Swamps are non-tidal wetlands that are dominated by woody shrubs or trees. They have saturated soils or standing water during certain times of year, which creates a unique environment that only particular plants can survive. Swamps serve vital roles in flood protection and help to clean our waters. There are many different types of swamps. In Delaware, some examples are Atlantic white cedar, bald cypress, and black ash seepage swamps.
Atlantic White Cedar Swamp
Atlantic white cedar swamps can be found mainly in Sussex County, where they occur in poorly-drained, acidic, highly-organic soils, either along river floodplains (including Cedar Creek, Mispillion River, and Nanticoke River), or in the headwaters of mill ponds. They feature a white cedar tree canopy with deciduous (typically maple/gum) trees mixed in. A unique community of sphagnum moss and carnivorous plants occupy the forest floor.
Prior to extensive timbering and drainage during the 1800s and 1900s, white cedar swamps were abundant in Delaware, including hundreds of acres within the Great Cypress Swamp. Though now scarce in Delaware, cedar swamps provide important habitat for certain species such as sundews, pitcher plants, dragonflies, and salamanders, which can be found in few other places throughout the state.
Bald Cypress Swamp
Bald cypress swamps in Delaware are the northernmost natural examples of these areas in the United States, and thus comprise a unique ecosystem to this region. Easily distinguished by the presence of the deciduous, knobby-kneed cypress trees, these swamps can be found within forested floodplains of some southern Delaware rivers and creeks, such as the James Branch near Trap Pond, Trussum Pond, the Great Swamp, and near Killens Pond. In addition to supporting unique plant and animal communities and providing wetland benefits to the watershed, Delaware's bald cypress swamps are among the most scenic and serene places to explore, with Trap Pond State Park being a prime point of entry.
Bald cypress trees were also heavily timbered during the 1700s and 1800s for their rot-resistant wood, which was used for building things like ships and roof shingles. Additionally, removing these trees gave access to the nutrient-rich soils in which they grow that were sought after for agriculture. Today, many of these swamps are on state- or non-profit-owned property and are being maintained or restored. However, these wetlands are sensitive and easily disturbed by adjacent land use activities.
Black Ash Seepage Swamp
Black ash seepage swamps are unusual swamps that occur in the upper reaches of tidal rivers and non-tidal stream in the northern third of Delaware's Coastal Plain. These swamps can be identified by very wet stream bottoms with nutrient-rich soils and steep-sided slopes from which there is a strong flow of groundwater. Seepage swamps that are near tidal rivers are situated above normal high tide levels, but can occasionally be affected by saltwater intrusion from extreme high tides and storm surges. Seepage swamps are very beautiful and provide habitat for a wide variety of wildlife species.
Page reviewed 4/4/19