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What Is the State Tree of Louisiana? How Was It Decided?

Colorful Bald Cypress trees during winter

If you visit Louisiana in the fall, you won’t find tall, thin hardwood trees bursting with color like you might in other states. Instead, you’ll find a peculiar cypress tree with rusty orange needles falling off like leaves. This is the bald cypress, which is unique among conifers because it’s also deciduous, meaning it drops its needles every year.

The bald cypress was designated the state tree of Louisiana in 1963, and it has a history here almost as old as time itself. Cypress trees can live for over a millennium. Their lumber is also resilient against harsh weather, making it a choice material for projects with regular outdoor exposure.

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At a Glance: Bald Cypress

Scientific Name: Taxodium distichum
Type: Deciduous conifer
Environment: Wetlands
Use: Woodworking, erosion control

The bald cypress earns its name by losing its needles every fall, which give it a naked appearance during the winter months. It grows tiny cones on the ends of its branches, and its fine green needles have a feathery appearance. You can typically find the bald cypress growing along the swamps and wetlands in the Bayou State, and its strong roots are excellent at preventing soil erosion. The “cypress knees” growing around the base of the tree are sometimes carved in folk art but are legally protected on government property.

Bald cypress trees
Image Credit: Lost_in_the_Midwest, Shutterstock

History

In 1962, a 4th grade class in Baton Rouge noticed that Louisiana didn’t have a state tree and decided to fix it. They voted the bald cypress as the state tree and petitioned the legislature, who signed the bill into law in 1963.

The tree has long been hailed as “Wood Eternal” because it has been thriving here practically forever. Cypress trees can live well over 1,000 years old! Even its lumber stands the test of time. Cypress wood is often used for custom cabinets, flooring, and outdoor projects such as porches because it withstands the weather so well.

Bald Cypress Tree
Image Credit: Justin Wilkens, Unsplash

Cultural References

If you want to see a really old bald cypress tree, visit Cat Island’s National Champion in St. Francisville near Baton Rouge. This bald cypress is over 1,500 years old and reigns as the largest bald cypress in the United States. It’s also the largest tree east of the Sierra-Nevada mountains and the 6th largest tree in America.

Check before you go, however, because localized flooding has made the site difficult to reach over the last twenty years. Sometimes it’s accessible with a short hike, but other times you must take a paddle boat because of the rising water.

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Conclusion

Due to their prominence in Louisiana, as well as their importance to the ecosystem and human use, it’s no wonder that the bald cypress is the champion of the Bayou State. Although they’re most commonly seen in swampy areas, you might find one in land with low elevation elsewhere. If you want to see the largest bald cypress in the United States, be sure to visit National Champion in Cat Island when the water levels are low.


Featured Image Credit: JamesHou, Shutterstock

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