Flood and fire adapted

Not just a watershed and not just fire adapted, every square inch of the swamp is flood AND fire adapted. So goes flood and fire, so goes the swamp. Cypress domes | Strands and sloughsSwamp mosaic?Flood and fire | Marl Prairies | UplandsBotany | Alligators and more | Life cycle of a pond apple | mangroves

Mixed signals

I remember this cloud well:

It seemed a clear sign the summer rains were about to begin.

Calm before the fire
April 29th 2011

Instead it brought lightning and put the swamp ablaze.

It was the year of our drought of record and the Jarhead Fire.

Moral of story: Never trust a cloud!

Swamp cycle revealed!

The continental water year typically starts anew in October.

In peninsular south Florida, May marks our water year start.

Animated map depicting the seasonal ebb and flow of flood and drought in Big Cypress National Preserve

Why the difference?

Water years are typically aligned to start at or around when waters bottom out.

Up north that happens at the end of the hot summer, i.e. fall.

For south Florida it happens at the end of spring.

South Florida is currently 5 months into its water year.

Don’t worry …

Fire in the swamp.

Don’t worry — it’ll green back up.

A day or two after a prescribed burn
Turner River Road in back

Farming in the swamp.

Don’t worry — they’re just fallow furrows from decades past.

Looking north at the Tamiami Trail

Hiking in the swamp.

Don’t worry — that oil exploration pad in back is inactive (it’s now a hiking path.)

The marl prairie below was soggy
I could see the sun shining back up

It’s all protected swamp!

Swamp fights back

Once upon a time,

The Big Cypress Swamp was extensively logged.

The swamp’s forests are fire-adapted trees

Seventy years later I am proud to report …

That those trees have grown (and are still growing) back.

The old sawmill, not so much

The old sawmill, not the forest, is what lays in ruins today.

Tombstones in the sky

Ten months ago a wildfire swept through the northeast corner of Big Cypress Nat’l Preserve, burning in total over 20 square miles.



Fire may look destructive,

But to the swamps it is as natural as water.

No well respecting slash pine is without charred bark on its trunk …

Just as a tall cypress without a water line at knee height doesn’t look quite right.

Fires reset the pinelands, prairies, and marsh back to square one in a similar way, but on a longer time scale, that the recent El Nino rains rewound the winter water cycle clock back to fall.

Fire and water balance each other out.

The same clouds that bring the lightning eventually douses the flames – no matter how far spread – with rain. Water on the ground – in the cypress – also forms a natural fire break.

But it’s a balance that can break during a deep spring drought,

Setting the stage for fire to invade deep into the cypress,

Or burn “too hot” or for too long.

That’s what happened during the drought year wildfires a few years back … 2001 if I am not mistaken.

Tall tombstones mark the spot where slash pines once stood.

Normally they are the swamps most fire-resistant tree.