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Virtual Highland Lakes: Cypress trees

Cypress trees can be found at Krause Springs in Spicewood, where they have wet conditions and plenty of sunshine to grow. Staff photo by Jennifer Greenwell

Cypress trees thrive in wet conditions along riverbanks, which is why they are not all that common in the Highland Lakes. Yes, we have water in our lakes and rivers, but we also have hot summers and dry creekbeds. Unless, of course, you go to Krause Springs in Spicewood, where 1,000-year-old bald cypress trees tower over natural and man-made swimming holes carved out between their roots by cool, clear spring water.

"Swampy" is the word you see most when researching ideal conditions for cypress trees. They need both wet soil and full sunlight, which just about sums up Krause Springs. It’s wet, it’s cool, and it has plenty of sunlight, but it’s not all that swampy. It is an oasis in the hills of the Highland Lakes.

A Texas native, bald cypress is one of the few deciduous conifers in North America. The younger trees look more like Christmas trees, while the older trees develop fluted bases, slowly tapering trunks, and broad, flat tops. Their leaves turn copper or reddish-brown in the fall. In the spring, they produce a small, round cone with a greenish, waxy coating.

The root outgrowths that make a cypress so distinctive are called “knees.” Researchers don’t really know the purpose of the cypress tree's knees, which appear mostly on ones living in consistently wet areas. One guess is that the knees help stabilize the tree in muddy soil.

Bald cypresses are the first to lose their leaves in the fall and the last to bud in the spring, which is why they are called “bald.”

Fun facts about cypress trees not in Texas

  • The bald cypress is the official state tree of Louisiana.
  • Big Cypress Tree State Park in Tennessee was once home to the largest bald cypress in the United States. It was 13 feet in diameter and 40 feet in circumference. It lived to be 1,350 years old before it was hit by lightning in 1976.
  • The oldest bald cypress in America is at least 2,626 years old, according to a 2018 study (we added the additional years for a 2020 count) and is growing in North Carolina along the Black Pier.
  • Cypress trees have a 5,000-year history in Florida. Loggers removed most of the cypress trees from the swamps before the first half of the 20th century.

Krause Springs is located at 424 County Road 404 in Spicewood. Hours are 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily. Call 830-693-4181 for information on campground capacity during COVID-19 restrictions.

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