Scary tentacle tree
Or just a reflection?

The swamp is greatly misunderstood …

But I won’t deny this tree is sort of spooky.

The reasons? For one, there’s the reflection that makes it look like a tentacle tree, almost as if it could swim toward you and octopus arm you in. There’s the pool behind it which is rather deep, full of gators and without a proper bank. Or in other words, I was knee deep in water when I took the photograph. And another thing about the reflection: scarier than the mirror image of the branches are what it may be hiding underneath. Gators like to float on the water’s surface, but sometimes they hunker down on the bottom, too. Bottom Line: It’s a sublime spooky, equal doses of both.

Mid-summer milestone
Why pond apples never fall far from the tree

Hearing the ker-plunk of a pond apple …

Into the center of a dome is a rite of passage in the swamp.

Holding a pond apple in Big Cypress National Preserve
Pond apples are found in the center of cypress domes

It also indicates two things:

Summer is advancing (thus it falling) and water is deep (thus the ker-plunk).

And how do you measure the worth of a pond apple?

Floating pond apple in the center of a cypress dome
As seen looking towards the dome’s lighted center

What happens next after the ker-plunk?

The pond apple floats!

And starts to drift.

In the direction of sheet flow (until a log snags on a log).

Pond apples rarely drift far from the tree they fell.


Worth of a pond apple?
Economics of natural resources

I always like say:

“So goes flood and fire, so goes the swamp.”

Big Cypress Pond apple in hand
A pond apple in the hand …

Every square inch of the swamp’s flora and fauna depend on the right dosage and return interval of flood and fire to stay healthy.

Or so my usual mantra goes.

But really economics is the bigger driver.

Markets both create and solve problems.

Big Cypress pond apple in the water in a cypress dome
is worth a pond apple in the water

Loving nature isn’t enough to save it. Getting the economics right is probably the best and only path to success. That means making sure we’re setting up an underlying economic structure (with eco-smart incentives) to move beyond talking about getting the flood and fire right, and actually doing it.

The swamp can’t talk, but if it could and if we did it would say thank you.

And maybe even give us a hug.

Yes, that’s right – trees hug back!

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Dry roots and socks
Soggy socks are common in the swamp

Pond apple forests are a common sight …

In the center of cypress domes.

As seen in early May

What isn’t common is to see their root exposed to open air. Usually they are flooded with at least some water, and as much as 2-3 feet by summer’s end. Personally, I prefer photographing them in their more natural flooded state, even if that also means me getting my socks wet.

strands and sloughs

“Flat swamp” theory

Everyone thinks the swamp is flat.

But is it really?

Surrounding this tiny island
is 2 feet deep slough

Even in the deepest slough …

I was surprised to find tiny hills of dry land.

The source?

Overturned trees cause roots and peat to locally pop up.

Can you see how this uprooted tree
created both hills and trenches?

Meanwhile, that same effect also causes deeper trenches to form.

Or in other words, better watch where you step!

There’s nothing flat about slogging in a water-filled swamp.