Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lumberjacks Felled County's Ancient Giants -- Cypress

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lumberjacks Felled County's Ancient Giants -- Cypress

Article excerpt

Byline: Mary Jo McTammany, County Line columnist

In the mid to late 1800s, massive strands of bald cypress trees -- Florida's giants -- were common along the river, creeks and swamps of Clay County.

They stood more than 100 feet in the air with diameters of 20 feet or more. Because most of the tree's branches cluster at the top like a toupee perched on a hairless head -- "bald" seemed an appropriate distinction.

Called "the wood eternal" for its resistance to decay, these old-growth cypress trees also thwarted attacks from insects, parasitic mistletoe and fungus. Based on its slow growth rate, these early Goliaths were more than 6,000 years old. A bulging, bell-bottom shape at the base and extensive root system provided support. Knobby "knees" projecting up out of the water or soil allowed intake of oxygen.

Early logging depended on ready access to creeks or the river for transportation to mills. Black Creek, with its network of branches and creeks with mammoth cypress growing along the banks and into the water, was perfect.

Cutting cypress in the days before machinery was different from dropping other primary-growth trees. It required not only muscle and skill but also planning and patience coupled with specific knowledge.

A full year before the tree was put on the ground, an ax was used to chop a groove through the outer cambium layer all around the tree just above the bulbous base. Finding a place to stand on the steeply sloping base and swing an ax without falling into water to become moccasin bait was a challenge.

This maneuver was critical, because it interrupted the upward intake of water and caused the tree to slowly dry out, reducing its weight and increasing buoyancy sufficiently to allow the tremendous logs to float. If not executed correctly, the logs promptly sank. The bottom of Black Creek is peppered with sinkers.

After a year of the three's drying, the cutters returned with several two-man crosscut saws. …

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