Pond cypress and bald cypress are the two species of cypress trees found in the Everglades.
Two species of cypress reside within the Everglades, the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) and the pond cypress (Taxodium ascendens). These trees were harvested during the early to mid 1900s. The durable wood from these cypress were used to make shingles, siding, cross ties, fenceposts, and picklebarrels. Second growth cypress is what primarily remains visible today.
The bald cypress grows to heights of 150 feet (45 m) or more, in or along flowing water such as rivers and springs. Characteristics include enlarged bases with buttresses, pale brown bark that sheds in strips, and light green, soft leaves growing in a single plane along both sides of the horizontal branches. The knees of this cypress tree are pointed and conical in shape.
The pond cypress is smaller than the bald cypress and thrives near ponds with slow-moving or still water. In the Everglades, this cypress grows in low-nutrient soils resulting in slow growth. These trees are often referred to as dwarf cypress or “hat-rack” cypress. In contrast with the bald cypress, the pond cypress knees are rounded and blunt at the tips. Also the leaves are spirally arranged rather than in a single plane as with the bald cypress.
Other trees found within cypress swamps include:
- swamp bay (Persea palustris) [not shown]
Along with trees, other plants such as fetterbush (Leucothoe populufolia) and wax myrtle (Morella cerifera) as well as ferns, grasses, sedges, and vining plants are found in cypress swamps.
An epiphyte is a plant that grows on other living plants for support but does not harm the host plant. These include bromeliads, orchids, air plants, and spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) which all thrive among the trunk and branches of cypress trees.
Shrubs and groundcover grow along the outer edges of cypress swamps, including:
- yellow-eyed grass (Xyris difformis) [not shown]
Aquatic life is more diverse and abundant than terrestrial life within cypress swamps.
Although cypress habitats support few species of terrestrial wildlife, the water within cypress domes does support a variety of aquatic life. Invertebrates including crayfish, dragonfly larvae, and snails provide food for small fish and wading birds.
Common fishes in these shallow marsh habitats include marsh killifish (Fundulus confluentus), golden topminnows (Fundulus chrysotus), flagfish (Jordanella floridae), and the mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki). These fish are adapted for survival in aquatic habitats that dry seasonally. The marsh killifish is able to survive complete dessication by burying their eggs in the muds while the adult fish perish. These eggs hatch when flooding occurs at the beginning of the wet season, continuing the survival of the species. Other small fish, such as the mosquitofish, take refuge in rock cavities or crayfish burrows that maintain water levels until the rains come in the summer.
During the dry season, reptiles and amphibians frequent cypress domes in search of moisture. These species include:
- South Florida swamp snake (Seminatrix pygaea cyclas) [not shown]
Cypress habitats are prime areas for feeding and nesting birds, including many that have threatened or endangered status. One example is the wood stork (Mycteria americana), an endangered species that is entirely dependent upon the wetlands of Florida. Within cypress swamps, this bird feeds on small freshwater fish and nests in the trees.
Mammals residing in the cypress swamps include:
White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and the Florida panther (Felis concolor coryi) utilize cypress habitats for daytime bedding.