What do Cypress trees have to do with Culpepper, Va?

Published 7:12 pm Thursday, December 7, 2023

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My family and I took a really quick trip to Culpepper, Va. last weekend. Such is typically the case when driving north or south from our area, we drove to I-95 and then took a right. My son is just a few months away from getting his license and the highway wasn’t very busy, so he was our chauffeur for a large part of the trip there and back. The drive there wasn’t very exciting but the ride home on Sunday was really cool. I can’t remember the last time I was able to just look at the scenery! It took me back to being a kid. I grew up in Maryland but we had family everywhere from North Carolina to Florida. I loved visiting, but I think I loved watching the landscape change even more.

We lived in western Md. where the landscape was surrounded by the Appalachian Mountains. To get to I-95 from there, we would drive down through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia gradually making our way out of the mountains and into more of a Piedmont-type landscape with gentle rolling hills. Once we merged onto 95 in Fredericksburg, Va., we made our way to Richmond and on down the road. Back then there were three things I would be looking for once we passed Richmond, the Marlboro sign, cypress trees, and the first South of the Border sign!

This trip seemed to be the same. Once we passed the Marlboro sign south of Richmond, it wasn’t long before we began to see the cypress trees with that picturesque Spanish moss draped over them like mermaid hair.

Sunday was really neat because it had been fairly warm during the previous couple of days. This warm weather heated the soil and water in the swamps causing there to be a beautiful mist covering them like a comforter. Looking out through the landscape I saw these majestic scenes nearly the entire way back to Highway 64 where we took our left to head home. I couldn’t help but talk about my reminiscing in those childhood memories. Watching for the swamps just helped pass the time while giving me the illusion that the ride was nearly over.

After sharing, my son asked why we only see cypress trees in the swamp.  The short answer is that we don’t see them in just the swamp. A few years ago, we took a trip to Asheville, you know, the mountains. Outside of our hotel, two massive cypress trees looked as though they could be giant gatekeepers to the Smoky Mountains.

Cypress trees will grow very well in well-drained soil. But the reason we see so many in our swamps and bottomlands is because they tolerate flooding so well that they can live where others can’t survive. The bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) has several adaptations that aid in their survival of inundation but I don’t have space to get into all of that with this article, look for a part two someday.

If you are having an issue in your home landscape, give me a call or drop me an email. Make sure to check out our Beaufort County Master Gardener Facebook age to see the plant of the week or Food Fridays too. Until next time, Happy Gardening!