Bald Cypress: Building with Louisiana’s State Tree
Popularized by the hit TV shows Swamp Loggers and The Legend of Shelby the Swamp Man on the History Channel, there is more to the story of cypress than you may know.
A common question is how did the Bald Cypress become Louisiana’s state tree?
Known by many names, including Tidewater Red Cypress, Southern Cypress, and Gulf Cypress, the Southeast Coast is home to Taxodium distichum or Bald Cypress. These trees have long been valued for their natural resistance to damage from insects and water, earning the title of “wood eternal”.
Designated as the official state tree of Louisiana in 1963, the Bald Cypress is considered to be a symbol of the southern swamps. It was chosen thanks to the fourth graders of Jefferson Terrace Elementary School in Baton Rouge and their teacher Ms. Juanita Sommers. They decided it was time for the state to adopt an official tree. They selected it because of its beauty, prevalence and economic impact on Louisiana’s history. The students led by their teacher petitioned Louisiana Legislature to add the Bald Cypress as the official state tree. To back their choice, they planted 10 on the school grounds and enlisted the help of LSU School of Forestry. A bill was drafted and passed in 1963. This honor only added to its reputation with craftsmen and wood workers for its wonderful work-ability for hundreds years.
Building with Cypress Wood and Louisiana Heritage
The beauty of cypress wood as a building material was quickly recognized by architects and craftsman alike. Renowned architects like the Frank Lloyd Wright and A. Hays Town set the bar across the nation for popular building styles that incorporated lots of locally sourced materials that showcased the natural beauty of wood, namely cypress lumber.
Taliesin East in Spring Green, Wisconsin located on a 490 acres oasis. One of Wright’s personal homes, it took Wright 48 years to perfect and made great use of this American tree. Cypress windows encompass the walls of the living room, allowing copious natural light and an airy atmosphere. The cypress paneling on the living room ceiling was ahead of its time, currently a desirable trend in today’s homes.
Taliesin East went under restoration in the 90’s and Albany Woodworks was selected based on their reputation for providing quality products that can seamlessly match historic properties. Sinker Cypress was used to restore several ceilings through the home.
Another Albany Woodworks project, this A. Hays Town inspired home full of natural wood charm. Cypress was used in true Town style by incorporating custom French Doors and solid wood windows. Similar to Frank Lloyd Wright, Town loved the use of natural lighting so he used glass door styles and window treatments like louvered shutters (also made from sinker or reclaimed cypress).
Little did A. Hays Town know, but he was developing energy efficient homes by creating shade with the shutters for the heat of the summer and extra insulation during the winter.
Another popular place in his homes for cypress was in kitchen designs. He often highlighted the beautiful color variation and grain pattern of this wood in kitchen cabinet doors.
Benefits of Building with Cypress
Both of these architects benefited from the natural characteristics of this wood. In the swamps, these trees live in water and face infestation of native wood-eating insects like termites. Water and bug resistance meant homes could stand the test of time and weather the elements with cypress as the exterior defense. It became popular, especially in warm climates like Key West, New Orleans, Charleston, and Savannah, as the go to for front doors, exterior wood siding, windows and shutters. This timeless and enduring look became the calling card for Southern architecture.