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Swamp Cypress - December 2007
Thanks to Steve who sent the above picture and says, "I live on a houseboat on the tidal Thames. Our living area has windows looking towards Isleworth Ait and one window particularly frames a tree known locally as Heron Heights. This unusual thing stands out on the very upstream tip of this little nature reserve opposite Kew Gardens. I have wondered at the beauty of this tree for about 15 years, especially when it turns rusty in the Autumn. Have asked lots of people what sort it might be - only to receive an "it's just a pine tree, Steve". "But" I said, it drops all its leaves/needles in the winter, pines aren't supposed to do that are they?"

Anyway the local heron colony uses it as preferred site for nesting and I quietly delighted in it until recently the local nature reserve folk gave us a tour and one of them mentioned that it was an example of trees thought to be extinct until the 40s. I was excited and felt vindicated for boring people with my stories of this unusual beauty.

I hope I have identified it correctly but your excellent descriptions have convinced me. Not so easy to view as most - a dinghy would be best - or a very long zoom lens looking downstream from Richmond Lock

The tree certainly looks good in its Autumn colour and great to see the herons at the base of the picture!

From the picture and the description (of it being one that was thought to be extinct until the 1940's), it certainly looks to be a Dawn Redwood. I am really pleased you have been vindicated in your belief that it was a tree of note and it is great that you are able to enjoy a view of this tree from your home.

* * * Update - January 2008 * * *

Shane has written to say that he believes the tree may be a Swamp Cypress (Taxodium distichum). It would be great if someone could send a close up photograph of the leaves as this is the only way I know to solve this mystery. You may need a set of waders to reach it though!

* * * Update - May 2008 * * *

Steve's picture of the Heron Heights tree.

Young Dawn Redwood foliage.
Steve sent a close up of this tree after wading with wellies and a dinghy, unfortunately in my view it adds a little more weight to Shane's thought that it might be a Swamp Cypress. My reasoning for this is based on the layout of the needles/leaves. Notice that they are in neat opposing pairs on the Dawn Redwood, whereas the Heron Height's foliage looks as though it has alternately spaced, less regular needles. This opposing layout can be considered the defining characteristic of the Dawn Redwood, although of course the picture I have shown is the fresh foliage of a very young tree and so is a little more dense than would be seen in an older tree.

The mystery is a step nearer being solved, though not in the manner we had hoped! Whatever it turns out to be in the long run, it is still a very fine tree and serves as an example of how difficult it can be to discriminate between these two types from a distance.

P.S. Steve checked the cutting and confirmed they are definitely alternating needles. He says "Oh well - I have a splendid swamp cypress instead ! Lots of fun and education finding out though.". Let us know how your baby Swamp Cypress progresses, it would be interesting to do a continued comparison between it and Dawn saplings.

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