Mysteries of the Swamp

Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Boynton Beach, Palm Beach County

cypress knees
Swamps are mysterious places, full of life, full of secrets. Along the 0.4 Cypress Swamp Trail, you'll see airplants making a living on the trunks of trees, taking nothing from their hosts. There are ferns that look like tufts of grass, ferns so odd and lovely that naturalists centuries ago thought they were flowering plants. They're now known as royal ferns. There are plants with blooms that look like lizard tails and are so called. There are orchids that are so beautiful when briefly in bloom that you can't miss them and so mundane as to all but disappear when they're not — the delicate violet orchid. And there orchids so plain regardless that they're in no danger of ending up in a prom-goer's corsage, the stiff flower star orchid. And there are the ever-present cypress knees, the woody protrusions you see on the flower of the swamp. They look like homes for gnomes, and they might as well be. Scientists don't really know their function — some say they aerate the roots of cypress trees, necessary because the muck in which cypress trees often grow can be totally devoid of air. Another popular theory: the knees help stabilize the trees. Thing is they're just theories. We're sticking with our theory, gnome homes.

NEXT STOP: The Marsh Trail

Published by Wild South Florida, PO Box 7241, Delray Beach, FL 33482.
Photographs by David Sedore. Photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without permission.