Bald Cypress vs. Pond Cypress

As has been previously documented on this blog, I love cypress trees, and visiting the Okefenokee Swamp (see here and here) was a chance to see lots of them.

But my powers of observation must be growing, because while looking at these I noticed something I don’t think I would have a year ago.  The foliage on these cypress trees consisted of needles that stand stiffly upright…

…as opposed to that of the cypress trees here on Jekyll Island, which is feathery and drooping.

Seeing this proved once and for all that The Sibley Guide to Trees was worth purchasing, because I don’t think I would have noticed this if it hadn’t tickled a memory from looking up bald cypress trees in that book and noticing a brief entry on a second type of cypress with erect needles.  Turns out that the cypress trees of Okefenokee are actually pond cypress (or pondcypress, if you’re Sibley, who apparently eschews the space bar as a tool for lesser mortals).

Pond cypress may be a separate species, Taxodium ascendens, or it may just be a variety of bald cypress, T. distichum, depending on who you ask.  In any case, it differs in ecology as well as appearance.  Wikipedia (I know, I know, I know) describes it as occurring in “still blackwater rivers, ponds and swamps without silt-rich flood deposits,” which is a perfect description of the peaty Okefenokee.  Bald cypress, on the other hand, apparently prefers areas with rich silt deposits.

When I stopped to get a photo of the pond cypress needles, my mom immediately said, “For your blog, right?  And then you’ll send it to the tree festival people?”  Yes, Mom, this is indeed my Festival of the Trees submission for this month.  The theme this time around is supposed to be how trees inspire you, and in this case they seem to have inspired me to notice things I wouldn’t otherwise!

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12 thoughts on “Bald Cypress vs. Pond Cypress”

    1. I can’t recommend it highly enough, I really love it. There isn’t a lot of info on the ecology of the different species but that’s to be expected – it’s a field guide, so its first purpose is identification, and it’s great for that.

  1. In 2005, my husband was working for FEMA on the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. He found a couple of nearly uprooted small cypress trees in a ditch and brought them home to Tennessee. We planted them next to our pasture pond, where they are thriving. We both assumed they were bald cypress until we really noticed that the leaves were not the feathery bald cypress kind, but the upright ones. I finally found pond cypress in a National Geographic field guide to trees, not pictured, but mentioned almost as an afterthought. This tree deserves to be recognized! Thanks for your comments!

  2. Saw a reference to Pond Cypress while hiking in Pine Log State Forest in the Florida Panhandle yesterday. Was very interested in their relationship to Bald Cypress. They are still leafless at this time of year. The bases of the Pond Cypress did seem to be wider on these than on bald cypresses that I have seen of similar size. Can now add another tree to my life list.

  3. About the common names of these trees– It’s not that the brilliant folks at the Sibley guides eschew the space bar. The solid spelling of pondcypress and baldcypress are cues with regard to the kind of tree. The cypress family (Cupressaceae) comprises a bunch of different genera. Many “true” cypresses are in the genus Cupressus or Chamaecyparis, but baldcypress and pondcypress are in the genus Taxodium and they are a little bit different from other members of the family. The special way of spelling the common name is a clue for those of us who don’t want to wade into the scientific terminology all the time, but still want to know what “kind” of tree we’re talking about. Similarly, consider “Douglas-fir” — the common name is hyphenated so that we have the clue that it’s not a regular fir tree (Abies) but any of six members of a different genus, Pseudotsuga, — I used to be a nature guide editor, which is why I know about this, and why I continue to preserve the distinction if the opportunity arises. It’s helpful!

    1. Ah, thanks! It’s like flies with insects, I guess. (A “fruit fly” is really a fly, but a “dragonfly” is not.) I was just trying to be funny, but it’s great to know there’s a real reason behind this.

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