Louisiana Cypress Trees & Swamps

The Ageless Beauty of the Louisiana Cypress Swamp

Cypress swamp in LouisianaCypress swamp in Louisiana
(photo by the author)

The lush growth in a Louisiana swamp is indescribable. You have to see it to believe it. The most impressive objects are the cypress trees which are very graceful in their structure with their reddish bark, exquisitely bent branches, and delicately fine leaves.

Bald cypress prefer wet, swampy soils on riverbanks, floodplains, or wet depressions, but are widely adaptable. Unlike most conifers (which are evergreens), the bald cypress is deciduous, and loses its needles in the fall, giving the tree a "bald" appearance).

The Louisiana Cypress grows slowly, but can grow to great height, so that in some swamps, though tall, they will not have a cone on top, which has been swept away by some past hurricane. They can be hundreds of years old.

Beautiful Louisiana Cypress swamp
Beautiful Louisiana Cypress swamp
(Photograph courtesy of the LA Office of Tourism)


Earliest Uses of Cypress in Louisiana

Cypress swamp in LouisianaCypress trees in a Louisiana swamp
(photo by the author)

The wood produced from the Louisiana Cypress will not rot, is resistant to insects, and yet being a hardwood, is a soft one and easy to work.

From the earliest days of European settlement, Louisiana cypress trees served the people moving into the area. Cypress wood was beautiful. It was resistant to decay, a good thing in the humid Louisiana environment. It was used for caskets, water tanks, fortresses, ships and in the construction of homes and animal shelters.

The first settlers in the region used cypress lumber for their houses, fences and boats but it was not until the late 1800s that extensive cypress harvesting began. Production peaked around 1913; and by the 1930s all but scattered small islands of cypress had been cut-over.

And for a State susceptible to hurricanes and tropical storms, the vast coastal cypress forests help to protect the Louisiana coast from the ravages of violent storms and erosion of the coastline.

Cypress Knees

Cypress knees in a Louisiana swampCypress knees in a Louisiana swamp

When located in swampy soils, the bald cypress forms "cypress knees" with age that grow up from the roots, probably for stability.

Lowland or swamp-grown cypresses found in flooded or flood-prone areas tend to be buttressed and "kneed."

Some scientists also believe that the knees may help in providing oxygen to the tree. In areas where the cypress roots are submerged, the knees, a part of the root system, stand above the water level and they may help bring oxygen to the tree.

A close-up view of cypress knees is shown below, exhibiting their typical shape, color and texture.

Close-up view of cypress knees in Louisiana

Cypress: The Official Louisiana State Tree

Selected for its historical and economic importance to the state as well as its abundance and its aesthetic beauty, a bill was drafted and passed through the Louisiana Legislature.

By legislative Act No. 49, the bald cypress was made the official state tree of the state of Louisiana on May 26, 1963.

Act No. 49 identifies the official tree as "bald cypress" ( Taxodium distichum), offering that the bald cypress is commonly known as the "cypress" tree. Today, the tree is often referred to as the bald cypress.

Boats in a tranquil Louisiana Cypress swamp
Boats in a tranquil Louisiana Cypress swamp
(Photograph courtesy of the LA Office of Tourism)


Sinker Cypress

Sinker cypress can be found in bogs, bayous, and river bottoms from North Carolina to Texas, wherever 19th century loggers cut old growth timber and used waterways to float the logs downriver to mills close to ports where the lumber could be shipped and used to build growing settlements and cities.

The beauty of a Louisiana cypress swampThe beauty of a Louisiana cypress swamp
(photo courtesy of the La Office of Tourism)

Well before the Civil War, loggers upriver would cut their lumber and tie it together - sinkers and floaters - to take downriver. Often they would lose some logs along the way, which have become today's sinker cypress, sinker pine, even walnut and other varieties. Over the years, the river bottom became inundated with these logs, which are prized today for their color and very tight ring count.

Legacy Cypress Trees in Louisiana

The largest bald cypress in the United States is located in Louisiana on Cat Island near St. Francisville. The massive tree measures 53 feet in circumference at breast height. The very durability and sturdiness that made cypress the wood of choice for the building of New Orleans and towns all over Louisiana has helped the surviving old giants endure through the centuries.

The intent of the Louisiana Purchase Cypress Legacy program is to commemorate the state's natural heritage by identifying and landmarking trees, with an emphasis on the bald cypress and tupelo, that are at least 200 years old, and alive at the time of the Louisiana Purchase.

Patterson: Cypress Capitol of Louisiana

The Louisiana State Museum system operates a facility in Patterson, Louisiana, housing two unique museums. The Wedell-Williams Memorial Aviation Museum is named after Jimmie Wedell and Harry Williams, two of Louisiana's aviation pioneers, the museum showcases numerous aircraft, 1930s air race trophies and memorabilia.

Included in the same building is the Cypress Sawmill Museum which exhibits a variety of artifacts, photographs and films of this early regional industry. Cypress lumber harvested and milled in Louisiana was shipped in mass quantities across the United States.

The town of Patterson was once home to the largest cypress sawmill in the world, owned by Frank B. Williams, and in 1997 the Louisiana State Legislature designated Patterson as the Cypress Capitol of Louisiana.

The Patterson Cypress Sawmill Festival is an annual event held the first weekend of April at Kemper Williams Park in Patterson. Attendance is normally about 35,000 for a three-day event. The festival is a family oriented and community event. It consists of a midway with amusement rides and games, arts and crafts show, car show, poker run, fun walk, gumbo cook-off, softball tournament, fishing tournament, golf tournament, petting zoo, old engine display, RV camping, lumber jack show, musical entertainment, and lots more!

Harvesting of Cypress Trees in Louisiana Today

Louisiana Leyland CypressLouisiana Leyland Cypress
(photo by the author)

Of the approximately one million acres of cypress found in Louisiana in the 1800s, an estimated 800,000 acres exists today, totaling about 1 billion board feet. These trees have been growing for 100 plus years. Some estimates that Louisiana has 221 million board feet of growth each year. The annual cypress harvest is estimated at 30 million board feet of cypress each year.

During the early 2000s, many cypress swamps were clear cut to make cypress mulch. This process became a volatile issue, and today much of clear cutting has been halted.

Cypress is used today to make porch swings, tables, furniture, ceiling beams, cabinets, and other products requiring a durable wood. The Leyland Cypress is commercially grown in Louisiana for use as "you cut it" Christmas trees, and as a popular residential landscape tree.

The Forestry Industry in Louisiana

Louisiana’s forestlands cover 48% of the state’s area, totaling 13.8 million acres. Private, non-industrial landowners own 62 percent of the state's forestland, forest products industries own 29 percent and the general public owns 9 percent.

This renewable resource provides the raw material for Louisiana’s second largest manufacturing employer: the forest products industry, which includes over 900 companies in 45 parishes directly employing over 25,000 people.

An additional 8,000 people are employed in the harvesting and transportation of the resource. Louisiana’s forests provide a multitude of other benefits, including clean air and water, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and scenic beauty.

read more at the website of the Louisiana Office of Forestry

Photographs of Louisiana Cypress Trees and Swamps

Cypress swamp in Louisiana

Cypress knees in a Louisiana swamp

The beauty of a Louisiana cypress swamp

Towering cypress trees in a swamp in South Louisiana

The quiet and beauty of a shaded Louisiana cypress swamp

Green cypress trees and green water in the Louisiana Atchafalya swamp

Sunset in a Louisiana swampSunset in a Louisiana swamp

Links of Interest about Louisiana