About St. Tammany Parish > Cypress Trees & Swamps
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By Brian Fortson
While St. Tammany Parish is widely known for its expansive pine forests, securing our identity as the heart of the "ozone belt", it is the bald cypress that dominates the lowlands and swamps. The pond cypress, dominates the intermittent streams and expansive wetland flats of the parish's central region. Prized for its resistance to rot and decay, more than a century of logging greatly diminished the original footprint of the deep cypress swamps surrounding Mandeville and Madisonville, while the cypress along the Pearl River from Sun to Slidell still thrive. Lake Pontchartrain is rimmed with remnant cypress stands from Mandeville to the Tangipahoa Parish line.
Cypress is a slow growing tree that loves flooded wetlands. From their buttressed bases radiate networks of emergent stumps known as "knees." While their exact purpose is unclear, many believe the knees are used to aid respiration in saturated conditions. Other scientists contend that their purpose is primarily to add weight and stability to the tree. Whatever their role, they are a distinguishing feature of cypress swamps.
An interesting characteristic of cypress is that even though the tree inhabits flooded swamp, the seeds need extended dry periods to germinate. Cypress forests tend to have trees of a few different sizes and ages. During droughts, dormant seeds on the swamp bottom germinate together creating young cypress that may not appear again for a decade. Cypress trees can grow to a thousand years old. Trees up to 1400 years old have been documented. There are trees still alive today that saw the first European settlers in this area.