September 28, 2008
A Cypress Out of Water
By MARY REID BARROW
By Mary Reid Barrow
A tall bald cypress tree is king of our North End street. It looms over the road from a yard that's on one of the few hills to be found in low-lying Virginia Beach.
Actually an ancient sand dune, the hill has been tamed into a lawn and it rises several feet above the street. The tree's roots are spread out in the sandy soil of the old dune. Swampland, normally the bald cypress tree's habitat, is miles away.
But our neighborhood bald cypress is thriving in the quick- draining sandy soil of a dune.
The massive tree is an interesting head turner on the street. Its needles, cattails and cones hang down gracefully, unlike the starchy rigid look of most cedar needles. When its needles turn bronze in the fall, folks think it is dying, but no.
It is named "bald" cypress because it sheds its needles every year like an oak tree, not like a true cedar. In fact, the bald cypress is only distantly related to true cypress trees.
In their native swamp habitat, bald cypress grow in water that often covers several feet of the trunk. Cypress knees poke up all around, but there's not a knee to be found in our neighborhood. Biologists don't know why it grows knees in the water. One theory holds that the knees have something to do with helping the tree roots "breathe" under water.
However, this water-loving tree can't reproduce unless there is a period of drought. The seeds must germinate and begin to grow in damp soil; they will not grow if drowned in water.
That is why dry cypress ponds along the trails at First Landing State Park are not as devastating as they appear. They are part of nature's way of allowing new cypress trees to take hold.
I figure that is why a bald cypress will grow in my dry neighborhood. If a seed is started in moist soil but then transplanted as a seedling to dry soil, it will continue to grow as it did when it initially rooted. It seemingly never misses the swamp. Though it likes more water than most any tree, the cypress in our neighborhood survives without being watered.
Fall is the time to plant trees. Bald cypress, sweet bay magnolia, river birch and many more are among recommended native trees to plant in Hampton Roads.
Cypress need a sunny spot with acidic soil. They make graceful yard trees. They are hardy and can grow 100 feet tall and live for hundreds of years. After shedding their needles in fall, their reddish gray, peeling bark provides winter interest.
Planting trees helps reduce your lawn size and provides cooling shade, both environmental pluses in this area. Trees also help reduce your carbon footprint in unseen ways by increasing oxygen and reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Consider some of these facts from Bailey Nurseries, a North American wholesale nursery in St. Paul, Minn.:
In one year an average tree produces enough oxygen for a family of four.
One tree can absorb the carbon dioxide from four cars every year.
Planting trees is the cheapest, most effective means of drawing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
If every American family planted just one tree, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would be reduced by 1 billion pounds annually.
Mary Reid Barrow, [email protected]
Originally published by BY MARY REID BARROW.
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