New Hope from a Young Cypress

There is hope in seeing a young Okefenokee Cypress taking root and reaching toward the sky. The naturalists of old write of towering cypress – some as high as 120 feet – standing guard for centuries in the Okefenokee. But all that changed in the early 20th century. All were laid low.

Young Pond Cypress Tree, Taxodium ascendens, in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. Photographed in Mixons Hammock prairie swamp. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally from Dreamstime.com.

The height, girth, straightness and quality of their wood is what no doubt brought the logging companies to the swamp seeking the cypresses. It began in 1909. The pristine Okefenokee began to bustle with activity and industry as skidders, sawmills and railroad tracks  invaded the Swamp.

C.T. Trowell writes, “Systematically, the Hebards extended their logging operations across the Okefenokee. Extending south from Hopkins to Cravens Island in 1912, they reached Pine Island and Mixons Hammock by 1915. Within a year they were cutting the timber between Mixons Hammock and Minnies Island and the railroad was extended across Jones Island to Billys Island. By 1918, the logging camp was established on Billys Island. About two years were required to log the timber around Billys Island. By 1921, the company was building the railroad to Floyds Island. Between 1922 and 1926, they logged the cypress around Floyds Island.”

Would the Okefenokee ever recover? 

Young Pond Cypress leaves and cones. Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. May 2020. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally from Dreamstime.com.

Cypress trees grow very slowly. At a reported growth rate of only about a foot per year in their early stages, it could take 300 to 500 years for the Cypresses of the Okefenokee to once again tower over the habitat as they did prior to 1909. But with the establishment of the Okefenokee as a National Wildlife Refuge in 1937, the healing has begun.

Today, there are already some scenic waterways through the Okefenokee – tall cypresses mirrored in the tanin-darkened waters – that hint at these former days. And with the ongoing preservation and conservation of the Okefenokee Swamp as a National Wildlife Refuge, perhaps nature enthusiasts many generations from now will be able to once again see the majestic trees that were wiped out in just a single generation.

So, there is hope kindled in the heart upon looking at a young Cypress tree. A hope that things laid bare can one day live again and be renewed to their former glory.


iNaturalist observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/51084474

Published by William Wise

Hi, I’m conservation photographer and nature writer William Wise. Nature journaling and wildlife photography has been a favorite pastime since the ‘90s. I graduated from University of Georgia Warnell Forestry School's wildlife program in 1996. I'm currently an animal shelter manager/photographer and reside in Athens, Georgia, USA with my wife and two teenage daughters. My website www.williamwisephoto.com is a wildlife and birding photo website documenting the beauty, design and wonder of creation. I have a deep love of the Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia. I became a devoted Christian in 1993 under a campus ministry while studying wildlife biology. My love of the outdoors quickly turned into a love for the Creator and His works. Creation Speaks is my teaching ministry that glorifies our Creator and teaches the truth of creation. I am also a guest author at Lee's Birdwatching Adventures and The Creation Club. The theme of my blogging comes from The Message version of Psalms 104 -- "What a wildly wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at Your side, You made earth overflow with your wonderful creations."

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