Patsy and Dee McElroy

Bald Cypress (taxodium distichum) “Swamp Cypress”

Donated by Shelley and Jim Williams in memory of Shelley’s parents, Patsy Roecker McElroy and Dee Russel McElroy.  To learn more about Patsy and Dee click here.

Description:  The bald cypress is a native conifer that looks like an evergreen tree in the summer, but changes color in the Fall and drops its needle shaped leaves making it one of the few deciduous conifer trees. Bald cypress trees grow 50-100 feet tall and form buttresses at the base of the trunk.  When grown in or near water it forms “knees” that protrude from the ground along the tree roots.  Pyramidal in shape when young, the bald cypress can grow to a width of 20-30 feet.  The bark is an attractive reddish brown and fibrous.  This tree was about 5 feet tall when it was planted on 2-17-18.  

Leaves: The needles are soft and flat and grow on 3-6-inch branchlets.  The leaves turn from green in summer to orange then reddish brown in the Fall

Cones: Globular shaped 1/2 to 1 inch across.  They are green to purple when young and brown at maturity which takes one year.  Seeds are triangular and 1/2-inch-long and eaten by birds.

Habitat:  Bald cypress are native to southern swamps, bayous and rivers.  In the deep South, it is found growing in swampy water often in large stands with Spanish moss draping from its branches.  This tree was planted here because it is an area that regularly has a big puddle of water in it for several days after it rains.    Amazingly the bald cypress is also quite heat and drought tolerant which makes it a good tree for the NC Piedmont.  It tolerates full sun and is adaptable to a variety of soils including dry, clay, compacted, and wet soils.  

Uses: Cypress wood has natural anti-fungal properties making excellent lumbar for outdoor projects.  It is a strong wood that is resistant to shrinkage, rotting and termites.  

History:  In classical mythology, cypress trees are associated with the death and the underworld.  A recent study confirms that cypresses are an ancient plant with origins that can be traced back to Pangea.  Researchers have documented the evolutionary divergence of the northern and southern subfamilies of cypresses as a result of the break-up of Pangea about 153 million years ago.


Dirr, Michael A. Manual of Woody Landscape Plants Their identification, Ornamental characteristics, Culture, Propagation and Uses.  6th edition Stipes Publishing, Champaign Illinois, ISBN 1-58874-868-5

Native plants of the Southeast:  a comprehensive guide to the best 460 species for the garden.  Larry Mellichamp; photographs by Will Stuart-1st ed. 2014 Timber Press, Portland, Oregon, ISBN 978-1-60469-323-2.

NC State Extension Service online forestry resources.