Pied Beauty

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fall Color: How We Do It Around Here

Most people know we don't get the spectacular fall foliage down here, but we do have some!  This is my young baldcypress tree, graciously turning a beautiful coppery color just in time for Halloween's festivities.  Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) is a conifer, one of the few that isn't evergreen.  It's a big, big tree -- really too big for my small suburban lot.  One day, someone is going to regret that I planted it, but I couldn't resist.

Pick a bigger space if you plant one!
The baldcypress has fine, feathery leaves and round cones.  Unlike many trees, it thrives in heavy, clay soil.  For many of us southerners, it is a veritable symbol of the south, and is the state tree of Louisiana. Baldcypress sometimes sends up "knees," extensions of the root systems that poke up above the ground.  Even though mine is young, it's already sending up a few knees.  Eventually, I'll increase the size of the mulch circle around the tree until all the knees are inside.

Here's the fall color, just beginning...
In addition to the fall color it provides, baldcypress is also especially lovely in the spring.  The new leaves are the most wonderful shade of green -- a green you just won't see on an evergreen tree.  It always frustrates me when gardeners want to limit themselves to evergreens.  I love accompanying my baldcypress on its seasonal journey, from bright, chartreuse spring foliage, through the rich forest greens of summer, and finally to the amber leaves of fall.  After all the needles come down, I love to look at that trunk, straight as an arrow.  What I'd miss if I only planted evergreens!

Wonderful, fine texture
Baldcypresses are ancient and long-lived trees.  The oldest one in North American is rumored to be over 3,500 years old.  Some of the trees in its family include the true cypresses, cedars, junipers, dawn redwoods, and giant sequoias.


  1. Well, now i am going to have to find a place for a bald cypress! I have seen this tree growing beside water, and I love the knobby knees it forms. i didn't realize it could be successful in just plain old clay. My kind of tree!

  2. Bald cypress is one of my favorites. I have three of them in the tree lawn in front of my house. They were planted by the former owner. While I agree that the fall color is attractive, it is not brilliant in comparison to Maple's for example. I'm really excited that the tiny leaflets do not need to be raked from the lawn. It really is a quite narrow tree as compared to most shade trees and is not interfering with the utility lines like the Maples planted in line with it.

  3. Hi Deb! Find a big place -- they grow fast when they're young, then slow down later. It's worth it though. And it's true -- the fall color isn't as brilliant as the maple (thanks, Sid!), it's what we got down here in zone 9A. I forgot about the needles not needing raking -- good point!

  4. We planted a Montezuma Cypress at the farm this fall, and within 2 weeks the deer had destroyed it. In retrospect, I should have waited until spring, so they wouldn't have been rubbing their horns on it immediately after planting. We also lost a loblolly pine, spruce, and poplar. I'll chalk it up as a learning experience.