Bald Cypress vs Dawn Redwood in winter

[Bald Cypress (w/ knee) on left, Dawn Redwood on right]

Today’s Sidewalk Nature:
Winter tree ID at Centennial Park, but quick!
Before Spring hits harder and no one cares about Winter tree ID!

Bald cypress vs Dawn redwood?

They are lookalike trees year ’round.

-Both are planted by the Lake at Centennial Park.
-Both are deciduous “evergreens:” conifers that drop all needles in the fall.
-Both get BIG.
-Both have similar silhouettes (a fat pear-shape when young), thanks to excurrent branching (one leader).
-Both have scaly, peeling bark.
-Both are monoecious (both sexes on one tree).

BUT, here are some BIG BUTS:
-Bald cypress twigs are alternate, BUT Dawn redwood twigs are opposite.
-Bald cypress grows KNEES, BUT Dawn redwoods don’t.
-Bald cypress is native to Tennessee (West TN), BUT Dawn redwood is native to China.
-Bald cypress cones are food for local creatures, BUT Dawn redwood cones are just…cute.

You can’t find Bald cypress cones right now, because they disappear as soon as they fall. Ducks and squirrels and other creatures break them to eat the seeds inside ASAP.
If you are lucky enough to find one, be sure to scratch ‘n’ sniff the balsam-y fragrance. I keep one in my pocket all winter.
These below are from my tree fruit collection:

[Bald Cypress fruit, whole and in pieces]

Where at Centennial Park can you see these trees?
Several places, but these two are almost side by side at the Lake.
To see them, walk from the Parthenon lot toward the circular overlook at the Lake.
I say “toward” the overlook, not “to” the overlook, because if you walk all the way into the circle, you may have to engage with a well-dressed group of missionaries.
This is totally up to you.

For the two lookalikes, take a left.
Pass a nice, big Sycamore on your right.
The next big tree on your right will be the Dawn redwood, followed by the Bald Cypress. 

Not sure? Look for the KNEES.

Which one to plant?

Dawn redwood is related to our California redwoods and has a fascinating history—it was “unknown” except as a fossil until the 1940s—but we don’t need more of them in Tennessee. Actually, they are endangered in China, so that’s where they need to be planted.

At the risk of sounding like a missionary myself (though never well-dressed): All new trees need to be native, so they can function in our foodwebs.
We have run out of space and time to plant purely “ornamental” trees, no matter how fascinating. 

Why does all this matter?

Getting to know our Plant Neighbors is a chance to Notice, Wonder, Connect, and Protect.

Names and Info:

Dawn redwood / Metasequoia glyptostroboides. Info about “discovery” in 1940s, here at “In Defense of Plants.”
Bald cypress / Taxodium distichum. Info and pics at Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, here.

Centennial Park Conservancy, here, and Park Overview, here.


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Joanna Brichetto is a naturalist and writer in Nashville, the hackberry-tree capital of the world.
She writes about everyday marvels amid everyday habitat loss at and on Instagram (@Jo_Brichetto); and her essays have appeared in Creative NonfictionBrevity, Fourth Genre, Hippocampus, The Hopper, Flyway, The Common, City Creatures, The Fourth River and other journals. An almanac of urban nature encounters is forthcoming.

One thought on “Bald Cypress vs Dawn Redwood in winter

  1. I am very much in favor of planting native trees/plants. Though it can be a challenge competing with the introduced invasive ones. 🥴

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