Monday, October 29, 2012

From Cypress Trees to Cypress Knees

From Cypress Trees to Cypress Knees
by: Lara Miller, Natural Resource Agent
Jennifer Jones, Brooker Creek Preserve Intern

           Cypress trees can be found across the southeast United States, and they are known to dominate the forested wetlands of Florida.  There are two distinct types found within Florida: the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum var. distichum) and the pond cypress (Taxodium distichum var. nutans). They share a few characteristics in common, such as roots that protrude above soil, which are sometimes called the ‘’knees,” and they both lose their leaves in the fall. Bald cypress trees are typically larger than the pond cypress; they can grow to heights of 150 feet and reach six feet in diameter. The leaves on each of the cypress trees differ as well: bald cypress leaves are generally flat, and pond cypress leaves grow scale-like, close to the branchlets (Figure 1). These trees can live for hundreds of years, and some known Cypress trees are over 500 years old. They are extremely flood tolerant, and this allows them to dominate swamps and other wetlands which are known to endure long periods of flooding.

Figure 1. Side-by-side comparison of bald cypress and pond cypress leaves.

Cypress swamps create homes for many rare and endangered species. Everything from large mammals to birds and insects make their homes in cypress trees and swamps. Cypress ponds are capable of holding more water than soil, absorbing runoff from storms and preventing floods. Cypress trees have also been known to improve water quality in their environments. The soil and plants that are typically found within cypress ponds can remove phosphorus and nitrogen from stormwater.

Cypress trees have been growing in Florida for about 6,500 years. They were once logged and almost completely removed because cypress wood is extremely durable and can be used for shingles, siding, fence posts, and other products. Currently, cypress trees are mainly used for saw timber and landscape mulch, although UF/IFAS Extension does not recommend purchasing cypress mulch for your landscape. Cypress trees exist in almost every area of Florida, from the Wakulla Springs in the panhandle all the way to the Everglades in South Florida. These trees are a very beneficial and beautiful species which serve important ecological functions, and are needed in swamps in order to maintain a balanced and healthy ecosystem. 

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