In the fall of 2010, I made a visit to the Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge, which is 17 miles from my home, to see the National Champion Bald Cypress. Here’s a photo I took of the tree:
This massive tree, reputedly the largest of any species east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, measures 17 feet in diameter at breast height. It’s 96 feet tall. To give you an idea of the relative scale of this huge tree, here’s a photo of me and The Champ:
Notice that I’m standing in front of the left-hand part of the trunk – I couldn’t get the whole thing in the frame because I was using the timer on my camera and had to hustle back. Anyway, I think you can see just how big this guy is. And by the way, you can slip up inside the buttress to the right of where I am. It’s awesomely cool.
I couldn’t help but think it would be great to propagate this venerable old tree, so I set about to collect some cones. That was problematic, as there just weren’t that many. But I guess when you’ve been propagating for 1500 years or so, you get tired.
So I took my trove home and put them into a sandy mix in a big tub, then I waited. True to form, only about a handful of the seeds sprouted – they were from a very old tree, right? Normally with BC, you can pretty much count on 100% germination.
Anyway, I eventually potted the seedlings into their own containers, then just fed and watered and left them alone – more neglect, you might say. But there’s not much to be done with BC seedlings, aside from making forest plantings. Over time, my Champ progeny dwindled to only two. But they grew nicely, and that pleased me greatly.
It’s an axiom that bald cypresses, left to their own devices in a pot, will get to looking pretty shaggy to downright awful in the foliage come this time of year. These have been no exception. Here’s what I mean:
You can see a little green foliage on this lovely lanky six-year-old seedling; this is what sprouts back out after the spring foliage gets tired and turns brown followed by black and crispy. The tree won’t die, but it sure doesn’t look like much. But I think I can change that.
So here we are after shortening the specimen, wiring it out and removing the soil from the roots. Nice roots, which is no surprise. Coiled roots, which is no surprise. That’s what comes when you leave any piece of material in a container for too long. The roots do what they have to do to grow and survive, and if that means coiling around the pot a bunch of times that’s exactly what they’ll do.
A closeup of the roots. I had to cut some growing through the pot’s drainage hole; this is the rest.
I added a piece of wire to the trunk – it was too straight before. Doesn’t this make all the difference?
Then it was time to pot the tree. I had this nice Chuck Iker round, and thought it would work just fine for my Child of the Champ. In a few minutes this is what I had.
And now for the million-dollar question: What’s wrong with this picture?
You may recall that last week I had written about a three-tree oak planting which was just in the wrong pot. A key point of that study was the fact that I had a very tall main tree in a rather large – too-large – pot. So when I repotted the planting into a smaller pot, which accentuated the height of the main tree even further, all of a sudden the composition improved.
That’s just not going to work with this tree. Isn’t that interesting?
I had this Byron Myrick oval that had previously held a yaupon bonsai – another case of a pot being too big for the tree in it. In this case, though, I think I have a composition that makes the tree actually look in proper scale. What do you think?
The trunk base of this specimen, incidentally, is 1″ in diameter. It’s 32″ tall. I have a flat-top in mind, a good style for a tall slender cypress.
This tree should push new growth in a week or two, barring unforeseens. I plan to offer it for sale when I’m sure it’s recovered.
Next year I’ll be potting my other Child of the Champ. It’s grown more strongly than this one, and actually has the beginnings of root buttressing in a relatively small diameter trunk base. I’m anxious to see how it turns out.