Cypress Swamp

Click on any critter in the scene for more information.

Cypress domes develop in depressions in pine flatwoods. The water comes from the surrounding forest, which may be only inches higher in elevation. Water moves into them slowly, and drains internally into the water table. Cypress sloughs and swamps share the same minimal elevation differences from the surrounding land, but they usually drain into a lake or river. In some cases there is a gradual transition from fresh to brackish water, with cypress giving way to salt marsh or mangroves. Cypress trees are very flood-tolerant, and domes and sloughs are often flooded for long periods of time. The species composition is dependent on three environmental factors:  hydroperiod, nutrient input, and fire.

The soil of a cypress system is high in organic content and can also contain high percentages of silt or clay, which tend to seal in the water. Domes, sloughs, and ponds can hold significant volumes of stormwater, making them excellent parts of flood control projects. After the rainy season ends the water table sinks rapidly in surrounding flatwoods. Beneath cypress systems the decline is much more gradual, with the water table being recharged by the slow drainage. The combination of organic, mucky soil, extended elevated water levels, and slow drainage create unique challenges for the plants growing in cypress wetlands.

Common trees within a cypress dome include Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), Dahoon holly (Ilex cassine), Pond apple (Annona glabra), and Redbay (Persea borbona). Most trees in cypress domes exhibit buttressed bases, with the lower trunk swollen more noticeably that the rest of the trunk. Cypress trees are also known for their “knees,” above-ground extensions from their roots. The extensive root systems and the knees help support the trees and facilitate oxygen exchange in the soft, wet, acidic soil.

Midstory vegetation can include Wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera) and Myrsine (Myrsine myrsine). Understory vegetation can vary widely: in the dome depicted it is dominated by grasses and sedges.

Cypress systems provide habitat for many species of wildlife, including some that are listed as rare or endangered, such as limpkins and wood storks. The diversity and density of plants in cypress systems creates a favorable habitat for many mammals, including raccoons and otters. The abundance of hollow trees provides homes for many birds and arboreal mammals, with squirrels, woodpeckers, wood ducks, and owls common residents of cypress trees. The alligator is also a ubiquitous inhabitant.

The cypress dome and cypress slough systems are well represented in the Big Cypress Swamp and the Everglades, but they are both rapidly disappearing within the urban boundary.

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