Bald cypress trees — with Spanish moss hanging from the branches — were once abundant in Louisiana bayous.
“Back in the ‘40s and ‘50s, and even ‘60s, a lot of the bayous had cypress trees, and these were cypress swamps,” says Arthur Johnson of the Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development, a nonprofit based in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward.
He says bald cypress trees help protect communities from hurricanes because they help break the wind, absorb floodwater, and reduce erosion.
But large areas of the water-tolerant conifers have disappeared.
Some areas were logged or drained for development.
And as seas rise and land sinks, some swamps have been inundated with more saltwater than the trees can handle.
“And therefore cypress trees have died, and so you have cypress graveyards,” Johnson says.
So his group is helping grow new bald cypress trees. At a nursery in Jefferson parish, volunteers help plant and care for the young saplings.
When the trees are two or three feet tall, partner organizations transplant them as part of wetland restoration efforts.
So as climate change brings more intense storms and flooding, the restored cypress swamps can help protect vulnerable communities.
Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ ChavoBart Digital Media