A truly ancient forest

This is the Three Sisters Swamp in North Carolina. It’s a flooded bald cypress forest along the Black River. The large trees in this picture are likely over a thousand years old – possibly around two thousand years even. Laura and I went on a kayak tour through the swamp at the end of March to visit this amazing place. We went with a local tour guide, who was part of the research team that determined the age of a few of these ancient trees by taking core samples and counting the rings. They found several trees that were older than 2000 years!

This is BLK 227, the 6th oldest living tree in the world! It sprouted in the year 626BCE, so this year this tree is 2650 years old! And that’s Laure in the green kayak next to it. You can see that the tree no longer has a crown. A huge storm about 800 years ago ripped off the crowns of all the old trees. Yet, they survived, and put out new branches. This 2650 year old tree had branches with green leaves and seed pods.

The tree behind Laura and me has a huge, hollow buttress where (when the water is lower) 10 adult people can fit. In this photo the cypress “knees” are also clearly visible – the pointy, vaguely cone shaped tree growths sticking out of the water. Laura is actually holding on to one. These “knees” are part of the root system of the cypress trees, and help anchor “their” tree as well as interlocking that tree’s root system with the surrounding trees’ roots. This interlocked root system is the reason why the storms these trees experience may rip the their crowns off and twist the trunks into bizarre shapes, but the winds cannot topple them.

This ancient, battered tree is a great example of how a couple millennia of storms at the coast will twist these trees into corkscrew shapes, rip off their crowns and split them in half, but cannot kill them. This tree still puts out leaves every spring and makes seeds.

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