Over the summer, my husband and I were rather surprised to stumble across a very pretty, small grove of cypress trees at the Dawes Arboretum. Like most folks (I suppose), we associated cypress with the South, not the midwest, yet here they were—and looking quite healthy to boot. There’s a little boardwalk that takes you into and through the swamp, which is both helpful and unnerving for someone with mild vertigo like myself. Even so, I soldiered on!
Though my husband has been working very long hours since New Year’s (he’s in charge of an important project that, apparently, no one else can do, so the poor man is fried), we did find time to visit the Arboretum’s cypresses again just to see how it looks in the snow. We arrived rather late in the day for wintertime, but there was still enough light filtering through the woods to get a few nice photos. Some of them are a bit silhouette-ish—I was experimenting a little bit.
As it happens, the cypress swamp at Dawes Arboretum is one of the continent’s northernmost collection of Taxodium distichum. The trees are indeed native to the Mississippi’s drainage basin, Gulf Coast states, and up the coast to the mid-Atlantic states, and are usually not seen further north than southern Illinois and Indiana unless someone is intentionally planting them. Even so, they’re widely used here in Ohio as ornamental trees—even in less-than-swampy areas! Bald cypress can thrive as far north as New England; apparently the cold doesn’t bother them too much.
Though this deciduous conifer prefers moist, acidic soil, often near bodies of water, it tolerates even dry, “land locked” soil with no natural bodies of water nearby. We should all be so adaptable! And yes, a deciduous conifer: In the autumn, its feathery needles turn ochre and fall off the trees along with smaller branches, often as early as August.
Of course, there are the little gnome-like knees, too. Believe it or not, though scientists have a lot of theory about their purpose—they serve as anchors for the water-bound trees, they send air to the drowning roots below—the actual purpose of the knees remains unclear. See? Science hardly knows everything. Keep eating that chocolate, it’s good for your soul.
Being only 5′ tall and skittish about the boardwalk, I did not do a whole lot of looking up, which is really a shame, and pathetic; my equipment is insured, but… That said, I love the cypress trunks; they have a wonderful texture, and their shape reminds me of a fishtail gown. The “ripples” in the trunk (definitely not a technical term) seem to clarify the power of these enormous, long-lived trees bursting from the earth and toward the sky; there is a sort of energy about them.
Ohio’s cypress may be around for a long time to come: Able to grow up to 150 feet high, they can live for around six hundred years! This slow growth habit means cypress aren’t really great used as lumber, though the wood itself is, as you’d expect for a tree that is often found growing in water, quite durable.
Thus far I’ve seen the bald cypress swamp in summer and winter. This means we’ve missed the cones, which are actually round, 1-inch globes that burst when spreading their seed, as well as the little salamanders that live in the Arboretum’s swamp—but it’s such a lovely place to explore, I’m sure we’ll be back! The lighting can make it challenging to shoot, but it’s kind of fun. To my mind, sunset is the best time to visit because of the light giving me all of those beautiful shadows and pouring golden beauty into the swamp from the west, but of course I’ll only get shadows when it is so cold the swamp is frozen over. For the curious, Hubby and I figured the ice was frozen about 2-3″ deep. No interest in testing its strength, but impressive.
There are more photos from the Arboretum, but it seemed wise to spread them out a little bit. (Our hope is to take Ben there—I’m sure he’d love to explore the woods with us!) And just because I’m a bit tired of winter with its attendant snow and ice, here’s a longing look back at the swamp in summer:
Have a wonderful weekend!