The Bald Cypress bonsai (Taxodium distichum) is especially popular for use as bonsai in the swampy areas of the southeastern United States, where it is common in the wild.
Fortunately, cypress has a wide range of availability and can also be found in other climate zones as well.
Not all cypress look alike. Bald and Pond cypress are very similar.
In nature, where the two are growing near each other, they often hybridize.
Therefore, precise identification can be difficult.
Although both are conifers, these Taxodium are deciduous -- they lose leaves in winter -- and both can make excellent bonsai trees.
(The Larch is also a deciduous conifer.)
Many hobbyists create cypress bonsai from nursery stock, cuttings and even seed.
Those who live near swampy areas, have an opportunity to collect cypress bonsai from the wild. In South Florida, they are often old, natural dwarf trees.
Where they are native, collecting cypress from the wild is a popular sport. They are often everywhere, however it may take a long time to find that special one for bonsai.
Winter is the perfect time to see cypress in their natural habitat ... the trees are bare and no mosquitoes (well, almost.)
Everglades National Park
there is a large area of natural dwarfs for viewing only – NO collecting there!
There are other areas outside of the park where bald cypress bonsai treasures can still be found.
I thought this one was a real winner!
(Yes, that's me.)
Park boundaries are not always obvious, and the fines are steep.
If you decide to go collecting, make sure you have permission and know where you are!
When the late Joe Samuels exhibited this bonsai in 1975, it got a lot of attention. At that time a Bald Cypress bonsai tree was rare.
As it happened, a photographer (and bonsai aficionado) wrote an article and sent this picture to the New York Times.
It was published and the issue became one of Joe's special treasures.
(He would often joke about the tree's "primitive" styling.)
Bald Cypress as it appeared in the 1975 New York Times
Collecting areas in Louisiana may be more available than in South Florida, but they are often more difficult.
This cypress bonsai "Twister," by Guy Guidry, in Louisiana, U.S.A. has the touch of a true bonsai artist.
Guy is a very knowledgeable person. He not only knows bonsai, he also knows his trees and what is best for them.
Whether you are collecting a new plant or working on cypress bonsai roots, the best time is when it is dormant.
Once it is fully leafed out, there is a good chance of losing the tree by root pruning. Put cypress on your list of 'late winter things-to-do.'
Although relatively care free, as with any plant, cypress bonsai trees can have pests. If you get leaf galls, they are only an appearance problem - just cut them off.
Less visible are the mites.
Red spider mites may show up, especially in summer. In the fall you may see dinginess from spruce mites. Bad cases of mites are indicated by webbing.
Instead of chemicals, spraying the plant with a steady forceful
stream of water from a hose twice a week can greatly reduce the mite
population and help conserve the natural predators.
Cypress bonsai above by
Chuck Ware (Obviously pest free.)
Many Cypress bonsai growers remove all the fall damaged leaves and have one last beautiful growth of green before winter sets in.
At the very least once every winter check bald cypress bonsai roots for root mealy bugs.
They look similar to a good fungus known as mycorrhizae. Root mealy bugs move -- mycorrhizae do not!
Because they often go unnoticed, these pests can kill your bald cypress ... as well as many other bonsai trees.
By observing any trees in nature we can learn a lot about bonsai styling.
When a bald cypress is young, it has a pyramidal shape, as it
ages the top tends to flatten.
The late Vaughn Banting, (highly respected New Orleans bonsai artist), was the first to introduce the "flat top cypress" as a style.
This tree is an example of Vaughn's work, it is now in the national collection, Washington, D.C.
Although the Montezuma cypress, Taxodium mucronatum, looks similar, it differs in many ways.
The leaves of T. distichum drop in the fall or early winter, and usually don't return until spring.
The T. mucronatum loses foliage in the "dry season" - which varies by location. Then, it's usually for a brief time.
Sometimes it will shed old and gain new leaves simultaneously.
Although considered a "swamp cypress", it's most often found along the banks, as opposed to growing in the water.
This Montezuma cypress was John Naka's first bonsai tree.
This old b&w photo is courtesy of Cheryl Manning.
Cheryl knew John Naka well and has some wonderful stories and treasured early photos of him and his trees on her site.
Have you seen the Bald Cypress bonsai knees article?
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