Cypress swamps are communities that are dominated by bald cypress trees. These ecosystems assume differences in response to abiotic and biotic factors. The big cypress swamp, much of which is in Big Cypress National Preserve, is mostly composed of these types of communities.
Other plants growing in the understory of big cypress swamp, are swamp fern, spikerush and marsh fleabane. Among the woody plants found in the understory are buttonbush, cocoplum, willow and wax myrtle.
Growing on the trunks and branches of the cypress trees are epiphytes or airplants. Epiphytic plants attach themselves to other living plants, in this case the cypress trees. Instead of having its roots in the soil they are wrapped around the cypress tree to keep it securely in place. Well know epiphytes in the Big Cypress National Preserve are bromeliads and orchids. Epiphytes use photosynthesis to create its own food and obtain moisture from humidity, like fog and rain.
Cypress trees grow in water and are found growing in solution holes. Solution holes are depressions in the limestone bedrock that have been broken down over time as a result of anaerobic decomposition of leaves, branches and flowers. This process creates a byproduct that is acidic and overtime dissolves the limestone bedrock. The roots of the cypress trees are able to break through the bedrock and take hold to grow.
In a cypress dome, the overstory and the solution hole it is growing in mirror each other. The tallest trees grow in the deepest water and the smaller trees grow along the edge in the shallower water. Cypress domes, look circular in nature from above, though some look like an open hole doughnut. This happens in many cypress domes, the center of the domes have no trees. In this case, the solution hole is too deep in the center for cypress trees to become established and a collection or pond of water is common. This type of open dome is inviting to alligator flag, willow or other plants that can tolerate deeper water. As these deeper solution holes almost always hold water year-round, they are an important refuge for aquatic animals like alligators.
Alligators will make these holes deeper and wider by displacing the peat and other debris. In the dry season, the remaining water for wildlife is found here and we call it an Alligator hole.
Watch and Learn more about cypress dome in this short video.
To learn more about life in a cypress dome, please view untold stories of the cypress domes.