The History of Cypress
Cypress can live for hundreds to thousands of years. It is a conifer in the "Taxodiaceae" family, often called bald cypress. Unlike most conifers, cypress trees lose their leaves in the winter. The species in this family are found in China, Japan, Formosa, Tasmania, and North America. In the United States, cypress's only other relatives are the Sequoia and Sequoiadendron genera, which includes the redwoods of California. Bald cypress can grow up to 150 feet tall, and more than 6 feet in diameter. Pond cypress is a smaller tree, but still can grow to great heights also. Both are known for it's "knees". Some say the "knees" provide oxygen to the roots, and also anchor and support the tree in an unstable environment. Some "knees" are reported to be up to 13 feet tall.
Most old growth cypress was logged between 1880 to the 1930's. Some virgin trees were logged much earlier than this. By the first half of the 20th century, logging removed the majority of the large old growth bald cypress trees in virtually all the swamps of Florida. These trees were approximately 150 to 1500 years old at the time they were harvested. As logs were floated down the river, many became waterlogged or were caught in a log jam and sank to the river bottom, where the aging and preserving process began. These old logs are referred to as "sinker cypress logs". The limbs and branches located at the tops of the trees was waste to the loggers. They were cut, and promptly discarded into the water. Throughout time nature has performed it's beautiful artwork on these old water worn broken pieces of driftwood.
Geologist believe cypress trees have been present in the far northern region of Florida for around 6,500 years. Some of the old growth giants still present in Corkscrew Swamp are over 500 years old, and represent only the 7th or 8th generation of cypress located in this region. The heartwood of old growth cypress was known for it's durability, attractive appearance, and workability. The virgin timber contains it's own natural preservative oil, known as cypresseine, which makes the wood resistant to rot and insect attack. Nothing was wasted with cypress, it got the name "eternal wood" from long-term use of using the hollow log of the tree as water pipes in 1798. These hollowed out cypress water pipes were still working when removed in 1914. Cypress shingles have also been found, that have lasted 250 years.
Cypress has long been appreciated for it's beauty, size, and longevity. In his travels through Florida, William Bartram (1928) referred to the majestic stature, as being "struck with a kind of awe when approaching it." What makes this old growth wood so unique, is not only the age of it, but the rarity of it. Some believe that only a small percentage of this original timer is left to be uncovered. Today new growth cypress has grown to merchantable size, and is being harvested mainly for flooring products and mulch.