Materia Medica: Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)

Our local Taxodium, the Bald Cypress, is one really cool tree! Taxodium distichum is our local Bald Cypress, and it’s a deciduous conifer. A conifer is usually (not in this case!) evergreen, and has cones as their reproductive parts instead of a flower- a gymnosperm instead of angiosperm. Marc Williams, of Botany Everyday, does a wonderful job of speaking of these glorious trees in the context of their taxonomy. Deciduous trees drop their leaves in the winter, which is a pretty rare thing for a conifer to do! They grow in the Southeastern US, and are beautifully showcased when growing in swampy areas. Bald Cypress have a feature that we colloquially call “cypress knees” that have been studied for a really long time – no one is quite sure what their purpose is! It’s a great way to ID this tree though- if you see their cool looking knees growing around them, you can be sure it’s a Taxodium.

Taxodium distichum is in the Cupressaceae family, which has a lot of special plants in it, including Sequoias, Arborvitaes, and Junipers. They often have red to brown and sort of stringy bark. Cupressaceae is known for having some of the oldest and biggest individual trees in the world! The oldest known Taxodium distichum is in North Carolina and is over 1,600 years old!

Asia Suler of One Willow Apothecaries, inspired by the landscapes of Florida including our Taxodium, talks of being true to our own nature – “To be in one’s own world is to be closer to the very heart of this world itself. Do you think the cypress trees are constantly fretting about the experience of the crane? Or does the gopher tortoise impress its own view of reality upon the roots in the earth? The manatees, no matter how wounded, continue to swim in their own underwater universe. “ I love this, and often wander toward it when being held by these sunken ancient trees. It’s times when I’m alone, surrounded by swamp, flora, fauna, and my buzzing thoughts, that I can’t help but wonder how I can be of best service to these plants and the land around us. The ancient sleepy Taxodium does a great job of inspiring wonder with its fascinating and ancient family history, unexplained mysterious knees, and iconic water loving spirit.