The bald cypress is the state tree of Louisiana, and it received the official designation in 1963. It has a reputation as a swamp dweller, growing tall and strong out in the Louisiana bayous, yet it also thrives in other areas of the state and can do well in clay soil. Flooding has a great influence on the tree’s ultimate shape, which can resemble a cone shape or a column. Spanish moss can frequently be found hanging like a lace cascade from the tree’s branches, drawing warblers that are searching for a meal. Canada geese, too, stop at the bald cypress in Louisiana on their migrations.
Birds such as eagles, egrets, herons and ospreys construct their nests in the branches of the state tree of Louisiana. Its seeds are consumed by a variety of wildlife, including squirrels, wild turkey, waterfowl, ducks and the evening grosbeak. The bald cypress also produces timber for man’s use, and it is popular for cabinetry, caskets, flooring, docks, railroad ties, blinds and boats. Its wood is decay-resistant, leading some to call it “the wood eternal.”
The state tree of Louisiana is a conifer that will shed its leaves in autumn. The bark is normally a red-tinged brown color, but this color changes to gray as the bark becomes weather-beaten. The trees grow slowly, but they live a very long time and can be centuries old. The bald cypress can have a diameter up to 6 feet (1.82 meters) and grow up to 120 feet tall (36.57 meters).
Swamps where cypress forests grow are also called cypress domes because of the trees’ dome-shaped canopy. Salamanders and toads visit the cypress domes to breed. Many mammals and birds find their drinking water there. Human photographers visit the swamps to record the sight of cypress “knees,” the stump-like root structure poking up from the water, and Spanish moss hanging down from branches above. One theory speculates the knees are the bald cypress roots’ way of getting oxygen, especially during floods.
The state tree of Louisiana is just one of many types of trees that cover half the state. It can also be found outside Louisiana, along the eastern portion of the United States from Delaware to Florida. Its habitat also reaches west to southeast Texas and north to parts of Oklahoma and Mississippi.