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Bald Cypress and Water Tupelo Swamps in the Low country or Why Henry Ford bought Spanish Moss for Model T’s. NTTI, Nov. 2002 Prepared by: Charlie Campbell. Bald Cypress and Water Tupelo Swamps.

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Bald Cypress and Water Tupelo Swamps in the Low country orWhy Henry Ford bought Spanish Moss for Model T’s

NTTI, Nov. 2002

Prepared by: Charlie Campbell

bald cypress and water tupelo swamps
Bald Cypress and Water Tupelo Swamps

Bald Cypress and Water Tupelo are the predominant trees in swamps. Swamps are deep water areas that are flooded most of the time. They differ from marshes in that swamps have trees and marshes do not.

Range of swamps in the United States occur along the Atlantic Coastal Plain from Delaware to Florida and up the Mississippi River Valley northward to southern Illinois.

They are classified as bottomland, hardwood forests and can be found along river channels, ox-bow lakes, floodplains and low lying areas.


Link to the website for SC water systems:

(Press escape to access website at bottom of screen.)


Additional information on wetlands can be found at the following websites:


Link to the website for Four Hole Swamp map:

For more information about swamps, see the following links:


Cypress/Tupelo Swamp Conditions

  • There is little oxygen in the soil in swamps
  • Leaves decompose very slowly
  • Tannic acid discolors the water and reduces the potential for sunlight to get through and reduces primary productivity.
  • Soils become anaerobic and change from oxidizing to reducing atmosphere
bald cypress and tupelo trees are common in lowcountry swamps
Bald Cypress and Tupelo Trees are Common in Lowcountry Swamps

Fluted base of

Bald Cypress

Tupelo Tree (non-fluted base)


Link to baldcypress website. Play video segment:


Bald Cypress on Edisto River

Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum):predominant tree in Lowcountry Swamps


“Frilly” leaves

Male cones hang downward

  • Only deciduous southern conifer, sheds all its leaves at once• Height to 150 feet with diameter to 12 feet

Bald Cypress

Gets its name because

it loses its leaves in

the winter and looks “bald”.





Link to another video clip about bald cypress trees:


The Prothonotary Warbler sometimes nests in hollow Cypress knees.

Double click on the speaker to hear the Prothonotary Warbler’s song.


Water Tupelo (Nyssa aquatica): Common Tree in Lowcountry Swamps

Water Tupelo leaf

Tupelo is deciduous and polygamo-dioecious (male and female trees).


The Water Tupelo has a fruit enclosed in a reddish, purple drupe that is a favorite food of many animal species in the swamps.

For more information on the Water Tupelo, see the following sites:


Products from Swamps

Timber is produced out of swamps. Cypress is a major product.


Cypress wood is used for a variety of uses including siding, shingles and other housing products, and the knees are used for decorative products.


Pecky Wood (Bald Cypress)

Pecky is prized as a decorative wood. Pecking is simply the result of a natural fungus (Polyporus amarus) entering older living trees through branch loss or fires that destroy the bark.


Cypress sawmills generally produce about 100-120 million board feet of cypress annually.

Bald cypress is used principally for building construction, especially where resistance to decay was required. It was also used for caskets, sashes, doors, blinds, tanks, vats, ship and boat building, and crates. are used for flooring, fu

additional value of swamps wetlands
Additional Value of Swamps/wetlands
  • Swamps are aesthetic and provide economic value to local economies from ecotourism.
  • Provide buffer from flooding and wind and water in coastal areas.
  • Provides habitat to many bird and mammal species

Pressures on Cypress-Tupelo Swamps

  • Exotic species of plants and animals
  • Subsidence, (land sinking)
  • Alteration of the swamp ecosystem due to logging
  • Saltwater intrusion
  • Polluted runoff, agricultural runoff
  • Habitat destruction


Myocaster coypus

Nutria eat the tender, young shoots of cypress trees. Over the long term this could prevent the cypress trees from regenerating.

Nutria is a species of rodent similar to the muskrat. The species is endemic to South America and was imported in the US by E. A. McIlhenny (Tabasco sauce maker). He thought it would be a source of revenue for fur trappers. However, the pelt of the Nutria is not prized as a valuable fur and has little commercial value.


Example of Exotic plant species –

Invasion of Chinese Tallow Tree:


The forest tent caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria) is a serious enemy of the Water Tupelo. More than 500,000 acres of trees along the gulf coast from Louisiana through Alabama have been defoliated by this insect in a single year.

Forest Tent Caterpillars eating

the buds of a Water tupelo tree


Example of Subsidence: Picture shows an area of San Joaquin Valley in CA where the land level has sunk due to removal of water from aquifers for irrigation.

Land elevation in 1925

Land elevation in 1977


For an explanation of the effect of Saltwater Intrusion, see this website:


Habitat Destruction:

Link to website that shows future effects of habitat enchroachment due to development. (Follow the “click here” instructions on the site to see the predicted effects of human expansion in the Charleston, SC area.)


Now, what is the story behind Henry Ford’s connection to Cypress-Tupelo Swamps?

Spanish Moss is a product of the southern states, primarily Louisiana and Florida.

A load of Spanish Moss harvested and ready for sale.


He used the Cypress crating it was packed in as paneling for his trucks and dashboard material for the cars he made. Bald cypress wood is very weather resistant, resists rot, can be finished to a beautiful luster and it was free.