Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Bald cypress swamps in Midwestern states

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.

Dozens of baldcypress have been planted in the 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

4 comments -- please add yours:

Larry said...

Hi, Genevieve!

I can attest that bald cypresses grow well in northern Missouri. 25 years ago I received a bundle of cypress seedlings from the Conservation Dept. tree nursery. They looked dead and I wanted to just discard the bundle, but just for the heck of it I stuck a couple of the withered-looking twigs in the ground, then threw the rest of them away. I was ignorant, I freely admit!

The two seedlings thrived and now have trunk diameters of perhaps twelve or fourteen inches. That was how I learned that bald cypress seedlings can fool you!

BTW, this is a great site for tree-lovers!

Genevieve said...

Hi, Larry. We have a wet spot in our yard that a bald cypress would probably love (where the weeping willows that shall live in infamy currently stand.) However, they'd probably develop knees there which wouldn't lend to mowing around them.

However, they don't necessarily need a wet spot. I know of one that's growing on a hillside in a backyard. The site is definitely "well-drained", but the baldcypress is doing fine and has become a large tree.

Thanks for the kind words about Tree Notes. I particularly value them because I know you are also a student of nature.

Larry said...

I wouldn't worry about those knees, Genevieve. From what I've read they only develop in bald cypresses that grow in frequently-flooded areas, and the knees don't tend to develop until the trees are quite old. It has been theorized that the knees provide oxygen to roots starved of the essential gas by persistent floodwaters.

There are several old bald cypress trees here in Hannibal. A first sign that spring is in full spate is when the cypresses develop a frothy green mist of budding foliage. Not yet!

Dania said...

Is cypress a sustainable choice for wood projects? I am tasked with building a picnic table for a local garden and i know that cypress is a local source of wood but is it sustainable and acceptable to use?
-Curious in Carbondale

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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

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Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

Photos and text copyright © 2006-2010 by Genevieve L. Netz. All rights reserved. Do not republish without written permission. My e-mail address is