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Bald cypress trees in the United States

 

The images above show Henderson Swamp in the Atchafalaya basin in the river delta of the Mississippi, Louisiana in wintertime. The swamp cypress, bald cypress or baldcypress tree (Taxodium distichum) is a common sight in southern swamps of the U.S., often with Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) hanging in its branches.

Spanish moss is an epiphyte (a plant that lives upon other plants), which absorbs nutrients (especially calcium) and water from the air and rainfall, so it does not kill the cypress trees (while it might lowers its growth rate by reducing the amount of light to the tree's own leaves and it also increases wind resistance, which can prove fatal to the host tree in a hurricane prone area). Spanish moss can also often be seen in the branches of the live oak (Quercus virginiana), which makes part of the "Deep South" imagery.

Protection against hurricanes

The swamps with bald cypress trees are fundamental for the protection of the coastal area along the Gulf of Mexico for extreme coastal erosion and floodings that occur during hurricane storms. The forested swamps act as a "speed bump" for the storm surge caused by the hurricane. These hurricanes, coming from over the sea, diminish in force when they are moving across the swamps and bayous before entering the mainland.

The schemes above make clear what influence the small barrier islands and the swamps have on the storm surge.

The large scale logging and the draining of wetlands in one of the main reasons why the consequences of present hurricanes (like hurricane Katrina that devastated the New Orleans area in 2005) have become much more severe for the inhabitants.

Cypress swamps

 

 

Honey Island Swamp, Louisiana. The typical "knees" of the cypress trees are visible. It is not really known what their function is, but it is thought that they may help in providing oxygen to the tree and assist in anchoring the tree in the soft, muddy soil.

The world's biggest swamp cypress

The bald cypress tree with the largest girth can be found in Cat Island, a national wildlife refuge in one of the turns of the Mississippi, near St. Francisville (West Feliciana Parish), Louisiana. Its diameter is 5,21 m or 17 feet.

However this tree was not always the cypress tree with the largest trunk volume: that was a tree called "The Senator", near Longwood, Florida. The Senator was 35 m tall, and had a trunk diameter of 344 cm and an estimated volume of 119.4 m│ before it fell in January 2012, due to arson. The tallest cypress tree known is located near Williamsburg, Virginia, and is 44 m tall.

If you want to visit Cat Island, always make sure the tree is accessible, because the refuge is flooded by the Mississippi river during large parts of the year.

Lots of interesting things can be visited in the area near St. Francisville, like well-preserved colonial houses and gardens like Rosedown Plantation, Afton Villa Gardens or Greenwood Estate. St. Francisville itself also is a very beautiful, historic town where the typical, southern atmosphere can be tasted. I visited the area around New Orleans during two weeks and had myself a great, relaxing time in St. Francisville. If I could only still be resting on a porch beneath southern live oaks heavily loaded with spanish moss...

Spanish moss

 

Because spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) only grows well in humid southern locales like Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, South Carolina, and Alabama, the plant is often associated with Southern imagery.

 

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