forEVER GLADES BIG CYPRESS NATIONAL PRESERVE STORY BY STACEY COON PHOTOS COURTESY OF SHUTTERSTOCK
Big Cypress National Preserve is about 720,000 acres of protected everglades, making homes for various plants and animals. 9
n 1974, The Big Cypress National Preserve was formed to shield the water quality, natural resources, and ecological veracity of the Big Cypress Swamp. Big Cypress houses many mammals, birds, and reptiles that are unique to only Florida’s climate in the Everglades. All animals here are protected from unauthorized seizure and collection. Living here in its natural environment, the American alligator is easy to locate and appreciate. Anhingas, egrets, and herons are found in abundance whilst feeding, showing displays of courtship, and nesting in and among the Cypress trees. Sightings of river otters, bobcats, black bear, and the endangered Florida panther are most common on the Preserves’ back roads and trails. The Everglades offers a safe haven, as well as a breeding and feeding ground, for many species of wading birds that depend on the climate’s wet and dry cycle in order to re-pro-duce. The great egret, snowy egret and roseate spoonbill live fairly peaceful in the Everglades with other rare and unique birds. The anhinga swims through the water with only its thin neck showing, dubbing it the “snakebird”. Another resident, the endangered wood stork, is the only stork native to North America. The threatened bald eagle and the few hundred remaining endangered snail kites are also at home in Big Cypress and the everglades. The anhinga is a commonly seen bird in many areas of Big Cypress, and other park areas in Florida. Within the United States, the bird is never really seen beyond Florida.
Saved from the brink of extinction, the American alligator now thrives in its native habitat: the swamps and wetlands of Big Cypress.
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELER
For many years, botanists from around the world have been astonished by more than 2,000 species of plants — both tropical and temperate — living side by side in southern Florida. Palms and
other tropical trees such as the gumbo-limbo and mahogany grow in jumbled harmony alongside willows, pines and oaks. Sawgrass/freshwater marsh conceals approximately 572,200 acres of open, flat prairie. This member of the sedge family is the most prevailing plant, flowing through the preserve as a broad, sweeping river of grass. This ostensibly infinite plain of sharp-toothed sawgrass is broken up intermittently by tender humps of hammocks, limestone outcrops on which tropical plants and trees grow. Ranging in size from a few feet to several acres in area, hammocks conceal within their cool and gloomy retreats deer, raccoons, bobcats, barred owls, hawks and marsh rabbits. Water moccasins may live in the ring of water that often collects around the hammocks. The appropriately named strangler fig drops its long aerial roots to the ground and twisting itself around its host tree’s trunk. Soon it steals light, water and nutrients, ultimately killing the host on which it resides. In comparison, the air plant, or epiphyte, grows undamagingly on other plants, obtaining water and nutrients from the air. The most renowned epiphytes are wild orchids. Most grow in the damp, dimly lit hammocks and cypress sloughs. The night-blooming epidendrum, with its showy white blossom and spiky leaves, is often considered to be the most beautiful and fragrant orchid in Big Cypress. An atypical and unusual member of the hammock community is the liguus tree snail. Snails of each hammock have their own exclusive color variations—their intricate patterns range from orange and lavender to yellow and deep blue. The rough and rocky pinelands – a unique environment that occasionally interrupts the sawgrass plains - are located on Long Pine Key and in nearby eastern sections of the Everglades. At the peak, driest elevations (three to seven feet above sea level), the slash pine, or Dade County pine, is an enduring tree that can insert its roots in almost no soil. It can grow in the hollows of limestone bed-rock, which contain peat and marl, a rich mixture of decomposed vegetable matter, clay and shells. The pinelands are also home to the saw palmetto; the moonvine, a type of morning glory; and the coontie, which is a plant resembling a palm tree. The cotton mouse, opossum, raccoon, pine warbler and reef gecko all unearth provisions and shelter within the pinelands. From the southern end of the park, along the shoreline of Florida Bay, the tangled, solid mangrove forests twist their way up the western side to the 10,000 islands in a swampy maze that is part land and part water. It is here that the freshwater of Okeechobee mingles with the ocean’s salt water, creating a brackish, nurturing environment. Water birds, sea turtles, fish, alligators, manatees and crocodiles find shelter and copious amounts of food here. The strong red mangrove, found nearest the shoreline, is well maintained on many aboveground prop roots that arch from its trunk and grab on to the muck below. Growing farther inland, the black mangrove displays abnormal aerial roots, pneu-matophores, which rest like pencils all around the base of the tree. They serve as respiratory organs in this marsh plant. White mangroves prefer
Snowy Egrets are found throughout territory along the Eastern Coast in the swamp, marsh and wetland habitats of the U.S. higher, inland ground. They often form hammocks with mahogany and gumbo-limbo trees. Decomposed mangrove leaves contribute generously to the food chain, providing nourishment for bacteria, fungi and other micro-organisms, which in turn, feed wildlife higher on the food chain. Write to - 33100 Tamiami Trail East Ochopee, Florida 34141 Phone Oasis Visitor Center and General Preserve Information (239) 695-1201 Administrative Offices (239) 695-2000 Fax (239) 695-3901 Visit our website for camping and activities available at Big Cypress. http://www.nps.gov/bicy/index.htm Saw-grass is so named because it has spiny leaf blades that resemble a saw. It is often referred to as Everglades river grass.