Day 8: Corkscrew Swamp

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Another hot and humid day dawned in Florida, and we travelled to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary an approximately 13,000 acre (52.609 km-sq) preserve including some of the best examples of old growth Cypress Forest in Florida. At Corkscrew an impressive boardwalk wends and winds its way through the Forest through many different habitats and the mosaics they make and ecotones between are easily observed.

Strangler Fig snaking down the Bald Cypress at Corkscrew Swamp

Strangler Fig snaking down the Bald Cypress at Corkscrew Swamp

Along the boardwalk there were lots of reptiles sunning themselves in the sun, mostly Brown Anoles (Anolis sagrei), but with the occasional Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis) too.

I saw my first pair of Red Cardinals too who were splendid with the males bright red plumage being particularly astonishing. You can read more about these birds in a special Florida in Focus Blog.

However animal life aside it really was the plants that stole the show for me. Grand old Cypress with their swollen bases stretching into the canopy, festooned with strangler figs sending their tendrils down towards the forest floor.

The giants of the forest the old growth Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) were named and had their own boards which shed light on the history of Corkscrew Swamp and the individuals associated with it. A selection of the named trees are covered below

  • Sentry, who marks the entrance to the world’s largest old growth bald cypress stand.
  • Muir, named after the conservationist John Muir and measures 15ft around
  • Leopold, after Aldo Leopold who developed the modern conservation ethic. This tree is circa. 500 years old!
  • Roosevelt, the 26th President of the USA lends his name to a large individual Cypress at the edge of the Horseshoe MarshSAM_0599
  • Calusa, one of only a couple of trees that hosts the rare and beautiful Ghost Orchid
  • Rhett Green, was named after the indomitable Ranger at Corkscrew who patrolled the swamp with a rifle to protect birds against hunters.

As you can see from the selection above these trees are massive! Reaching heights of around 40m (131ft) they comprise the canopy in the wettest parts of the swamp with swollen buttress roots and Cypress Knees, knobbled extrusion some around 1.5m in height. They are known to not play a part in gas exchange but as of yet their actual function is unknown.

The underside of a strap fern showing the spores

The underside of a strap fern showing the spores

Strap Fern

Strap Fern

Fern

Sword Fern

Dr. Christian Dunn and I further got into the plant appreciation by locating as many types of fern as possible. These “lower” plants are spore bearing plants who are an ancient form of plant and were once dominant on planet earth during the time of the dinosaurs.

Another group of plants that were of interest to me were the Bromeliads, or Air-plants, which are a family of monocot (single seed leaf) plants that is also home to the Pineapple! But the Air-plants we saw were epiphytic, that is they grow upon another plant. The smallest was called Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides) which resembles the British lichen; old man’s beard, and it festoons the trees in Corkscrew Swamp.

Spanish Moss as seen through a hand lens.

Spanish Moss as seen through a hand lens.

The other Air-plant was another Tillandsia and most likely Tillandsia fasciculata more commonly known as the Giant Airplant and here the family resemblance to the pineapple is more pronounced.

Giant Airplants are epiphytes who do not need soil for nutrients or water.

Giant Airplants are epiphytes who do not need soil for nutrients or water.

Corkscrew Swamp was a real experience that will stay with me for years to come, and definitely one of my highlights from a whole trip of highlights! The Natural History interest of Florida is astonishing and I barely scraped the surface in the eight days we spent in the field.

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