bald cypress, common name for members of the Taxodiaceae, a small family of deciduous or evergreen conifers with needlelike or scalelike leaves and woody cones. Most species of the family are trees of East Asia; almost all are cultivated for ornament (and are often erroneously called firs or pines). The redwoods (see sequoia) and the bald cypresses are the only species native to North America. The bald cypresses (genus Taxodium ) were widely distributed in the geologic past but are now restricted to the SE United States and Mexico. They are called "bald" because of their deciduous character, unusual in conifers. The common bald cypress ( T. distichum ) forms dense forests in the southeastern swamplands and is a common tree of the Everglades. It produces "knees" which project from the root system upward above water level to facilitate gas exchange. Because it is resistant to wood-rotting fungi, it is valued as softwood lumber for shingles, trim, and especially for greenhouse benches and racks. T. mucronatum, the big cypress or Mexican bald cypress, is a larger tree with a more western range. The true cypresses belong to a separate family. The bald cypress family is classified in the division Pinophyta, class Pinopsida, order Coniferales.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.