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

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Baldcypress at Lake's Edge

Three little trees I take an interest in



I've been watching these three young baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) trees for several years. They grow on the shore of Kentucky Lake near the Eggner's Ferry Bridge in Land Between the Lakes*. Turn off the road at the Fenton campgrounds, follow the road to the boat docks, and you can see them too.

When our daughter was attending college at Murray, KY, I passed through Land Between the Lakes whenever I went to visit her. I first noticed these little baldcypresses when I stopped to take some photos of Kentucky Lake on a windy day in 2007. Now our son is attending Murray State University, and I stopped to see how the little baldcypresses were doing when I drove home from Murray last week.

I was happy that the little trees are much larger than the last time I last saw them. I'm a little worried about the two smaller ones, though. I don't think their needles should be changing color and getting ready to fall off already. Certainly they are deciduous trees, but it's only the middle of August. I suppose they might have some kind of blight.

I suppose this will sound crazy. After all, these are baldcypresses, and they're supposed to be able to live in water. Still, I can't help wondering if constant submersion might be affecting the health of these young trees. When I first saw them, they were growing in wet soil at the water's edge. I think they are now standing in at least two feet of water. Kentucky Lake is full this year because we've had a wet summer.

I haven't found any information that I consider reputable about the tolerance of young baldcypress for growing in water most of the time. I did learn that baldcypress seeds will sprout in contact with wet soil, but not in water. As soon as they sprout, they start growing upward at a rapid rate; they elevate their photosynthesis organs (their leaves) as quickly as possible.

I read in Floridata's article about baldcypress that it grows faster, larger, and healthier when it doesn't have to tolerate floods. However, because baldcypress seedlings can't survive in heavy shade, they are usually  out-competed in moist upland forests. Thus, baldcypress is most often found at water's edge where it gets plenty of sunshine and a lot less competition, even if it doesn't thrive quite as well.

Baldcypress is famous for the knees that develop when it is grown in or near water. One theory is that the knees are pneumatophores (air roots that help the main roots with gas exchange when the tree is standing in water).  Another theory is that they function as anchors to keep the tree stable in ooze and muck. Whatever the knees do, I'm sure these babies are growing some.

*Kentucky Lake (created by a dam on the Tennessee River) and Lake Barkeley (created by a dam on the Cumberland River) are two nearly parallel bodies of water. Land Between the Lakes (LBL) is the 170,000-acre, mostly wooded, inland peninsula that lies between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkeley. LBL is managed by the National Forest Service, and the dams produce TVA electricity.

5 comments -- please add yours:

Harold Stiver said...

Interesting trees. I'm too far north for them here in Ontario but I remember seeing a pair growing in wet conditions in Louisiana many years ago.

Good post!

Genevieve said...

Thanks for visiting, Harold. Baldcypress is one of my favorite trees of the southeast U.S. These three little trees are within the native range of the baldcypress, but at the northern edge of it. The tree has been widely planted outside its native range. There are reports of it surviving in Minnesota.

Keith Brown said...

Bald cypress are survivors. I wouldn't worry too much about them dropping leaves early. Here in Austin, TX these trees grow native all over the river banks. Because they are native, amateur gardeners plant them in their landscapes all the time. These trees do not grow well away from a water source. I see them drop leaves in late July/ August all the time and they bounce back with a full canopy the next spring. I'm sure your three kids will be back to good when the water level goes back to normal.

Genevieve said...

Thanks for the reassuring words, Keith. I'm sure they'll be fine. I just want them to thrive, get knees, and grow big while I'm still around to enjoy them whenever I pass their way.

Charlie said...

At the Texas-Louisiana border is Caddo Lake, a fairly shallow, natural lake. Bald cypress grow there by the millions. Most of them are in the water and have never been on high ground.

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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 gnetz51@gmail.com