxodium distichum, USDA NRCS. Accessed 20JAN2024.

[2] – L. P. Wilhite and J. R. Toliver. Bald Cypress. Silvics of North America: Conifers. No. 654. US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, 1990.

[3] – BALD CYPRESS Taxodium distichum (L.) L.C, Plant Fact Sheet, USDA NRCS, 2002, Accessed 20JAN2024.

[4] – Kennedy, Harvey E. “Baldcypress: An American Wood“, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, (1972). Retrieved 21JAN2024

[5] – T. distichum, Fire Effects Information System (FEIS), USDA Forestry Service. Accessed 22JAN2024.

[6] – Choong, Elvin T., Petre J. Fogg, and John P. Jones. “Natural decay resistance of baldcypress.” LSU wood utilization notes-Agricultural Experiment Station Research Release, Louisiana State University and A and M College (USA) (1986).

[7] – Fowells, Harry Ardell, ed. Silvics of forest trees of the United States. No. 271. US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, 1965.

[8] – Conner, William, and John R. Toliver. “Vexar seedling protectors did not reduce nutria damage to planted baldcypress seedlings.” USDA Tree Planter’s Notes (1987).

[9] – Vickers, Charles R., Larry D. Harris, and Benee F. Swindel. “Changes in herpetofauna resulting from ditching of cypress ponds in coastal plains flatwoods.” Forest Ecology and Management 11.1-2 (1985): 17-29.

[10] – Middleton, Beth A. “Regeneration potential of Taxodium distichum swamps and climate change.” Plant Ecology 202.2 (2009): 257-274.

[11] – U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 1974. Seeds of woody plants in the United States. C. S. Schopmeyer, tech. coord. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Handbook 450. Washington, DC. 883 p

[12] – Handbook, Wood. “Wood as an engineering material. Forest Products Laboratory.” Gen. Tech. Rep. FPL–GTR–113, USDA Product Society, Madison, Wisconsin, USA (1999).

[13] – Baldcypress, North American Ethnobotany Database. Accessed 28JAN2024.

Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over 10 years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! You may have seen some of my videos I create on our YouTube channel, GrowitBuildit (more than 10 million views!). You can find my channel here: Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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