Ralph E. Taggart, Professor
Department of Plant Biology
Department of Geological Sciences
Michigan State University
The bald cypress is the most common and widely distributed of the living North American redwoods, occurring along the southeastern coastal plain from Delaware southward to the Gulf coast and into Texas and Mexico. The trees also extend up the Mississippi embayment as far north as southern Illinois and Indiana. Europeans first encountered the trees with Spanish settlement in Florida and Northern Mexico in the early 1500's, followed by the English colonization of Virginia. The type species for the genus is T. distichum, named by Linnaeus. Some authorities consider the Texas populations to represent a distinct species (T. ascendens), while others treat those populations as varieties or sub-species. The Mexican populations (T. mucronatum) do appear to represent a distinct species, based on the fact that this group does not appear to be inter-fertile with the bald cypress.
The foliage of T. distichum has a distinctly delicate, feathery appearance. The plants are deciduous, dropping their needles in the Fall and producing a new crop the following Spring. The plants are reasonably hardly and numerous examples can be found on the MSU campus, including a tree in the vicinity of Beaumont Tower, although the plants do not typically set viable seed in our northern climate.
The ecology of the genus is more complex than first appears. Throughout most of its range, Taxodium reaches its greatest abundance in standing-water swamps. Water levels must drop to expose bare soil for seed germination and seedling establishment, but adult trees can easily tolerate water depths of almost two meters. Their relative success in swamps appears to reflect the inability of potential competitors to tolerate standing-water conditions. The plants actually do best in moist alluvial bottomlands but in such habitats few trees are able to become established, although those that do often reach a very large size. Taxodium is widely distributed in the Neogene of the Pacific Northwest, although it rarely dominates fossil assemblages.
Ralph E. Taggart (firstname.lastname@example.org)