Big Tree Walk: Pictures taken on April 1, 2000

After heavy flooding the week of March 20, 2000, which delayed the Big Tree Walk, the event was successfully held on Saturday, April 1, 2000. Here are pictures taken from this great day! (Click on the pictures for a larger image.)

Trees and Vegetation

Loblolly pines, Pinus taeda, have an average height of 80-120 feet and an average diameter of 1-3 feet. The ones found in Congaree Swamp greatly surpass this. This state champion loblolly pine, Pinus taeda, is found along the park's lower boardwalk. It is about 155 feet tall and slightly over 15 feet in circumference. Although judging the age of trees can be tricky, best estimates for this tree are around 200-250 years.
Too Many Pine Cones Can Spell Death: How many is too many pine cones? Well, first you need to know the species of pine tree, and then know the typical number of cones that species bears, before you are going to know how many is too many. But if a tree seems very "overloaded" with cones, then it is likely that it is going to die within a year or two. This is nature's way of making sure the tree gets to reproduce before it dies, thus passing its genes to the next generation. Loblolly pine, Pinus taeda, was common in the swamp in years past. Today they are not quite as numerous due to hurricanes such as Hugo in 1989 and disease caused by insects.
In the swamp, the vegetation can be very heavy in places. You may find two trees growing so close together that their bowls merge.
The needles on the baldcypress, Taxodium distichum, alternate in a feather-like spray.
This is a young swamp cottonwood, Populus heterophylla, which will someday grow to a height of 50-100 feet and a diameter of 1-3 feet. It is considered a "trash tree" of swamps and bottomlands.
Spanish moss, Tillandsia usneoides, is a moss-like plant that hangs from the branches of certain trees for support. It draws nourishment from the air and rain rather than from the host tree. It is found throughout the southern United States. It is a member of the pineapple family.
Pawpaw, Asimina triloba, inhabit the drier areas of the swamp and reach a height of 15-40 feet. This is a photograph of the underside of the maroon flower. The flower itself is bell-shaped, and the trees bloom prior to foliage. The state champion pawpaw tree is in Congaree and stands 52 feet tall and has a circumference of 26 inches.
This composite flower is known as butterweed, Senecio sp. It is a characteristic early spring wildflower in the swamp.
The sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua, is by far the dominant canopy tree species in Congaree Swamp in terms of abundance and size. This one is approximately 16 feet in circumference and is one of about a half-dozen sweetgums to obtain this circumference within the park boundaries. Unfortunately, this particular sweetgum has been hit by lightning, and if you walk around to the other side, you can see that the heart of the tree has massive decay. The state champion sweetgum is about 3 miles away near Cedar Creek. That one is approximately 169 feet tall and 17 feet in circumference.
Charred Snaggs: When lightning strikes a tree, it may catch fire. That is how some of our devastating upland forest fires occur. But in the swamp things are different. One of the main reasons fire is not a factor in the swamp is because the ground cover does not support the proper fuels to carry a fire. The lone tree may burn but the vegetation surrounding it seldom catches. In contrast, the pine-dominated uplands, under natural conditions, have a very flammable carpet of needles, wire grass, broomsedge, and other bunched grasses that will burn like gasoline has been poured on them. As you walk through the swamp, look for this uncommon phenomenon.

About the Swamp

Just what is Congaree Swamp? It is one of the wooded swamps, also known as a forested wetland, which comprises over half of the wetland acreage found in the United States. It is part of a large floodplain found along the Congaree River and its tributaries. The area floods several times a year, depositing rich sediments which encourage rapid plant growth. Between floods, much of the land is dry and this allows a wide variety of trees, shrubs, vines and herbaceous plants to take hold. Differences in elevation of as little as 6 inches will determine whether a spot will be flooded, how deeply, and for how long, and it will also determine the area's habitat and subsequent plant growth.
Congaree Swamp National Monument protects the largest intact tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States. It includes one of the tallest temperate deciduous forests in the world and features many state and national champion-sized trees. It is an ecosystem with high biodiversity.
The Congaree Swamp area has been used for many things over the years. Cypress is one of the hardest and longest lasting woods we have, and at the turn of the century, the area was purchased for logging. This logging was light by today's standards it was strictly "float logging" for cypress and had minimal impact on the other tree species. Modern logging, including some clear-cutting, got started in the 1970s and about one-third of the then 15,000 acre tract of old-growth was either selectively or clear-cut logged. When the logging was suspended, the area was used by hunters of deer and turkey. The hunters also released pigs that have since gone wild and caused mass destruction with their rooting for food and wallowing habits. The Monument, established in October 1976, was the results of a grass roots movement by South Carolinians to protect this area.

Participants



Friends of Congaree Swamp members enjoy a beautiful day looking at "The Big Trees". As you know, our "Big Tree Walk" had to be delayed for one week due to flooding. We didn't have as many people on the April 1st walk as were signed up for March 25th, but those that were able to make it had a lot to see and learn.

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Last modified: May 11, 2008 by Edward Kujawski (focs@mindspring.com)
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