Swamps are forested wetlands. Like marshes, they are often found near rivers or lakes and have mineral soil that drains very slowly. Unlike marshes, they have trees and bushes. They may have water in them for the whole year or for only part of the year. Swamps vary in size and type. Some swamps have soil that is nutrient rich; other swamps have nutrient poor soil. Swamps are often classified by the types of trees that grow in them.
Trees like white cedar, northern white cedar, eastern hemlock, eastern white pine, pitch pine, loblolly pine, and black spruce are common in conifer swamps.
Hardwood swamps have trees like red maple, black willow, aspen, cottonwood, ashes, elms, swamp white oak, pin oak, tupelo, and birches.
Shrub swamps have small trees and bushes like buttonwood, willow, alders, and dogwood.
Cypress swamps are found in the southern United States. They are named for the bald cypress tree. Bald cypress trees are deciduous trees with needle-like leaves. They have very wide bases and "knees" that grow from their roots and stick up out of the water. Bald cypress trees can grow to 100 to 120 feet tall.
Many of the bald cypress trees in cypress swamps in the U.S. were cut down in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. The wood from the bald cypress is resistant to rot and was a popular wood for building. Other trees and shrubs like pond cypress, blackgum, red maple, wax myrtle, and buttonwood are also be found in cypress swamps. Animals like white-tailed deer, minks, raccoons, pileated woodpeckers, purple gallinules, egrets, herons, alligators, frogs, turtles, and snakes are often found in cypress swamps.
From Lake to Swamp
Swamps start out as lakes, ponds or other shallow bodies of water. Over time, trees and shrubs begin to fill in the land. Plants die and decay, and the level of the water gets lower and lower. Eventually, the original body of water becomes a swamp.
The Great Dismal Swamp
The Great Dismal Swamp is located in northeastern North Carolina and southern Virginia. It is a mixture of waterways, swamps, and marshes. Unlike most swamps, it is not located near a river. It is a coastal plain swamp. Trees like cypress, black gum, juniper, and water ash are common. Animals commonly found in the Great Dismal Swamp include black bears, white-tailed deer, opossums, raccoons, and cottonmouth snakes.
The Okefenokee Swamp is located in southeastern Georgia and northern Florida. It is about 25 miles wide and 40 miles long. Not all of the Okefenokee is a swamp; part of it is a bog. In fact, Okefenokee is an Indian word that means "Land of the Trembling Earth." Parts of the swamp are so boggy that you can shake the trees by stomping on the ground!