Northwestern range of the bald cypress tree
When you hear the words "bald cypress", do you think of the cypress swamps of Georgia or Florida? If so, you are absolutely right -- bald cypress trees are common in the coastal wetlands of the Southeast. We've all seen images of moss-draped baldcypress trees and their impressive knees, even if we've never personally visited a cypress swamp.
However, it may surprise you that the range of the baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) includes a small portion of several Midwestern states. The bald cypress occurs naturally in the Mississippi River valley of southern Illinois and southeastern Missouri, and in the Wabash and Ohio River valleys of southern Illinois and southern Indiana.
Before the land was settled, Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri had many acres of cypress swamps, perhaps not as famous as those of the southeast, but every bit as genuine. Many of these wetlands were drained and the land was put into cultivation, as Charles Clemon Deam noted in the 1916 book, Trees of Indiana.
In recent years, an effort has been made to conserve remaining swamps, such as the Mingo National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Missouri, Twin Swamps and Goose Pond Cypress Slough in southern Indiana, and the Cache River State Natural Area in southern Illinois.
Fort Defiance park at Cairo, Illinois, on the last bit of land between the Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers. The image at right, taken at the park in October of 2008, shows baldcypress in the background as well as the foreground . In fact, the baldcypress in the Fort Defiance park were the first of that species that I ever saw.
Bald cypress has been successfully planted much farther north than the area where it occurs naturally. While writing this post, I've read about bald cypress trees that are surviving the winters of Minnesota, Michigan, and even southern Canada.
More about Midwestern cypress swamps:
Mingo: Last of the Bootheel Swamps
Mitch and Amy's Mingo Swamp Adventure
Cache River Wetlands
"Cypress swamps Illinois" on Flickr
Range map from the USDA Silvics Manual, Volume 1