The 150th anniversary of Arbor Day was celebrated on April 29. This holiday is marked by educational outreach efforts and actions that promote the planting and preservation of trees.
There are many benefits to having a healthy tree community – especially in urban areas. Trees absorb extra precipitation, reduce flooding, keep our houses and streets cool, and serve as a windbreak, etc. Trees also play an important role in the health of our lakes. Tree roots anchor soils which improve water clarity, the canopy provides shade and cool temperatures for fish and other aquatic life, and the branches serve as a nesting and resting place for many waterfowl.
While there are several species of native trees that can be found on waterfront properties throughout central Florida, cypress trees dominate the shorelines around Windermere. Their branches are covered in feathery needles that enhance the natural beauty of this majestic tree. Not only do they provide a scenic backdrop for waterfront properties and nature photography enthusiasts, but they are an important ecological component to lakes, too.
Cypress trees are deciduous conifers, which means they produce cones and lose their leaves in the winter. These cones and seeds are a favorite food source of many birds and mammals. When the cones land in the water, they produce an oily, rainbow sheen on the lake surface that is often mistaken for pollution. Colorful, iridescent sheens can also be caused by naturally occurring bacteria that live in surface waters and are harmless to wildlife and humans. (Rainbow sheens caused by pollution will usually smell like petroleum, oil, gasoline, etc.). An easy way to distinguish natural vs. pollution-caused sheens is to take a stick and break up the water surface. If the sheen breaks apart and reforms quickly, it is likely the result of pollution; if it is naturally caused, the sheen will break apart in jagged parcels and will fail to reunite.
Cypress trees thrive in waterlogged soils and tolerate water level fluctuations quite well. For cypress trees planted in a yard, it may be necessary to add potting soil or peat moss when first planting the tree and to water regularly until the tree is well established. When planting cypress trees in your yard or on shore, make sure to space them at least 15’ apart to allow room for expanding roots, canopy, and branches as the tree grows.
Cypress trees can reach heights in excess of 100’, and depending on the variety, the life expectancy is several hundred years. Sometimes the area around the trunk is full of cypress ‘knees’. These protrusions develop in trees growing near the water, likely aid in respiration for the tree, interact chemically with the lake water, and serve to support its massive structure in waterlogged soils. When cypress knees are cut or mowed, this exposes the tree to potential disease-causing pathogens (e.g. viruses, bacteria, fungi, insects, etc.) that may enter through the cut-bark on the knees, so it is recommended to maintain the knees intact.
Spanish moss is a harmless bromeliad and is commonly found draped on cypress trees here in Florida. Contrary to popular belief, the Spanish moss is not harmful to the tree and does not affect the growth or health of cypress trees. It simply uses the tree as a perch to capture water and sunlight to make its own food.
Depending on the location of the cypress tree on waterfront parcels and in wetlands, permits may be required for cutting or trimming branches. It is best to check with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (myfwc.com) as well as the local municipality to ensure the proposed work does not compromise conservation measures in place to protect these majestic lakefront giants.
Outreach submitted to Town of Windermere
Text and photos by Amy L. Giannotti, MS, CLM, AquaSTEM Consulting, LLC
Amy L. Giannotti, MS, CLM, (email@example.com) is the founder of AquaSTEM Consulting, LLC – an environmental consulting company specializing in lake and aquatic plant management, aquatic habitat restoration, and science outreach initiatives. Amy is an Environmental Scientist and Certified Lake Manager and has over 20 years of experience working in marine and freshwater systems, including coastal and freshwater vegetation dynamics, exotic species management, impacts of nutrient enrichment and remediation efforts, stormwater management and watershed hydrology, and public speaking on environmental issues affecting lakes, estuaries, springs, and karst community ecology. Amy has a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Marietta College, and she earned her Master of Science degree in Environmental Sciences from the University of Virginia. She is currently serving as the Town of Windermere’s Lakes Management Consultant.