Trees are as abutting to aeon as the blow of us anytime come.
— Karen Joy Fowler
Author Karen Joy Fowler has it right. Back it comes to “immortal” copse in Illinois and the Eastern U.S., none accept lived best than the baldheaded cypress (Taxodium distichum).
Before we get to this species’ longevity, we’ll awning some added hasty qualities of the baldheaded cypress.
Conifer or evergreen?
These two words are not synonymous. Not all conifers are evergreen. Keep in apperception that beloved copse do bead their all-overs or leaves during the year. They aloof don’t do it all in the aforementioned division like best deciduous copse do.
Conifer agency that these kinds of copse — pine, spruce, fir, cypress — all aftermath seeds in cones.
Bald cypress is one of the few deciduous cone-bearing trees. I am autograph this commodity in backward October, and cypress all-overs are aloof starting to about-face blush like their broad-leaved compatriots. The bristling cypress all-overs will about-face bright shades of yellow, bronze, or biscuit during the fall.
I say bristling for a reason. A bird’s calamus is collapsed with minute filaments, alleged barbs, advancing out on either ancillary of a capital shaft. Similarly, cypress twigs accept their alone all-overs growing on either ancillary of the stem.
This collapsed or two-ranked adjustment differs from pines, which accept all-overs in clusters, or spruces, which affection distinct all-overs that amphitheater the twig. Since the baby cypress all-overs are alone about bisected an inch long, they don’t crave abundant raking in the autumn. It’s not too adamantine to brainstorm how this sometimes needleless conifer becoming the “bald” moniker.
Swamps are wetlands bedeviled by a blazon of coarse plant. In Florida, you accept mangrove swamps. In arctic Michigan and Wisconsin, you accept cedar swamps. In southern Illinois, we accept cypress swamps.
Historically, cypress swamps could be begin beyond the southeastern U.S., forth the littoral apparent to the mid-Atlantic states, and in the Mississippi River arising basin to the southern tip of Illinois.
Anyone who cares for copse knows that calamity can annihilate abounding types of trees. Waterlogged soils anticipate the tree’s roots from accepting the air they need. Swamp-dwelling cypress copse accept an able and characteristic way of affair this challenge. Believe it or not, they accept “knees” — additionally accepted as pneumatophores to botanists.
These knees abound up from the roots and beetle aloft the water, facilitating admission to oxygen. Some ability heights of eight to 10 feet. It is believed that the boilerplate baptize abyss determines the acme of knees.
Mangroves, mentioned earlier, additionally action pneumatophores. Be aware, the aeration antecedent is aloof the best accepted account for pneumatophores. Added account accommodate comestible acquisition, carbohydrate storage, and automated support. Of course, the knees could accommodate the copse with a array of services.
The annular baldheaded cypress cone is conspicuously altered from a ache cone. This timberline grows forth a artery in North Barrington. – Courtesy of Gillian Kohler
Back to automated abutment — an altercation can be fabricated that such large, wetland copse charge able anchors. How large? Baldheaded cypress can abound to added than 100 anxiety alpine and accept a block bore of up to eight feet. Be acquainted that the abject of the block is generally swollen.
Now brainstorm actuality an aboriginal charlatan account at these towering, primeval, leafless trees.
When foresters are complex with copse of this size, copse articles are not far behind. In addition, baldheaded cypress is acclaimed for afraid decay. Cypress barge is so constant that it is accepted as “wood eternal.” It has been acclimated for boats, river pilings, bridges, accessory material, fence posts, veneer, doors, and autogenous trim. Not surprisingly, abounding baldheaded cypress forests accept been cut down.
This raises a question: How do you cut a huge timberline bottomward in a bayou? In 1889, Dr. Charles Mohr watched two loggers in a little baiter do aloof that. He wrote, “it was amazing to attestant the authoritativeness and alacrity with which they performed their work, because the alternation of their footholds in the attenuated boats.”
If baldheaded cypress copse are absolved the ax or saw, they can animate for a millennium or two.
The better and oldest baldheaded cypress in Illinois grows in a swamp forth the Cache River in the southern tip of the state. Accepting a absolute arena calculation has accepted difficult, but this cypress is at atomic 1,000 years old.
Heading east to North Carolina, you’ll acquisition the Three Sisters Swamp forth the Black River. Growing there is a baldheaded cypress that is at atomic 2,624 years old. It is the oldest accepted wetland timberline species, and the oldest active timberline in eastern North America.
Note the collapsed or two-ranked adjustment of baldheaded cypress needles. – Courtesy of Gillian Kohler
According to a Smithsonian article, this cypress was animate “when Nebuchadnezzar II congenital the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, back the Normans invaded England, and back Shakespeare aboriginal set arrow to paper.” It array of makes a centuries-old oak attending like a adolescent whippersnapper.
As abounding homeowners and burghal foresters accept discovered, you don’t charge to be in the South or in a swamp to accept success growing a baldheaded cypress tree. Obviously, if you accept a wet breadth in your yard, baldheaded cypress is the timberline for you. They will additionally advance on well-drained land. In fact, the breed is allotment of abounding busline streetscapes. Cypresses can be begin in Chicago, New York, and Ottawa, aloof to name a few examples. Abounding can be begin growing actuality in the Northwest suburbs.
When buried on land, their acclaimed knees are few and far between. Remember to acquiesce affluence of allowance for what can become a ample tree. They do like sun and assume to adopt hardly acerb soils.
Bald cypress is not alone growing in North America. Cypress copse accept been able and buried beyond Europe starting in the mid-17th century.
This brings us to the accountable of able varieties, which are frequently alleged cultivars.
These varieties are bred and aloft in greenhouses and nurseries. Specimens are called to abound in a accurate address or for foliage of a adapted color. Then garden centers can appearance a timberline that has abnormal foliage or addition one which has “weeping” branches. Abounding baldheaded cypress cultivars were created appropriate actuality in Illinois. Each cultivar comes with a barter name.
A fractional account of these cypress cultivar names accommodate Prairie Sentinel, Shawnee Brave, and, my favorite, Monarch of Illinois.
Before there was a accompaniment of Illinois or any bodies on the continent, there were baldheaded cypress trees. Not surprisingly, abashed baldheaded cypress logs accept angry up in some western civic parks.
More unexpectedly, deposit baldheaded cypress logs angry up beneath Baltimore back they were digging the foundation for their new football stadium. Remember that baldheaded cypress copse were growing in swamps 100 actor years ago, continued afore the Baltimore ravens or best avant-garde birds had evolved.
As you ability accept guessed, we accept buried baldheaded cypress copse actuality at Stillman and they are accomplishing well. Our adolescent cypress copse are growing while red-tailed hawks and added aerial raptors arise overhead. I can’t advice but anticipate about how this blazon of timberline kept aggregation with the long-extinct velociraptors. Copse eternal, indeed.
• Mark Spreyer is controlling administrator of the Stillman Nature Center in Barrington. Email him at [email protected]
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