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Experience the natural world with east central Illinois master naturalists
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Winter Trees I Have Known and Loved

Posted by Bethany Semancik -

Last weekend, while working with the Kickapoo Krew Master Naturalists, I had the good fortune to be introduced to a beautiful bald cypress (Taxodium distichum). Although it is a conifer, the bald cypress drops its leaves in winter. You can see, in the photo, the lacy bracts (future cones) along its branches and the delightful little gnome-like "knees" along the pond's edge.
According to the Arbor Day Foundation website, "the Baldcypress tree is the classic tree of southern swamps. There, in its native habitat, it displays a peculiar habit of raising conical 'knees' from its roots. The function of these growths is something of a mystery, although some believe it is a way to help the roots get oxygen. This tree dwells in swamps because it out-competes most other trees on such sites."

While central Illinois is slightly beyond its natural range, the bald cypress was introduced at Kickapoo State Park, and seems to be doing well near the many ponds there.

There is also a bald cypress in Champaign's Hessel Park, in the parking lot area (photo). Because of its dry location, this one does not have large cypress knees; its only two knees are visible, but just barely peeking out. It bears the distinction of being included in Sandy Mason's Hessel Park Tree Walk.

The bald cypress is a marvelous tree. At home in a swamp, it can also survive in a city park.

Do you have a favorite winter tree?

Mary Eppich
MN 2015 Intern

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