Cedars Yews And Cypress Trees

The cedars, yews, and cypress trees are among Florida's most primitive arborescent plants. All are classified as gymnospernis, a group of about 675 seed-bearing, woody plants that are distinguished from the more highly evolved angiosperms by having their seeds borne naked (often but not always in a protective cone) rather than enclosed in a fleshy ovary. All are also characterized by relatively short to diminutive needle- or scalelike, dark gneen leaves that do not resemble the leaves of any other of Florida's trees except, perhaps, the tamarisk (Tamarix gallica)*

The Yew Family

Northernmost Florida lias two members of the yew family, both exceedingly rare and both occurring almost solely within two counties of the central panhandle. In earlier years, the least abundant of i he two was probably the Florida yew (Tax us floridiina)* a small tree w \\h shori, dark green leaves that are typically less than 2.5 cm long. However, in the last several decades it is the yew's cousin, the torreya tree {Torreya taxifotia), that seems to be in the most distress.

The Florida yew is a bushy, evergreen relic of pregladal innes. Its nearest relative in North America is the American yew (Tax us canadensis)* which ranges from Newfoundland and Manitoba to Indiana, Kentucky, and western Virginia, In contrast, the Florida species is narrowly endemic to the bluffs, ravines, and slopes associated with the northern drainage area of the Apalachicola River The main part of its range extends from just north of Bristol to just north of Torreya State Park.

The torreya tree is the species from which Torreya State Park lakes its name and is a species closely related to the yew, A disease that probably first attacked the tree in the 1950s has since reduced its population dramatical t>. and today ils continuing existence appears to be in grave danger t he current population is composed almost entirely of saplings, most of wInch ap|>ear to be sprouts from the root crowns of previously killed trees, A 1st* called gopher-wot>d or stinking cedar, the torreya is similar to the yew in form and leaf shape.

The easiest method for distinguishing between these species is to touch the tips of the leaves. Those of the Florida yew are soft and pliable; those of the torreya, quite sharp and piercing to the linger. Previously, it was useful to crush the leaves of a specimen to assure its identify because the leaves ot ihe torreya are strongly aromatic. Given their limited numbers, however, such disturbance to these two species today is neither wise nor recommended.

Both ihe Florida yew and the torreya tree can he seen at Torreya State Park, north of Bristol A labeled specimen ol the former species once stood on the edge ot the bluff behind the Gregory I louse but has now succumbed to disease. Unlabeled specimens of both can be found along or jusi off the trail at various points throughout I he park. A

transplanted specimen of the torreya tree can he seen at Mac I ay State Gardens on North Highway 319 in Tallahassee or at Florida Caverns State Park near Marianna. These latier trees were taken from Torreya State Park.

The Cypress Trees

The cypress trees are counted among Florida's most impressive plants. Their tall straight, limbless boles reach skyward for more than 40 m and their thin, grayish brown bark rises up the main stem in a close-knit pattern of ridges and furrows that sometimes spirals die trunk* Found in all parts of Florida except the Keys, they are among our easier trees to recognize and have long been revered for the beauty they add to the landscape.

Taxonomically, the cypresses are members of the family Taxodiaceae. This is the same family that includes the famed redwoods and giant sequoias of California's north western coast and Sierra Nevada mountains. Although our trees are not nearly so large, they sill I exhibit a grandeur befitting their noble lineage.

Unlike the state s other conifer species, the cypresses are deciduous rather than evergreen. In early fall their leaves turn a beautiful reddish brown and fall to the water below, sometimes leaving the shallow edges of cypress-ringed ponds literally covered with floating foliage.

At first glance, the Eeaves of the cypress trees look compound in structure. Fallen foliage appears to consist of a rachis with srnali, needle-shaped leaflets These alteged leaflets, however, are actually ¬°eaves, and the supposed rachis is a small branch let on whicti the leaves grow. Unlike most trees, these branchleis are deciduous along with the leaves and are often found on the ground with the tiny leaves si ill attached.

There are two mysieries about the cypress trees. The first is the function of their "knees" the odd-looking structures that arise from the root system and protrude above the water or ground Some stand only a few inches high; others may be several feet tall. It was once believed that the knees help aerate the tree's root system. However, this is no longer thought to be the case since removal of the knees seems to have no apparent impact on the vitality of the tree.

The second mystery is the purpose of the large buttressed base characteristic of the bald-cypress. One would think that these oversized bases play a role in supporting the tree. However, such bases are often completely hollow and in some instances actually terminate just below the surface of the water and do not even come into contact with the earth. All thai can be said with certainty is that these expanded bases seem to be associated with water level The height of the swollen base seems to be directly correlated with the average level of the water in which the tree stands.

Our two cypresses are the pond-cypress (Taxodium ascendens) and the bald-cypress (7. distichum). Both are wet-foot species that prefer to stand in water most of the time. The pond-cypress is more common on the edges of sandy lakes and in flat woods swamps and ponds, The bald-cypress is commonly associated with rivers., At maturity the two trees can be most easily distinguished by their leaves. Pond-cypress leaves are commonly closely appressed to the branch lets on which they grow. Bald-cypress

CEDARS, YEWS, AND CYPRESS TREES

leaves, on the other hand, stand on either side of, and at an anyle slighiiv less than perpendicular to, the branchlets, making she entire appendage take on the appearance of a feather. On older bald-cypress, however, many of the leaves, particularly those higher up on the tree, become reduced in size and look more ifke pond-cypress leaves, making identification slightly more difficult.

Pond-cypress trees often grow in characteristic stands called domes, stringers, and strands. Domes are circular stands with taller trees growing in the center and progressively shorter trees growing toward the edges, This growth pattern gives the combined crowns a characteristic dome-shaped appearance. Cypress strands and stringers, on the other hand, are linear stands that occur in those areas where cypresses line small streams or intermittent drainage areas. It is often easy to recognize these characteristic stands in the field.

The Cedar Trees

The eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is Florida's most common cedar tree and is found in all but the state's most southern counties, It is a sun-loving tree, often growing best on its most sun-exposed side. Female red cedars produce bluish, berrylike cones that are most apparent on the tree throughout the u inter, The berries are a favorite food of birds, which partly explains why lines of cedar irees are common along old fence rows. Birds eat the berries, perch on the fence, and then sow the seeds with their droppings.

Although similar in appearance to the red cedar, the Atlantic ubite cedar (Chamae-cyparts thy aides) is of more limited distribution. El is most commonly found west of the New River, a swampy creek coursing through the swamplands of south-central Liberty County, in the trean of north Florida's Apalachicola National Forest. However, the species is also reported in swamps and along streams in Marion and Putnam counties. Three of the best places to see this tree in abundance are near the floodplain of the middle reaches of the Apalachicola River, along (he banks of the Blackwater River in the western panhandle* and in the Merman Branch scenic area of the Oca!a National Forest- In the talter two sites, especially, the irees are tall and straight, and tower over the understory in beautiful stands.

One of the most interesting features of the white cedar in us Monman Branch location is its close association with climbing pieris (Pier is phillyreifolius), Pieris is a woody heath that sometimes appears as a weakly erect shrub thai is often associated with cypress trees. In the Morman Branch area, however, it is more commonly observed ascending the inner bark ot white cedar irec.s. The plant js not parasitic and apparently does no harm to its host. Its leafy branches emerge from under the white cedar's bark at various places along the cedar s trunk, often as much as 3 m or more above the ground.

Atlantic white cedar expresses a somewhat unusual distribution, It is common and distinctive along the coastal portions of much of the eastern and northeastern seaboard from about North Carolina to Maine, but occurs in the southeast only in widely disjunct communities, The populations that appear sporadically across northern Florida, southern Alabama, and Mississippi are, in many ways, geographic isolates, well separated from each other as well as from ihe main part of the tree's generally northern range. Although adequate explanations for this phenomenon are conjectural, Daniel Ward and Andy Cleweil, writing for Florida Scientist f suggest that this odd distribution dates back to the close of the ice ages when water tables were higher and greater expanses of swamps and wetlands probably dotted the landscape. Today's communities, they argue, are likely only localized remnants of what may have once been extensive while cedar wetlands thai stretched across much of northern Florida and the central peninsula.

The red cedar and the white cedar look similar, differing mainly in the shape of their twigs and the appearance of their fruits. The twigs of the former arc squarish or angled when viewed in cross-section; those of the latter are more flattened. The white cedar also lacks the red cedar's bluish, berry I ike cones.

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Responses

  • taimi
    Are evergreen yews in the ceder family?
    2 years ago
  • jyrki
    What kinds of trees are pins cedars and yews?
    1 year ago
  • rosamunda
    Can you use japanese yew like cedar?
    7 months ago

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