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Cypress Trees
cypress trees
Bald cypress trees, photographed at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Copeland, Collier County, in October 2015.
Bald cypress needles. The two white spots on the left are insect galls.
bald cypress
Pond cypress, with cones attached.

Cypress forests once covered great swaths of Florida. They were ancient places, with trees almost monument-like, centuries old and standing 100 feet into the air or more. They're mostly gone now, the trees cut for lumber and to clear land for for development. But the two species of cypress native to Florida, the bald cypress and the pond cypress, still dot the landscape and play vital roles economically and ecologically. Florida, in fact, has more cypress forest by volume than any other state in the union.

Both species are members of Cupressaceae, the cypress tree family, and both are members of the Taxmodium genera. Ponds and balds are similar enough to each other that at one point they were thought to be one.

Both are prized for their wood, which is both insect and rot resistant. During the early 20th century, lumber operations began cutting down Florida's trees, and by the 1930s, the state led the nation in cypress production. The wood was used for everything from making shingles to cisterns, which should give you a pretty good idea how durable cypress is.

A cypress forest once spread between Lake Okeechobee and Fort Lauderdale that essentially created a border between the pine forests to the east and the Everglades to the west. All of it is gone for lumber and development but for a few remnants, the largest of which is the 400-acre cypress strand preserved at the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. Great swaths of old-growth cypress forests were cut down in places like Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park and

All in all, there are about 30 different genera in Cupressaceae, the cypress family, and as many as 140 separate species. About eight genera are found in the United States, including junipers, redwoods and sequoias. Florida's cypress trees are members of the genus Taxodium, of which there are three members, bald, pond and Montezuma, aka Taxodium mucronatum, which is found in South Texas into Mexico.

Cypress trees are conifers, with needles for leaves and have seed-bearing cones. Both bald and pond cypress are deciduous, meaning they drop their needles in the fall. They also lose their chlorophyl, turning yellows, oranges and browns that can last until new growth sprouts come spring. There are physical differences between the two species, especially the structure of the needles, as shown in the photos at left. They also tend to live in different habitats, pond in places with standing water, bald along

Cypress trees are incredibly valuable to the environment as well, providing both food, shelter and habitat to a wide range of species, including birds and mammals. There are cypress dome swamps, places where

They are slow-growing trees but they can live incredibly long — one tree in Central Florida named The Senator was estimated to be 3,500 years old before it died from a lightning strike in 2012.

The trunks of the trees are tapered and are buttresses — flaired supports — at the base. Their roots have knobs that come out of the ground called knees. Scientists aren't sure what the knees do for the tree, but theories include providing additional support, providing the roots with oxygen and storing nutrients.

cypress knees
Pictured at left: the "mysterious" cypress knees at the base of a tree. The photo top left shows cypress trees at the River Bend County Park in Jupiter. Both bald and cypress trees like to have "wet feet." The photo also shows the buttresses (think medieval cathedral architecture) that give support to the trunk. At above right is a portion of the cypress forest/swamp at the Arthur R. Marshall Loxachatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Boynton Beach. To the immediate right are pond and bald cypress trees side by side.
pond and bald cypress trees side by side
  cypress swamp at loxahatchee cypress trees
Unless otherwise stated, all photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without their express permission.