Characteristics of Chinese Swamp Cypress (Glyptostrobus pensilis) in the Wild

Glyptostrobus pensilis
The Chinese swamp cypress (Glyptostrobus pensilis), Shu sōng (水松), is the only surviving species of the genus Glyptostrobus. It is a tree native to southeast China, from west Fujian to southeast Yunnan, and is known to also grow in northern Vietnam and Laos.

This tree usually grows on the banks of rivers, swamps, and grows in water at a depth of 60 cm. Like the related genus Taxodium, Chinese swamp cypress produces cypress knee or pneumatophores, when grown in water, which is thought to help transport oxygen to the roots.

This species is nearly extinct in the wild due to over-logging in the past due to its durable, rot-resistant, and fragrant wood. Fortunately, farmers in rural areas plant these trees along the edges of rice fields where their roots help reduce soil erosion.

It seems that there are no wild plants left in China and only a few in Vietnam. Recently a population of Chinese swamp cypress was discovered in central Laos. It was previously reported that there were four specimens of this tree growing in Bank Hall Gardens, Lancashire, United Kingdom, but it has now been confirmed that they are Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum).

The IUCN Redlist has categorized the species Glyptostrobus pensilis as Critically Endangered (CR).


Characteristics of Chinese Swamp Cypress Leaf

Glyptostrobus pensilis Leaf
Source: Tree Library

The leaves are deciduous, spirally arranged but twisted at the base so that they lie in two horizontal rows, 5-20 mm long and 1-2 mm wide, but the shoots are 2-3 mm long and scale-like.


Characteristics of Chinese Swamp Cypress Fruit

Glyptostrobus pensilis Fruit

The cones are green when young and when ripe they become yellow-brown, pear-shaped, 2-3 cm long, and 1-1.5 cm in diameter, growing near the apex. The fruit opens as it matures to release tiny winged seeds 5-20 mm long.


Characteristics of Chinese Swamp Cypress Tree

Glyptostrobus pensilis Tree
Source: Tree Library

Chinese swamp cypress grows as a medium to large tree, up to 30 meters high, and trunk diameters up to 1 meter, or more. The bark is grayish-brown and cracked into irregular pieces.

Wood is highly valued in construction, sculpture, furniture, and musical instruments. The felling of these trees in the wild is strictly prohibited, and the wood can only be obtained from trees that have fallen naturally. Some parts of the plant have also been used traditionally in medicine.


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