cypress domes

When it comes to the swamp, people think cypress trees first, and usually in their two trademark forms: cypress domes and strands. One oval-shaped and the other more curvilinear, both help navigate water through the swamp. Cypress domes | Strands and sloughsSwamp mosaic?Flood and fire | Marl Prairies | UplandsBotany | Alligators and more | Life cycle of a pond apple | mangroves

ecology

Seeing the mosaic
The art of drawing water

As much as I’ve tried,

Photos always seem to fall a little short.

Photo of the mosaic: From highest to lowest, the “swamp mosaic” pinelands (dark green), cypress (gray), marsh (yellow) and open pool (blue). Difference in elevation: about 4 feet

Not that they don’t tell a thousand words, they do. And sometimes even more (sometimes less). But still, whenever I take a photograph trying to capture the swamp’s mosaic, there’s always something that gets left out. Not that it stops me from trying. Whenever I fly, the pilot says to me: Didn’t take a photograph of that before. “Probably. Actually that’s a definite yes,” is my usual response. Even down on the ground in front of what some would say is a not-so-scenic monolith of concrete better known as a water management gate, I can’t seem to photograph it enough.

Diagram of the mosaic

That’s where diagrams come in handy. You can pack in a diagram everything you couldn’t get in a photograph, even in a helicopter at a thousand feet. As for which is better? I like a combination of both. I’ll continue to take photos and draw. And know, I’m not a photographer (a paid one) or an artist (to be debated, but yes, also unpaid), but I am a hydrologist. The truth about hydrology is that taking photographs and drawing sketches is all part of a days work.

ecology

Sea of cypress domes
And why no two are the same

Cypress trees usually come to mind …

When people think about the Big Cypress Swamp.

Cypress domes in Big Cypress National Preserve

But for me it’s more specific: I tend to think of the cypress domes (and strands). The domes are circular and too many to count. Well, you could probably count them, but it would hard to keep track for the reason they are all unnamed. But don’t mistake that with them all being the same. What appear hill-like from a distance turn into a shallow bowl as your approach, full of a labyrinth of cypress knees, fluted trunks, and fallen logs that require you to watch each and every step until finally you reach the sunlit central destination point: a circular marsh and/or orchid-hiding pond apple and pop ash trees, and usually an alligator hole perhaps at a willow head.

An unnamed cypress strand in Big Cypress National Preserve

As for the cypress strands, unlike the domes most of them are named, but not in all cases as the one above. And I’m not saying there aren’t two perfectly identical doppelganger domes or strands out there. I’m just saying I haven’t found one yet. The search continues.

Rolling Swamp
And why the canopy doesn't lie

Swamps are flat and low …

Making it impossible to see a good view, right?

Big Cypress National Preserve’s Mullet Slough

That might usually be the case, but not in the Big Cypress Swamp. The reasons? The swamp ecosystem is full of mountain ranges of linear-running cypress strands and rolling hills of cypress domes. And yes, those strands and domes are actually places where the land dips (and water stays longest), but the canopy couldn’t be more clear: the swamp is a uniquely undulating terrain. And it’s not just from the sky that you can see the effect. The best vantage is probably best from the ground, in a marl prairie where the vista to the horizon is clear and the distant mountain ranges (strands) and hills (domes) abound. Or is the better view from the domes and strands themselves? Walking in the trees are dense at first, until it opens up and there you are — at the bottom of the tallest trees (the mountain tops) looking up.

More about the photo above: The deepest spot is the hole where there are no trees. As for the highest ground, that would be the green area in the middle that looks lower than everything else. The land in there is called a hardwood hammock and is actually dry all year round compared to the rolling (and flooded) hills of cypress around it.

strands and sloughs

Baby Strand
Can you see Monument Lake?

Or maybe cypress tendril …

Is a better term.

Looking northeast towards the Tamiami Trail

The reason? The word “baby” implies that it’s younger than an adult (or larger) strand, or that in the years hence it will grow to a larger size. What we do know is that the cypress find the lowest spots in the marl prairies to grow, partly because of the deeper peat and partly because that peat stays wetter longer than the higher-lying marl prairie on either side. And it’s not so much that cypress love water, they do. Rather it’s surviving that sets them apart. Wetter longer means being less susceptible to wildfire when it sweeps through.

It’s a flood and fire adapted swamp. So goes flood and fire, so goes the swamp.