Champion Trees, Notable Trees, and Just Plain Wonderful Trees at Cypress Bridge Swamp!
We waited for over a year and we finally made it to the 380 acre Cypress Bridge Swamp Natural Area Preserve! We had been disappointed when our trip during the 2014 annual meeting was postponed due to a canoe-supply problem. And then earlier this year it was postponed again, due to the weather. But it was certainly worth the wait when about 20 of us finally were rewarded with an amazing day in the swamp. The trees, as you can see in the photographs, are impressive. But they were almost eclipsed by the seemingly mystical environment of the complex, fecund ecosystem that is the swamp. Words and pictures can’t begin to capture the sights and smells we experienced. Plus it was a heavy, overcast day on Halloween weekend, which made it even more “spooky.”
Paddling through the old growth forest with lots of bulbous bald cypress trees, each with their companion knees huddling around them, we could almost imagine ghosts out for the holiday. Someone commented as they squeezed out from exploring the inside of one tree trunk that it was a spiritual moment. Another squealed as she walked in the chilly water and it seeped over the top of her Wellies. The forest includes not only bald cypress. The place abounds with a variety of water-loving trees including water tupelo, overcup oaks, swamp cottonwoods, and Carolina ash. The river birch are nearly all young saplings as the species stages a recovery from hurricane damage that brought down the old birches. The place was spectacular – it seemed like we were in another world.
Champion trees are the largest trees of their species, defined by a combined measurement of their height, width, and canopy spread. We saw the legendary, Big Mama, a bald cypress champion tree until she died about 4 years ago. But the experience transcended simply the
biggness of some of the trees. The swamp is teaming with unique tree formations with huge
hollowed out trunks like caves and trees with that form arches or play host to other tree species on their massive trunk bulbs. Trees that are hollowed out can’t be cored, so age determination is limited to estimates, but many of the tress may be more than a thousand years old. Being in the midst of this ancient plant community makes it impossible not to be awed by the beauty of ecology.
Byron Carmean, our enthusiastic guide, truly knows the river, the swamp, the trees, and the history of the area. We couldn’t stump him with our questions and he has a seemingly endless library of wonderful illustrative stories that tell the tale of this swamp and how it was saved from the pulp mills. If you missed the tour and have an opportunity to go another time, you’ll enjoy it. Check out the web site: Cypress Bridge Natural Area Preserve
Joyce and Mike Wenger