Friday, September 3, 2010

Tales from the Road: South Florida Cypress Dome

To keep with, or rather develop a, pattern for this segment of blog posts here are some pictures from a beautiful cypress dome we walked through. These systems are typically isolated forested areas that occur on flat land that has developed a depression that holds water. They get their name because when viewed from afar they have a characteristic dome shape due to large trees growing in the center and tree size getting smaller towards the edges. Due to the depression of the land, the center of these areas is the wettest part, so wet that the soil and roots are completely submerged for prolonged periods of time (tip: look up cypress knees). Adult cypress trees are tolerate of this inundation but need dry periods so that their seeds can germinate, and fire is often an important component to ecosystem health. Although cypress trees (pond and bald cypress) tend to dominate you will also see red or swamp maple (Acer rubrum), swamp tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica var. biflora),  saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), coco plum (Chrysobalanus icaco), pond apple (Annona glabra), pop ash (Fraxinus caroliniana), and herbaceous plants such as Sphagnum moss (Sphagnum spp.), Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides), sawgrass (Cladium jamaicense), resurrection fern (Polypodium polypodioides), and many many other species. It is an important area that provides habitat for many species including amphibians and birds.

A look out on some of the edge of the cypress dome.
One of the palms that you will see scattered throughout.
Epiphyte diversity can be quite high in these areas.
Another look out through the center-edge of the dome.
Some links about cypress domes:

The actual place where these pictures were taken is located in the Big Cypress Preserve in South Florida and run by the Seminole Indian Tribe. They have a beautiful, well maintained boardwalk through the area with very education signs and labeled plants. Stop by or schedule your own tour or just look around their website:
http://www.ahtahthiki.com/big-cypress-tours/index.cfm

From the School of Forest Resources and Conservation at the University of Florida. Here is a page on the plants of Florida swamps, including cypress domes:
http://www.sfrc.ufl.edu/4h/other_resources/contest/highlighted_ecosystem/swplants.htm

The Florida Nature website has some good information on various habitats found in the state including South Florida:
http://www.floridasnature.com/florida_habitats.htm

Also, here are some old but good references on this topic:

Brown, S. (1981) A comparison of the structure, primary productivity, and transpiration of cypress ecosystems in Florida. Ecological Monographs: 51, 403-427. (Link)

Ewel, K.C., and W.J. Mitsch. (1978) The effect of fire on species composition in cypress dome ecosystems. Florida Scientist: 41, 25-30. (Link)

Ewel, K.C., and L.P. Wickenheiser (1988) Effect of swamp size on growth rates of cypress (Taxodium distichum) trees. American Midland Naturalist: 120, 362-370. (Link)

Kurz, H., and K.A. Wagner. (1953) Factors in cypress dome development. Ecology: 34, 157-164. (Link)

Vernon, R.O. (1947) Cypress domes. Science: 105, 97-99. (DOI: 10.1126/science.105.2717.97)
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