Bald Cypress Bonsai

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.

Bald Cypress BonsaiCypress Forest by Ed Trout

If you don't have access to yamadori Cypress, seedlings and nursery stock (or a combination) are perfect for creating bald cypress forests. 

They are sturdy trees and can be cut drastically without fear of killing them (while they are dormant!)

BonsaiMary thought this cypress
was a real winner!

Fortunately, cypress has a wide range of availability and can be found in different 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. 

Where to Find Them

Many hobbyists  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.  In Louisiana, they are often tall, but easily cut down to size.

All types of trees dug from natural areas are known as "yamadori." 

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.)

In the 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.

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!

Collecting areas in Louisiana may be even more available than South Florida, but often more difficult. 

This cypress bonsai "Twister," by Guy Guidry, in Louisiana, U.S.A.  has the touch of a true bonsai artist.

Guy knows trees and what is best for them.

An Early Treasure

Bald Cypress Bonsai
1975 New York Times

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.

(Years later, he would joke about the tree's "primitive" styling.)

Bald Cypress Bonsai Timing

Whether you are collecting a new plant or working on cypress bonsai roots during a re-potting, 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.'

Cypress Bonsai Problems

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.

Cypress bonsai
by Chuck Ware

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

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 does not!  Because they often go unnoticed, these pests can kill your bald cypress ... as well as many other bonsai trees. 

A Special Style for Cypress Bonsai

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.

Vaughn Banting 1947-2008 ( 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 ...  now in the national collection, Washington, D.C.

Where to Go From Here

Read more about Yamadori

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