In Search of Baldcypress

Mature cypress is seldom seen on St. Simons and Sapelo Islands because the few remaining stands are isolated to remote areas, and none, to my knowledge, occur on Jekyll.  Extensive farming, landfilling and logging destroyed most of the cypress habitats.  On the mainland, stands of young, second-growth cypress are commonplace along roadsides and parking areas that border wetlands.

-Taylor Schoettle, A Guide to a Georgia Barrier Island, 1996

This afternoon I spent a little time exploring a forest path I hadn’t investigated yet.  Several coworkers had mentioned that if one keeps going straight instead of taking the right-hand fork that leads to the grandfather tree, the trail eventually leads to a stand of baldcypress trees.  However, in Taylor Schoettle’s guide to the natural history of Jekyll Island he claims there are no cypress trees here (or does he? he never says how he would define a mature cypress), so I was eager to see this for myself.

It was a gorgeous walk whether it led to the alleged baldcypress or not; the trees were filled with palm warblers and black-throated blue warblers.  To an Ohio girl the maritime forest, with its enormous twisting live oaks and and dense jungle-like understory of palmettos, feels incredibly alien, but in a positive way – it feels like somewhere a fairytale could happen.  I started trying to capture some of that atmosphere in photos while I walked, with limited success.

Eventually I rounded a corner and there they were in front of me: a whole row of baldcypress trees with their feathery green foliage and their miniature forests of knees ranged around their trunks like the skyline of some elfin city.

Baldcypress generally grow where there is standing water for at least part of the year (I’ll have to return to this spot in the winter when the weather is wetter).  The theory is that the knees help oxygenate and anchor them.

Just beyond the cypress trees was a clearing, and I discovered that I’d come out right across the street from the dining hall of the environmental education center where I work – which, incidentally, was founded by the author I cited at the beginning of this post as having said there were no cypress trees on the island.  No mature cypress trees.  I suppose these trees were significantly smaller fourteen years ago when that book was written; was he aware of these but simply didn’t consider them mature?  Would he consider them to be mature now?  I’m mean, they’re tree-sized but they’re not exactly enormous.  Could he possibly have overlooked these trees right under his nose?  It seems unlikely, somehow.

In any case, they may not have been here at one point, but baldcypress are definitely alive and well on Jekyll today.

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