Featured Plant No. 3 – Taxodium distichum

Taxodium distichum

This Swamp Cypress tree, or Taxodium distichum to give it its botanical name, is starting to show off its Autumn wardrobe at Chartwell right now. This majestic tree sits next to the largest of Churchill’s two lakes where its orange tones reflect beautifully in the still water. Originally from South Eastern USA, this conical coniferous tree can reach as high as 35 – 40m and ours is well on its way to hitting those heights. The striking colour of the Swamp Cypress in Autumn can be appreciated even more when you see its needles in close up, as shown below:

The stringy, fissured red/brown bark of this Taxodium distichum is another reason to get up close and personal with it, however perhaps the most interesting feature is its protruding knees! That’s right, Swamp Cypress tress growing near water, as this one at Chartwell does, develop what are called ‘Cypress Knees’. Also known as pneumatophores or aerial roots, these are intriguing protrusions above the ground that are actually part of the root system. Some people even think they look like a pack of Meerkats sheltering under the tree!

Pneumatophores or Meerkats?

Their function has always been believed to be to provide oxygen to the roots when they are growing in oxygen-starved (also known as anaerobic) conditions such as in a swamp or on the margins of a lake or river. However, recent studies have shown that removing these Cypress Knees in such conditions results in no change in oxygen levels or check to the growth of the tree at all. It is now thought that perhaps they offer greater anchorage to the tree instead, particularly when growing in boggy, less stable soil structures. Whatever their true function, they look fantastic and can be seen by any visitor to Chartwell who pops down to the lakes to check them out…

Jamie

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