aquatic quandaries

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Major tourist draw?
And why it's bigger than it looks

It may not look like much …

At least at first glance.

Ochopee is home of the world’s smallest post office

And really there’s not much of a view …

Now that Brazilian Pepper has boxed it in.

And possibly the most photographed. But why?

But believe it or not, the rather non-descript shack is one of the swamp’s biggest visitor draws, even bigger than Monroe Station before it burned down. I’m often left to wonder why. Maybe its small size makes it easy to photograph, and photograph it people do. By the hundreds. Maybe even more than Naples Pier. Well, maybe not that much. But a lot. Which is all the more perplexing because its a very claustrophobic spot, surrounded by a rather unsightly and impenetrable thicket in back, at an odd bend in the Tamiami Trail in close proximity to tractor trailers rumbling past, and on an uneven gravel parking lot. Yet there they are, tour bus after tour bus unloading passengers to line up one after the other, sometimes in groups, to take a photograph almost as if it were the Statue of Liberty or some other national spot of acclaim. Important detail: It doesn’t even have restrooms!

More about the building: It has a hydrologic pedigree. It was previously a pump house for the farm field in back. When a fire burned down original building to the ground in 1943, the pump house was brought in as a makeshift fix. Eighty years later its still there.

To me it’s one of the great mysteries of the swamp. Other similarly small post offices scattered throughout the swamp were closed down without fan far. Why this one has both withstood the test of time and remained such a popular destination eludes me every time I drive by. Only gators rival the post office for being more photographed. And yes, the cypress trees are jealous!

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Trivia: Ochopee Post Office is 61.3 square feet, or about 6′ x 10′.

Seasons of the swamp
And where we're at now

Meteorologically the swamp has two seasons …

The wet season (May to mid October) and the dry season (November into May.)

Not your typical four seasons, but four nonetheless

But terrestrially the swamp sees four seasons on the ground.

1.Soaking in season. The early part of May is usually the crunchiest time of the year to walk through the swamp: water is absent except in the deepest pools. By month’s end the wet season will have started, followed by June – the rainiest month of the year; yet only rarely do waters peak this early. Late May through June is usually a “soaking in” season for the preserve.

2. Sheetflow season. The onset of summer, lasting into early fall, coincides with an extensive but ephemeral sheet of shallow flowing water in the swamp. Its flowing aspect is achieved when waters rise to the base of the hydric pinelands (i.e., a depth of 20 inches in the pond apple swamps) and higher. The depth, spatial extent and flow rate of sheetflow typically peak between late August and early October.

3. Hydrologic Interregnum. Starting with the demise of sheetflow in mid fall and lasting through winter is the hydrologic interregnum. This is an approximate five month period in which “wet season” water is still present on the ground, but atmospherically the “dry season” has set in, thus initiating the slow demise of the swamp’s expansive sheet of surface water. The duration of surface water in any one spot is largely habitat dependant, but may also be sustained by winter rains, particularly during El Niño years. Pinelands go dry first, followed by marl prairies which eventually leads to a retreat of waters into the tall cypress and pond apple swamp.

4. Spring drought. The swamp ebbs to its low water mark in April and May due to the cumulative effect of months with little rain and increasing rates of evapotranspiration (rising temperatures, expanding hours of daylight, and plant transpiration). During this period, surface water is practically absent from the swamp other than smallish (typically less than an acre) and isolated pools called dry season refugia.

The above chart shows the relation of south Florida’s two meteorologic seasons, i.e. wet and dry, with the landscape hydrology of the swamp.  The typical duration of flooding in major swamp habitats is also shown.

What season are we currently in?

Answer: Winter dry season (meteorologically) but still high up in “hydrologic interregnum” season (terrestrially).

The “spring drydown” season will be delayed and most likely short, if at all — but I wouldn’t rule out one yet.

birds eye view

Origin of domes
And how geology controls the show

What came first:

The depression or the dome?

Answer: Cypress domes form in shallow surficial depressions in the swamp’s underlying caprock, but that doesn’t explain why some depressions capped by a cypress dome and others, right next door, form a tree-free herbaceous marsh.

It might have something to do with the thickness of the marl.

Cypress dome and circular marsh

Or maybe fire frequency or flooding depth also factors in.

Mark it down as another mystery of the swamp.