There are a lot of swamplands in Florida. These spots are home to the famous American alligator and Florida panther. But also numerous species of native Florida trees such as cypresses, mangroves, palms, and many others.
If you are a tree lover or anyone who plans to explore trees in the Florida swamp, this article will provide some valuable tips for identifying some of its most famous trees.
The cypress dome is the most common habitat among the swamp types in Florida. Such is dominated by bald cypress and pond cypress. These trees straddle all the USDA hardiness zones in Florida, growing everywhere except the Florida Keys.
7 Trees to Admire in the Florida Swamp
1. Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)
Bald cypress is one of the most common tree types in the Florida swamp. It is a deciduous, slow-growing, and long-lived native conifer. When you spot a bald cypress, you will notice that it is an imposing tree.
At first sight, it is challenging to pinpoint bald cypress from its close relative, pond cypress. But you can do this by examining the needles. Bald cypress needles spread flat while pond cypress needles sweep upwards from the stem.
You can find bald cypress growing in the swamps in most regions of Florida. But you will also find them in landscapes because of their majestic beauty and robustness.
Other Common Names: Swamp cypress
USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 11
Average Size at Maturity: 50 – 70 feet tall with a spread of 20 – 30 feet
2. Pond Cypress (Taxodium ascendens)
Pond cypress is another deciduous conifer that is common in the Florida swamp. A major difference between pond and bald cypress is its mature size. Pond cypress does not get as big as bald cypress. Also, the leaves are slender and shorter. In addition, the bark has a paler gray color.
The slow growing tree pond cypress reaches only 35 feet after 20 years but can get up to 70 feet at maturity. Like bald cypress it also has knobby conical “knees” called pond knees that come up that grow right above the water.
Pond cypress is endemic throughout Florida, except for the Florida Keys. The tree prefers wet, poorly drained, and acidic soils. For this reason, it is less popular for landscape use than the bald cypress.
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 11
Average Size at Maturity: 50 – 60 feet tall with a spread of 10 – 15 feet
3. Swamp Tupelo (Nyssa biflora)
Swamp tupelo is a long-lived deciduous tree that thrives in the Florida swamps. You can identify it by its long, straight trunk and narrow open crown.
Also, the leaves are large and shiny. In fall, the glossy leaves turn to gold or yellow color. In April or May, the tree produces greenish-white flowers. Male and female flowers grow on separate trees. After flowering, drupes appear that go from green to dark blue. They ripen in early November.
You will find swamp tupelo mainly in the swamps of the Florida panhandle and North Florida. They are present to a lesser extent in Central Florida.
Other Common Names: Swamp black gum
USDA Growing Zones: 6b – 9a
Average Size at Maturity: 60 feet tall with a spread of 25 feet
Flowering Season: Spring
4. Pop Ash (Fraxinus caroliniana)
Pop ash is a member of the olive family, Oleaceae. Not only will you find this deciduous tree in the Florida swamps but also in the state’s flatwoods, bottomlands, and riverbanks.
Its leaves are compound and glossy with a paler and slightly hairy underside. The light gray park is thin and scaly when young but becomes rough and deeply furrowed with age. Pop ash features tiny flowers that come out before the leaves – the male ones are yellow, and the female one’s green.
Pop ash trees are a typical host for Eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies (Papilio polyxenes). In addition to various rodents and birds that consume the seed.
Pop ash grows in most of the Florida swamps except those in Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade Counties. The tree is currently threatened by the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis). This invasive species of wood-boring beetle is from Asia.
Other Common Names: Carolina ash; Florida ash; Poppy ash; Swamp ash; Water ash
USDA Growing Zones: 7a – 10a
Average Size at Maturity: 30 – 60 feet tall with a spread of 10 feet
Flowering Season: Early Spring
5. Water Tupelo (Nyssa aquatica)
Water tupelo is a close relative to swamp tupelo and a member of the dogwood family, Cornaceae. This family is the source of the famous flowering dogwood. A distinguishing feature of this tree is its swollen base. You will often find the tree in pure stands with just that species.
Commercially, manufacturers use water tupelo for furniture and crates. In particular, wood carvers revere the wood from the swollen base.
Water tupelo is native to the wetlands of the Southeastern United States and the lower Mississippi river valley. In Florida, the tree’s natural range is the wetlands of the Florida panhandle.
Water tupelo’s nectar has significant value to honeybees. Tupelo honey is a specialty product sold throughout the American south.
Other Common Names: Cotton gum, Large tupelo, Tupelo-gum, Wild olive, Wager-gum
USDA Growing Zones: 6b – 9a
Average Size at Maturity: 60 – 100 feet tall with a width of 25 – 50 feet
Flowering Season: Spring
6. Swamp Dogwood (Cornus foemina)
Swamp dogwood is a small deciduous understory tree that grows under the canopy of much larger trees. It has a rounded growth habit similar to its ornamental relative, flowering dogwood. The summer foliage is medium to dark green and turns reddish purple in the fall.
The tree features small bright white clusters of flowers for about two to three weeks in mid-spring to early summer. They appear at the tip of the branches. Though the smell of the flowers is unpleasant, they attract a host of bees, wasps, flies, and butterflies. After blooming, the tree bears bright blue berries in summer and fall, which birds and small mammals devour.
Swamp dogwood’s natural range is most of the southeastern United States. You can spot them in the swamps north of Orlando.
Other Common Names: Stiff dogwood, Swida foemina, Swida stricta
USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 10
Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 25 feet tall with a spread of 10 – 15 feet
Flowering Season: Mid to late Spring
7. White Cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides)
White cedar is an evergreen tree that you will find in the freshwater swamps of the Florida panhandle. Outside this region, it is most common in the wetlands of the mid-Atlantic coast.
White cedar features scale-like dark green leaves, much like other cedars. An interesting feature of this tree is its bare branches for three-fourths of the trunk height. This is an excellent way to spot it. Also, the bark is ash gray to reddish brown. On young trees, the bark is smooth, but as it matures, it develops deep ridges and a 2-inch-thick bark.
Outside of nature, varieties of this tree have ornamental use. In southern Alabama and the panhandle, sometimes producers cultivate white cedar as a Christmas tree.
Other Common Names: Atlantic white cedar; Atlantic white cypress; Southern white cypress; False-cypress
USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 30 – 50 feet in height with a spread of 30 – 40 feet
Florida: Swamp State or Sunshine State?
Yes, there is a lot of sunshine in Florida. But also a lot of swamp land. If you are a tree lover interested in identifying the trees, finding a swamp in Florida to do this isn’t a challenge.
As of 2016, 31% of Florida is wetlands, of which 90% are freshwater. With this in mind, the swamp is never too far in Florida. For example, Orlando was mostly swampland before Disney World. Till today, you will find swamps rich with deciduous cypresses in many corners of this city.
I like to break down the types of trees in the Florida swamp into two broad categories, understory and canopy trees.
The understory trees, which thrive in the shade, are easy to identify as they are usually much shorter, so you see more of the tree. A famous understory tree in the Florida swamp is swamp dogwood, a close and attractive relative to flowering dogwood.
It won’t be easy to identify canopy trees by their leaves or flowers, so knowing how the bark looks helps—for example, the knobby knees of the pond and bald cypress or the swollen base of water tupelo.
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Kenique grew up in Florida and currently lives in southern China. Before China, he spent many years in Portugal and the Caribbean. He studied economics and is a teacher, entrepreneur, and writer. Since he was knee-high, he has been gardening and was an active member of FFA (Future Farmers of America). He is his best self in a densely wooded forest or park. Depending on the day, you can find him reading, hiking, traveling, exercising, sipping lots of tea, or eating everything in sight.