Swamps are forested wetlands covering approximately 10% of the land area in Florida. These forests often grow in long flooded depressions in the landscape called strands and are dominated primarily by Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum).
Along the edges of strand swamps and in isolated depressions fed by nutrient poor ground water, Pond Cypress (Taxodium ascendans) is most frequently found. Many botanists treat Pond Cypress as a variety of Bald Cypress, instead of as a distinct species, but it differs in ecology. Both cypress tree species are known for their "knees" and buttressed trunks, which serve to supply oxygen to the roots of the trees and also support the tree in unstable muddy soils.
Exposed to a summer rainy season and a winter dry season, cypress swamps in Florida experience dramatically fluctuating water levels. However, despite being inundated with water for much of the year, both Bald Cypress and Pond Cypress need a dry period for successful seed survival and germination.
Cypress swamp forests have a mid-story containing a mixture of temperate and tropical trees including Red Maple (Acer rubrum), Pond Apple (Annona glabra), Strangler Fig (Ficus aurea), Sweet Bay (Magnolia virginiana), and Pop Ash (Fraxinus caroliniana). Understory species include the giant Leather Fern (Acrostichum danaeifolium), Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis), Sawgrass (Cladium jamaicense), Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), and Pickerel Weed (Pontederia cordata). The warm, humid climate of a cypress swamp makes an ideal habitat for epiphytic orchids and bromeliads like the rare Ghost Orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii) and the common Wild-pine Tillandsia (Tillandsia fasciculata), which can be found growing on the braches of many trees.
Cypress swamps provide important habitat for a multitude of wildlife. Flocks of warblers and other songbirds often roam the forest canopy while larger animals such as the American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), River Otter (Lontra canadensis) and the endangered Wood Stork (Mycteria americana) can often be seen foraging in the swampy waters below.
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