The Connected History of Cypress Trees and the Swamp

Dec. 13, 2022
Basin Landing Airboat and Swamp Tour | The Connected History of Cypress Trees and the Swamp

If you have ever taken a drive over the Atchafalaya Basin on I-10 between Houston and New Orleans, you have passed through an area of living history. This famous drive is memorable for its knobby cypress knees poking up from the depths below, and it is an integral part of the story of the Atchafalaya Basin. The unique looking cypress tree has become a symbol of a long lost era that many people outside of the immediate area are unaware of. Acting as a hurricane buffer system and a giant filtration system, the role of cypress trees were long misunderstood. It wasn't until a boom of deforestation at the turn of the century that we truly began to understand their importance.

The timber boom of the 1800's virtually ended in the middle of the Atchafalaya Basin, according to the archives of the Louisiana Lieutenant Governor. Due to the difficulty of accessing these deep, aquatic forests, it was one of the last regions in the U.S. to be deforested on a large scale. Once logging companies and cypress mills figured out how to dredge canals and drain portions of the swamp, the cypress tree forests that grew tall in the areas that now flank the basin bridge were all but gone. By the early 1920s, the logging saws had gone quiet.

Cypress is naturally one of the best types of wood that money can buy. It is waterproof, insect resistant, and mostly impervious to diseases that kill other sorts of timber. In addition to its quirky, strong, and beautiful wood, it is very lightweight; making it a near perfect material to build outdoor structures in the severe climate of the humid and hot South.

All in all, some 4.3 million acres of virgin lumber had been clear cut during this time. That's a tract of land roughly the size of the entire State of New Jersey. This unprecedented drain of resources virtually changed the way the state of Louisiana looked. Large mills began replacing the small mills along the bayous and rivers, and eventually gave way to the most rapid period of cypress deforestation in Louisiana history.

"A 1917 document in The American Lumberman (a major trade publication) lists Louisiana sawmills with board foot capacity given. Measurement by board foot is the standard in the lumber industry. One board foot equals a board one foot wide, one foot long, and one inch thick. To put this in perspective, the behemoth sawmill in Bogalusa was described in The Southern Lumberman (another trade publication) in 1921 as consuming 60 acres a day when processing 750,000 board feet. (Billed the world’s largest sawmill, its daily capacity was roughly one million board feet.)" - (crt.state.louisiana)

Much of what you see now in the Atchafalaya Basin is new growth cypress. Unlike the Florida Everglades, The Atchafalaya Basin does not enjoy the protection of the National Park Service, so efforts to preserve its natural beauty and tell its story are largely left to historians, professors, residents, and Basin Landing's swamp tour guides. To find out more about the history of the swamp, take one of our 1.5 hour airboat tours by calling 337.228.7880, or visit for more information.

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