Celebrating trees: the legend of the Bald Cypress tree

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It is believed that this Bald Cypress tree in George Rogers Clark Park is the oldest tree in the Louisville Metro Parks and Recreation system.

NOTE: We’re celebrating trees in honor of Arbor Day during the month of April. This is the latest in an occasional series about Metro Parks and Recreation’s tree inventory. 

By Walter Munday
Outreach Manager
E-mail Walter

Another one of our favorite trees is the historic Bald Cypress tree in George Rogers Clark Park just off Poplar Level Road across from Audubon Hospital.

This 200+ year old cypress tree, protected by a fenced enclosure, is the last truly historic tree remaining in Louisville. George Rogers Clark Park is the site of Mulberry Hill where John and Ann Clark’s (George Rogers Clark’s parents) original home was located. George Rogers Clark was the founder of Louisville, and a Revolutionary War general and hero at age 25. After the war, his entire family moved here from Virginia, and Mulberry Hill was built several miles outside of town in 1785. The entire family played a prominent role in Louisville, and the western frontier. George’s youngest brother was William, of Lewis & Clark fame.

Although none of the original structures remain, the old cypress tree that was near the spring house remains, bigger and more beautiful than it must have been 200+ years ago.

Several legends have sprung up about this old tree over the years.  One belief is that an Indian is buried under the tree.  Another story is about an Indian brave who’s body has been encased in this tree. He hid in the hollow trunk of the tree from George Rogers Clark.  The tree sensed the evil in his soul and started growing around his body and entrapping him.  His screams alerted Clark and others. When they arrived at the tree, they saw the twisted outline of the Indian’s body in the tree.

Tradition holds that George Rogers Clark planted the Cypress tree although another legend says that the tree sprouted from the spot where Clark thrust his walking stick into the ground. Yet another version says he thrust his riding whip into the ground. It then grew roots and became a tree.

The Bald Cypress is an interesting species of tree. Although many conifers are evergreen, bald cypress trees are deciduous conifers that shed their needle-like leaves in the fall. In fact, they get the name “bald” cypress because they drop their leaves so early in the season. Their fall colors are tan, cinnamon, and fiery orange.

The Bald Cypress can grow up to 120 feet tall with a trunk 3-6 feet in diameter. The typical lifespan of a Bald Cypress, which is a slow-growing tree, can live up to 600 years in age.

Bald cypress trees are valued for the rot-resistant heartwood of mature trees, and so they have been widely used to make fence posts, doors, flooring, caskets, cabinetry, boats, etc.

However, they are not harvested for timber as much anymore because they are slow-growing and there aren’t as many of them left. They usually grow in wetlands, which causes loggers much difficulty.

Bald cypresses have very important roles in the wild. Since they tend to grow along rivers and in wetlands, they are excellent at soaking up floodwaters and preventing erosion. They also trap pollutants and prevent them from spreading. Frogs, toads, and salamanders use bald cypress swamps as breeding grounds. Wood ducks nest in hollow trunks, catfish spawn in the submerged hollow logs, and raptors like bald eagles nest in the treetops.

Information for this story was gathered from the National Wildlife Foundation.

 

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