Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) bonsai, is especially popular in the southeastern areas of the United States where it is most common in the wild.
Bald Cypress 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.
(The Larch is also a deciduous conifer.)
Many hobbyists create cypress bonsai from nursery stock 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 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 – 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 Bald Cypress bonsai were 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.
(Although he often would joke about the tree's "primitive" styling.)
1975 photo -cypress as it appeared in the New York Times
Collecting areas in Louisiana may be more available than in South Florida, but they are often more difficult.
This cypress bonsai by Guy Guidry, (Northshore Bonsai, LA) has the touch of a true bonsai artist.
Guy is a person who not only knows bonsai, but who also knows his trees.
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, it is 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 cypress bonsai roots for root mealy bugs.
They look similar to a good fungus known as mycorrhiza. Root mealy bugs move -- mycorrhiza does 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 don't return until spring.
The T. mucronatum loses foliage in the "dry season" - which varies by location. And then, it's usually for a brief time.
Sometimes it will shed old and gain new leaves simultaneously.
Although considered a "swamp cypress", it usually is 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.
In nature, cypress trees often have "knees."
Have you seen the Bald Cypress bonsai knees article?
Just getting started? Leave bald cypress bonsai and go to the best plants for Beginner Bonsai Trees.
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