A Tree in Paradise

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Published on: May. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

erect in soft ground. When the trees grow in swamps, their root systems may produce point outgrowths, called "knees," that project above the surface of water or saturated ground.

Although they tolerate wet places, cypress trees do not thrive in standing water year in and year out. At Duck Creek, the Conservation Department maintains several pools as waterfowl habitat. Cypress trees flourish along the perimeters of all the pools. Pool 1 remains constantly full and serves as a source of water for periodic flooding of Pools 2 and 3. As a result, the cypress trees in Pool 1 are stressed, dying, and falling down. Many have been there nearly 50 years. But, Wissehr reports, "we lose a few every year."

Mindful of the cypress's need for fluctuating water levels, Duck Creek managers closed pool 3 to waterfowl hunting last year while they repaired and replaced the aging water-control structures that preserve remnants of greentree wetland habitat.

The restoration work, along with dredging a buildup of mud from drainage ditches, will enable the Conservation Department to vary water levels in Pools 2 and 3. A cycle that mimics natural fluctuations will permit seedlings to sprout and replace older trees, which have been suffering from early, prolonged flooding.

In the Bootheel, periodic flooding makes human life a challenge, but it provides the perfect habitat for cypress trees. During the Mississippian period, between 1000 and 1500 A.D., inhabitants of the area grew maize in the rich soils and built mounds to elevate their temples. These native people used the Mississippi and its tributaries to carry on a lively trade, but left vast forests largely undisturbed.

The New Madrid earthquake of 1811 lifted the Mississippi River out of its bed and caused monumental flooding in the Bootheel. Memories and tales of this even inspired settlers to avoid the Bootheel in favor of the rugged Ozarks. A few hardy souls did settle in the lowlands, farming small tracts and fishing the rivers and streams. Some built homes of notched cypress logs like the Hunter Log House, which was reconstructed in the 1980s by students in the Historic Preservation Program at Southeast Missouri State University.

In 1869, historian and entrepreneur Louis Houck arrived in Cape Girardeau and traveled south through the Bootheel. Houck's reminiscences, published in the Southeast Missourian on May 15, 1969, included description of vast swamps "all covered with heavy timber."

Despite his appreciation for the natural beauty of the lowlands,

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