Denizens of The Swamp

One of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen is at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center located in National Harbor, Maryland. This hotel, located in the Oxon Hill community, opened in 2008. August of 2014 I resided there for a few days for the IGC Trade Show, a show dedicated to the continued success of the Independent Garden Center. A mixed-use space of residential, office and retail, the hotel is situated along the shores of the Potomac River across from Alexandria, Virginia. A cost of nearly $900 million dollars to build, this waterfront resort has a gorgeous 19-story glass atrium with sweeping views of the Potomac. And with all that money spent, it was refreshing to know that they didn’t skimp on the landscape! A gorgeous grove of Pond Cypress trees, Taxodium ascendens frame both sides of the resorts atrium. A sweeping vista that can be appreciated either from the Potomac or from inside this grand architecture has continued to hold my attention.

Taxodium is a genus of one to three species (depending on taxonomic opinion) of extremely flood tolerant conifers” (Wikipedia). I mention this immediately because I am always amazed at the number of willow and birch trees I sell, an immediate default for homeowners, when people want a wet–site tolerant tree. Taxodium and Metasequoia, for that matter, never seem to come to mind. I suspect because Pond Cypress, Bald Cypress and Dawn Redwood are not mainstream names people are familiar with. An undeniable truth that familiarity breeds sales in my industry and others. Truth be known, Taxodium and Metasequoia are far more durable and are almost capable of a natatorial lifestyle. Occurring naturally in the southern part of North America these deciduous conifers grow pneumatophores, or cypress roots, near bodies of water. Woody projections, or knees, that rise above the water are said to help carry oxygen to their root systems.

Pond Cypress, Taxodium ascendens, is one of my favorites and sits off the corner of our driveway. Light brown and deeply furrowed bark help add to its winter interest. Fine, uniquely textured foliage that is bright green and changes to a russet color in the fall clearly drives peoples interest. I have even heard their autumn color described as “Fox Red”, an interesting and telling description. The cones on this tree are short, globe-shaped and purplish when they are young. ‘Nutans’, the cultivar I selected for our home, has all of the characteristics I mentioned with a slightly pendulous habit to this upright tree. Be on the look out for ‘Prairie Sentinel’ too! A fastigiate selection that has withstood temperatures of -20°F, it too has soft, fine-textured foliage. Native from Virginia to Florida and Louisiana, they are truly magnificent, appreciate full sun and are unyielding to heavy winds.

Common Baldcypress, Taxodium distichum, is another native from Delaware to Florida, Missouri, Louisiana and Texas. A species, not as slender as ascendens, can grow 50-70 feet tall and 20-30 feet wide. Pyramidal by nature, as it matures, Baldcypress is a lofty, deciduous conifer that is highly adaptable to wet sites and dry ones for that matter, once it is established. The “knees” of distichum are more pronounced than ascendens, and form in shallow waters. There are a few cultivars I am particularly fond of, ‘Cascade Falls’ being one of them. ‘Cascade Fall’s’, as it matures, reminds me of the Sesame Street character Mr. Snuffleupagus, the woolly mammoth without tusks. A weeping Baldcypress, with fine foliage and a dramatic winter form, this cultivar’s foliage is a sage-green in the summer. From Cedar Lodge Nursery in New Zealand, ‘Cascade Falls’ becomes a large dynamic focal plant, in full sun. ‘Lindsey’s Skyward’ is an exiting new form of an ancient tree type. A fastigiate selection by Mike Lindsey, this narrow beauty has small, flat green needles clothing it. Typical golden-orange color turning bronze in the fall is worth waiting for and the fact that it shows resistance to winter snow and ice load and tolerates wet soils are clearly added selling points. Finally, ‘Peve Minaret’! If you ever wanted a cool, dwarf tree with remarkable texture begging to be admired, look no further. 2010’s Collector Conifer of the year, ‘Peve Minaret’ has rich green foliage in the spring, red-brown markings in the fall and a tiered outline giving it a unique presence. A Netherlands selection by Pete Vergeldt, I have seen this perform admirably in containers in the Northeast for years.

Google Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center Marriott and you will see why I am so enamored with the Taxodium they chose in front of their 19-story glass atrium.