If you live in an area with long summers and mild winters, and if you have a low, damp area, perhaps even a perpetually damp area, and if you don’t want to do the usual, i.e. Bald cypress or willow, then a Swamp cypress is just the thing. And in the area of exclusivity, this tree is connoisseur with a capital “C”. It is only just now beginning to appear in a few, very exclusive, mailorder  plant nurseries.

Swamp cypress belongs to the very small genus Glyptostrobus, a member of the Cupressaceae family. The Swamp cypress, or Glyptostrobus pensilis, is the sole living species, and, like the closely related Bald cypress, it is a deciduous conifer - needled, but non-evergreen. The Swamp cypress, however, is native to subtropical southeastern China, from Fujian west to southeast Yunnan, while the Bald cypress (Taxodium) is from North America.

It’s not entirely fair though to think of the Swamp cypress as just an exclusive substitute for the Bald cypress for it’s quite attractive in its own right and possesses a form different to a Bald cypress. Instead of a stiffly upright form, the Swamp cypress has a more spreading, rounded silhouette, with billowy green foliage similar to a Cryptomeria. This form and texture lends a softer and more informal appeal.

It is a medium to large tree, eventually reaching a hundred feet tall and with a trunk diameter of over 3 feet. The grass green leaves are spirally arranged, but twisted at the base to lie in two horizontal ranks, and have a feathery softness. The cones are green maturing yellow-brown, and open when mature, releasing the winged seeds. In China it grows along river banks in water up to two feet deep and, again, like Bald cypress, it produces 'knees' when growing in water, though they are not as sharply vertical as the Bald cypress.

Because it has decay resistant wood, Swamp cypress is nearly extinct in the wild, so it is good that it is finally being disseminated around the world, especially when one considers that during the Paleocene the genus covered most of the northern hemisphere.

Although Swamp cypress is subtropical, it does possess a certain amount of hardiness, withstanding temps down to the low teens Fahrenheit. Swamp cypress tolerates light (sandy) to heavy (clay) soils and is not fussy about soil type. It does not do well in the shade however and simply must have plenty of moisture. It will particularly thrive in hot and wet summers, such as the American South. It will grow in the UK but not prosper. It would be well suited to Australia if it is watered often. Swamp cypress is as beautiful as it is rare.


Swamp cypress

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