Taxodium distichum (bald cypress, baldcypress, bald-cypress, cypress, southern-cypress, white-cypress, tidewater red-cypress, Gulf-cypress, red-cypress, or swamp cypress) is a deciduousconifer that grows on saturated and seasonally inundated soils of the Southeastern and Gulf Coastal Plains of the United States.
It is a large tree, reaching 25–40 m (rarely to 44 m) tall and a trunk diameter of 2–3 m, rarely to 5 m. The bark is gray-brown to red-brown, shallowly vertically fissured, with a stringy texture. The leaves are borne on deciduous branchlets that are spirally arranged on the stem, but twisted at the base to lie in two horizontal ranks, 1–2 cm long and 1–2 mm broad; unlike most other species in the family Cupressaceae, it is deciduous, losing its leaves in the winter months, hence the name 'bald'. It is monoecious. Male and female strobili mature in about 12 months; they are produced from buds formed in the late fall, with pollination in early winter. The seed cones are green maturing gray-brown, globular, and 2-3.5 cm in diameter. They have from 20 to 30 spirally arranged, four-sided scales, each bearing one or two (rarely three) triangular seeds. The number of seeds per cone ranges from 20 to 40. The cones disintegrate when mature to release the large seeds. The seeds are 5–10 mm long, the largest of any species in the cypress family, and are produced every year, but with heavy crops every three to five years. The seedlings have three to 9 (most often six) cotyledons.
A cypress knee is a term used in the biology of trees to describe the distinctive structures forming above the roots of a cypresstree of any of various species of the subfamily Taxodioideae. Their function is unknown, but they are generally seen on trees grown in swamps. Some scientists have thought they may help in oxygenation to the tree's roots or assist in anchoring the tree in the soft, muddy soil.
Knees are woody projections sent above the normal water level, roughly vertically from the roots, with a near-right-angle bend taking them vertically upward through water so at least part of the protrusion will be exposed at low tide.[dubious– discuss] One early assumption of their function was that they provided oxygen to the roots that grow in the low dissolved oxygen (DO) waters typical of a swamp, acting as pneumatophores: mangroves have similar adaptations. There is little actual evidence for this assertion; in fact, swamp-dwelling specimens whose knees are removed continue to thrive, and laboratory tests demonstrate that the knees are not effective at depleting oxygen in a sealed chamber. Despite the fact that there is no expert consensus on their role, the supposition that they are pneumatophores is repeated without note in several introductory botany textbooks.
Another more likely function is that of structural buttressed support and stabilization. Lowland or swamp-grown cypresses found in flooded or flood-prone areas tend to be buttressed and "kneed," as opposed to cypresses grown on higher ground, which may grow with very little taper.
In swamps that feed into the Chesapeake Bay, bald cypress trees dominate the environment. These long lived trees provide vital structure, holding soil and providing shelter for hundreds of plants and animals.
The Nature Conservancy purchased the wetland, which became the "Battle Creek Cypress Swamp Sanctuary", in 1957. It was the Conservancy's first preserve in Maryland and encompasses 100 acres (40 ha) (about 1% of the 10,060-acre (40.7 km2) watershed of Battle Creek). A portion of it is now open as a public park with a nature center and quarter-mile boardwalk through the swamp. Since 1977, the preserve has been leased to Calvert County and operated as a county park.
Cypresses, such as the bald cypress, and their relatives once covered much of the northern temperate zone. It is thought that these trees disappeared from the BCCS area during the most recent Pleistoceneglaciation ("Ice Age"), but then reappeared around 5,000 to 10,000 years ago as the climate warmed.
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