This past summer, I travelled to South Carolina to visit my mother’s family in Sumter, South Carolina.
It was hot. The temperature topped 100°. One hot morning (which was all of them) my mother and I decided to visit the Swan Lake Iris Gardens. Swan Lake Iris Gardens is “the only public park to have all eight swan species” and the “most intensive plantings of irises” in the United States.
Usually a garden planted with exotics and “staffed’ by transplanted animals, doesn’t pique my interest enough to visit. But Swan Lake Iris gardens has something else, a Bald Cypress Swamp.
Yes, across the street from the manicured plantings and graceful swans sailing across a cement pond, a little bit of native habitat endures. The swamp was cool, quiet, and serene. I didn’t want to leave the protective shade of the towering trees. I wasn’t devoured by insects or frightened by woman-eating snakes. It is funny. Whenever I venture into a healthy and balanced wetland, the insects are never oppressive or annoying.
The 100 feet tall Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) trees are found in southeastern North America. Bald Cypress is the most common tree of the very wet forest and dense mud of the southern swamps. They grow from the coastal plain of southern Maryland southward on the coastal plain. The trees grow next to ponds, slow-moving streams, rivers and lowlands of standing water.
Bald Cypress knees are thought to absorb oxygen for the trees. I don’t think there isn’t much oxygen in the water-logged soil.
This very wet forest of dense mud is too wet to travel on, so wooden boardwalks were built throughout the swamp.
Spanish Moss hangs from the branches of the cypress trees. Spanish moss is not a parasite and doesn’t cause any harm to the trees. It is not a true moss either. We humans call it an epiphytic bromeliad, an “air plant”. It uses the tiny scales on its leaves to absorb minerals from rainwater. It also photosynthesizes, capturing energy from the sun’s light to carry out it’s body’s functions.
Spanish Moss close up. I like the light , airy look and the lovely gray-green color.
Ferns grow in the Bald Cypress Swamp.
Ducks nest on the spots of dry land.
I have seen one other small Bald Cypress forest in Sumter County near where my mother was born. It straddles either side of a well travel country road. I have often seen drivers moving at a flying 60 m.p.h. slam on brakes and back up to marvel at the deep, dark coolness of the roadside Bald Cypress Swamp.
My family who live in the area, said most of the land used to be Cypress swamp. I like to think what it was like before most of the forest was cut down and the land was a patchwork of dry upland southern forest and wet swamps.