Everglades Mountains and Valleys: Cypress Dome


( metal door slams shut ) ( ‘Lines Build Walls’ song ) ( baby alligator grunts ) Ranger Yvette: Hey! Laura: Hi! Welcome to the cypress dome. You came from a prairie wetland, right!? Yeah. Well, get ready for your first forested wetland. ( ‘Sweet Sound of Escape’ song ) You are about to descend even deeper into the Everglades. Are you ready to become one… ONE (slow motion)… …with the cypress? What exactly do you mean by becoming one? Although we have received some rain, we are still at the peak of the dry season. So, get ready to walk in some muck and water. Whoahhh. Oooooh…hmm. Cypress trees are really cool. They are ancient and they grow in water. Cypress domes, they occur in lower depressions of the Everglades. So, these depressions, they fill up with water in the wet season. Now, why is it called a dome? The tallest, thickest trees grow in the center of the depression where there is the most water and the deepest peat. Cypress trees are smaller and thinner on the outside of the depression where there is less water and less peat. This creates the appearance of a dome from the outside. Cypress also grows in strands. A strand has a linear shape because deeper water, or sloughs, border the sides of the limestone ridge. We are about to enter the edge of the cypress dome. And go deeper and deeper until we reach the center. There might be an alligator, but that is ok. Come on. An alligator!? Come on! Hey, what are these sticking out of the water? Oh, this is a cypress knee. Actually, this is a group of cypress knees. And, it is very peculiar. It is part of the root system right from that cypress tree. It probably transports oxygen to the submerged roots. It provides extra support for the tree too. Scientists are not really sure what it does. Look around, the dominant plant here is the Bald Cypress. It is called Bald Cypress because it loses all of its hair in winter. ( cymbal presto sound for joke effect ) Did you say hair? I meant to say leaves. It is a deciduous conifer tree that drops all of its leaves at the beginning of the dry season. That is very unusual for conifers which are also called evergreens. These Bald Cypress trees are pretty big. But there are other areas in the Everglades with very low nutrient soils where the Bald Cypress does not grow so big or so tall. Those are called Dwarf Cypress trees. ( ‘Run’ song ) So, who lives in this flooded forest? Tall cypress trees provide excellent homes for nesting birds like wild turkeys, herons, and egrets. Lots of mammals travel around the cypress swamp like White-tailed Deer, Raccoons, River Otters, Bobcats and even the endangered Florida Panther. Underwater, you will find all kinds of fish, crayfish, snails, and even glass shrimp. The cypress understory has a lot of variety. And can include anything from ferns to other grasses, herbs, and even Sawgrass. This is the water mark. Can you believe this is how high the water got last wet season. As you can see, the water fluctuates here just like the rest of the Everglades. It is really cool how you can see where the water level would go to because the lichen stops growing there. If you look up in the cypress trees, there is a colorful garden of airplants. Airplants are also known as epiphytes. Epiphytic plants attach themselves to other living plants, in this case, the cypress tree. They wrap their roots around the cypress tree instead of into the soil. Look around! Epiphytes include lichens, Spanish Moss, bromeliads and orchids. They don’t harm the tree at all. Epiphytes only use the cypress for support. You know, they are kind of like houseguests that bring all their own food and water. They get their food from photosynthesis, the air, and even decomposing insects. Their seeds are fluffy and easily attach to the cypress bark like velcro. Wow, all these blooming bromeliads and tiny little airplants are so beautiful. What impresses me the most is how these tiny little airplants grow all over the cypress tree. Another cool thing about the cypress tree bark, it is thick enough to survive some fires. The exposed fringe of the cypress dome actually benefits from an occasional visit by fire. You know, fire from next door in the prairie. Fire keeps out unwelcome guests like invading hardwood trees. It also reduces the risk of really intense wildfires. Fire collapses when it enters the dome with all that shade and water. I think I see one of the cypress carnivores right now. Is she talking about a panther?! So, here is the carnivore. This is bladderwort. And, it is a carnivorous plant. And check it out, you see these bladders? It uses them for floating. But even cooler, it catches unsuspecting aquatic insects. Are you ready to descend into the deep? Yeah, I am ready. Alright. ( ‘Sweet Sound of Escape’ song ) If it was the wet season, the water might be over your head. Here we are at the end of the dry season and there is still water in the deepest part of the cypress dome. These deeper depressions often hold water year-round. They are really an important refuge for animals in the Everglades, like alligators. This is pretty much like an alligator hole in the prairie. Alligators will scrape out the cypress debris to make these holes even deeper. So, what did you think? Did you become one with the cypress dome? It was amazing out here. I got to walk in all this water. And really know what it feels like to be here. And, see all the trees and the plant diversity. You really got to watch your step too. Because there are knees popping out. And, there can be holes in the limestone. And, maybe there is an alligator! Now you are ready to go to one of the deepest spots in the freshwater Everglades. If I were a fish in peak dry season, that is where I would go to survive. Well, bye. Good luck! Thank you for showing me around the cypress. ( pig frog call ) ( fairy dust sound effect )

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