fall

Signs of fall
Fall arrives in many ways, just not temperatures

Signs of fall in the swamp are subtle,

But they are there if you know where to look.

Early October:
Resurrection fern shrinks
to shriveled state indicating
less rain
Late October:
Dwarf cypress prairie
become needle bare indicating
less daylight hours
Early November:
Cold water seeps into boots
indicating lower air temperatures
Late November:
The cypress-pine
swamp mosaic really
starts to “pop”

Can you think of others?

Mythical Big Cypress

Big Cypress Watershed
Or is the term "mosaic" a better descriptor?

Animated cross section of the rise and fall of the water table in Big Cypress National Preserve
Swamp water cycle in motion

In the modern era, we’ve come to know the Big Cypress as a watershed. But what if I were to tell you, use of that term for the Big Cypress is as new as the preserve? Yes, that’s right, the day Big Cypress National Preserve was established in 1974, it was dubbed a watershed – it’s own watershed, a watershed separate from the Everglades and the Lake – and has been thought of in that pristine, almost utopian way, ever since. But the truth is the Big Cypress is only a watershed because its original “other sources” of water were drained away, or diverted.

Listen to Audio Introduction

What were those sources? Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades definitely flowed into the swamp. If you don’t believe me, just read the Buckingham Report from 1848. And prior to the destruction of the Ft. Thompson Falls and drainage of the Upper Caloosahatchee Basin (Lake Flirt, Lake Bonnet and Lake Hicpochee), the swamp was fed water through groundwater seeps from the Immokalee Rise.

Before, Current and Future Restored Maps of the Big Cypress Swamp
The rainfed swamp we know today was once fed by upstream water sources

So yes, in a way the Big Cypress we know today is a rainfall-sustained ruins of a pre-drainage cathedral of of headwater flows, now largely collapsed (by drainage). That doesn’t make the swamp any less special. In fact it makes it more interesting than we knew. And it also points to our need to steward water. The sky provides the Big Cypress with a bounty of water. But it needs help, our help, to make sure its clean, connected to its remnant headwaters where possible, and help it spread out.

And the swamp needs fire, too. Every square inch of flora and fauna in the swamp depends on a regular return interval and dosage of flood and fire. Those are the two forces that give the swamp its distinctive mosaic of habitats. The cypress may look “old as the hills” but they are actually holes — although it is incorrect to call it a homogenous swamp.

More correctly stated, it’s a malleable swampy mosaic that’s semi-fixed in time and space. Or as we like to say around here:

So goes flood and fire, so goes the swamp.

Talking to plants
And how plants talk to you

This cypress dome may look dry …

But it’s showing water in two ways.

Soggy peat and dry water rings, south of the Alley

First, the peat is still soggy.

The water table was about a foot below the surface. That’s high enough for the peat to wick some moisture up, especially in the lowest spots. Also factoring in was a recent rain storm that wetted the peat top down.

Second are the high-water water rings around the fluted trunks. That’s the tree telling the water cycle how high it would like to be filled up. Word is the sky could start obliging in about a week (fingers crossed).

Before I left the dome I made sure I told the trees that.

flood and fire

Mosaic on mosaic
And how fire shapes it

The term swamp is a bit of a misnomer.

Mosaic is probably the better term.

Green within the black

It applies to both its maze of plant communities …

And the patchy pattern by which it burns.

Black within the green

And the variable nature of water …

In terms of both duration and depth.

So go flood and fire, so go the swamp … I mean mosaic!

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Bountiful cypress

Gator hook is neither navigable …

Nor easy to walk across from bank to bank.

Gator Hook Strand, looking
upstream (northeast) towards
Loop Road

Or if you do,

Be prepared to get your feet wet.

And as you can guess by its name …

Gators abound.

Looking across Gator Hook Strand,
north, towards Tamiami Trail

Gator Hook Strand is one of several …

Major natural flow ways in the Big Cypress Swamp,

A place where towering cypress trees abound.