As mentioned in the previous post, the nature trails along the Natchez Trace Parkway are a popular feature which add to the enjoyment of the travel experience. Two stops along the Trace allow access to one of the typical Southeastern ecosystems – the Tupelo-Baldcypress swamp.
Nature trails with boardwalks at two places along the Trace, Cole Creek (mile 175.6) and Cypress Swamp (mile 122), allow visitors to get a close-up look at this ecosystem without the need for waders or a boat.
Not many trees can survive in continuously flooded conditions, but the Water Tupelo and the Baldcypress are two species that can. Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) is a deciduous conifer that can grow up to 25 to 40 feet high with a trunk diameter of two to three meters. The wood is very resistant to rot which may contribute to its longevity – one specimen in North Carolina is over 1600 years old.
The Water Tupelo (Nyssa aquatica) is similar in appearance to the Baldcypress – notably the swollen base of the tree – but it is not a conifer. Rather it produces masses of flowers in the spring (which make it a favorite with bees) and bears a fruit that looks rather like an olive. The bark of the tupelo is smooth and gray and mosses grow readily on it. The Baldcypress has an orange-tinted bark, a bit shredded at the base, and not as apt to harbor mosses.
A short walk through these swamps on a partly cloudy day revealed intriguing shapes, shadows, and reflections.