The bald cypress tree lives up to its name during our dry season. First, this tree gives south Floridians a rare taste of autumn when its needles turn deep orange and red. After the beautiful color transformation, the bald cypress tree drops its needles. This conifer does not stay bald for long – new, bright green needles will catch your eye in early spring. The fall of cypress needles becomes even more intriguing when one realizes most conifers are not truly deciduous, but evergreen.
Bald cypress trees provide many natural services in our environment. As conifers, bald cypress trees produce globular cones full of seeds that provide food for diverse wildlife, such as squirrels, wading birds, and waterfowl. Interestingly, the extinct Carolina parakeet may have been a dominant bald cypress seed disperser. Bald cypress trees provide places to grow for many "air plants" or epiphytes, like native bromeliads and orchids. Especially important to people, bald cypress trees provide erosion control around bodies of fresh water. These trees may be welcome additions to yards that are prone to flooding. When growing under inundated conditions, these trees produce "knees" from the root system that help stabilize the tree, even during hurricanes.
One early use of bald cypress is exemplified by Native Americans who made dugout canoes from the trunks, but most of the original bald cypress forests were logged by early twentieth century settlers to obtain the rot-resistant heartwood. Currently, the largest pristine bald cypress forest occurs within Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and provides habitat for numerous Wood Storks during nesting season. Bald cypress trees can be viewed at the Naples Botanical Garden in the Children’s Garden and Rain Garden, which is a component of NBG’s award-winning rainwater management system.
Author: Andee Naccarato, Department of Education and Conservation, Naples Botanical Garden
Originally published by the News-Press.