Why bald cypress tress are, well, bald

January 9, 2015, 1 p.m.
Sunset over Bald Cypress from Grassy Island on Reelfoot Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Tennessee
Photo: anthony heflin/Shutterstock

An icon of the southern swamps

These bald cypress trees living in Reelfoot Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Tennessee are great examples of the tree species that are so well known in the marshy South. The tree is well adapted to life in moist environments like seasonally wet and sometimes submerged soils. In fact, the wood is so water resistant that prehistoric bald cypress trees are sometimes found in swamps with wood that's still usable!

But to our main question — why are bald cypresses called bald? That's because they're one of only about 20 species of deciduous conifers. Conifers are evergreen trees, like redwoods and other pines. Deciduous trees are the type that lose their leaves every season, like maples, aspens and fruit trees. But deciduous conifers are a unique type of tree that falls into both camps. They have needles like evergreens, but every year those needles turn vibrant orange and red, and are shed. And bald cypresses make this transition very early in the season. Hence, their moniker.

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