The Okefenokee Swamp

Alligator, Okefenokee Swamp

Here’s a place I have heard about my whole life. Catchy name. I got to visit it this past November, and it is as unusual and quirky as it’s name…and far more exotic and beautiful than I had ever imagined.

 

The Okefenokee Swamp is a peat-filled wetland that straddles the U.S. Georgia-Florida border. A vast and shallow bog, it covers nearly a half-million acres (177,000 ha). In ancient times it was part of the ocean floor.

Cresser Prairie, Okefenokee Swamp

There are hiking trails, a self-guided auto tour, an observation tower, camping, and more. But being on the water is decidedly the best way to experience the Okefenokee.  You can rent boats, take your own out, or pay for a boat tour.

 

We took the guided 90-minute boat tour, and it was excellent.

 

Alligators peered out from beneath the water’s surface.

Alligator

 

 

Pond cypress trees

Pond-cypress trees and Suwannee Channel

 

It is the largest blackwater swamp in North America. The water is characteristically slow-moving, filtering through vegetation and decay, resulting in tannins that make the water appear black.

 

Blackwater generally has less nutrients and more acid, hosting flora and fauna different than you see around fast-moving water.

 

The cypress trees (Taxodium ascendens) (pictured above), rooted in water, have a curious bulbous base that assists in stabilizing the tree.

 

Trees living in water:  not something we see very often.

 

Surrounding the cypress trees are woody projections, tapered stumps, called “cypress knees.” These are part of the cypress root system thought to provide the tree with stability as well as oxygen.

Cypress Knees in front center

The guide steered the boat down the long man-made Suwannee Canal, as we suspiciously eyed the alligators, kept our limbs and digits well inside the boat. Monarchs fluttered along the shoreline, turkey vultures soared overhead, woodpeckers and blue jays dipped among the trees while catbirds shouted their mewing calls.

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Forest trees, thickly draped with Spanish moss, arched overhead.

Moss-draped forest

I studied the faces of canoeists as they glided by, admired their calm as they paddled through the black, alligator-studded water.

Canoeists in Okefenokee Swamp

After we left the main channel, we headed into the Chesser prairie. There are many wetland prairies, or open landscapes, in the Okefenokee and they’re all named.

 

Wading birds like ibis, egrets, and herons dotted the landscape.

 

In addition to the abundant water lilies (Nymphaea odorata), clumps of pitcher plants (Sarraceniaceae) could be seen in a few places. A cobra-shaped carnivorous plant, it eats and digests insects.

 

Its sweet nectar entices the insect in while the waxy inner surface traps the insect, who then drowns in the inner chamber.

Pitcher Plant

The history of the Okefenokee is an interesting one, home to Native Americans and white settlers in earlier centuries. Toward the beginning of the 20th century, opportunists embarked on draining the swamp and harvesting the cypress trees for profit.

 

Fortunately for us, by 1937 the area became protected.

 

In some parts of the Okefenokee there are small islands, called batteries, that you can see floating by.  About the size of a desktop or larger, they are made of decaying organic matter called peat that originates on the swamp floor and floats to the surface.

 

“Okefenokee” is a Native American word of Seminole origin that means “The Land of the Trembling Earth.” It is believed that the long-ago Native American residents probably walked on those floating batteries, and experienced trembling.

 

Trees and flowers that live in the water. Plants that eat insects. Mammals that eat humans. And black water wherever you look.

 

The Okefenokee Swamp is marvelously unique.

Written by Jet Eliot.
Photos by Athena Alexander.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge Wikipedia

Visiting the Okefenokee

Informative overview

 

 

104 thoughts on “The Okefenokee Swamp

  1. I’m so jealous. I want to write a story in a swamp setting, and would love to visit. Your posts always inspire me. I have a coming book placed in future San Francisco, and last weekend created an oil toad for my pirate story. He’s based upon the oil birds I learned about from you.

    • Oh those oil birds were one of the quirkiest birds I have ever seen, and I’ve seen thousands of bird species. I am smiling and chuckling, Craig, thinking about what an oil toad character you will create. They were so loud and big, crashing around in the caves, so easily freaked. Anytime you have questions about SF or the oil birds, please drop me a line. I’m thrilled, BTW, to hear the oil birds were an influence. Warmest regards, my intrepid writing friend.

  2. The pitcher plants are amazing! I love that “picture.” (The pitcher picture). But the whole adventure must have been something you’ll never forget. Do they have mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds? I don’t think I’d risk going out there in a canoe. I’ve heard of the … crocodiles, I think?…of the Amazon grabbing people out of canoes and dragging them under. Maybe alligators are more friendly, but I wouldn’t trust them. Great post, Jet. Can’t believe you actually got into a boat on that lizard-infested water! I feel like a real coward by comparison.

    • I thought the pitcher plants were so cool, Anneli, I’m glad you did too. I’d like to do a separate post on them someday, give more of the pitcher picture (fun word game you made). The mosquitoes were not out that day, as it was a little cooler. But my sister was there in July when it was super hot, and I asked her about the mosquitoes, and she said they weren’t too bad even on a hot day. It is my understanding that there are mosquitoes there, but they aren’t as bad as one would expect because the water is so acidic it is not conducive for their larvae. Many thanks, always.

  3. Very cool habitat, for sure. Last winter I visited the Suwanee River outlet near the Gulf coast and I found it so amazing (and due to the govt. shutdown, devoid of humans). I only regret that there were no tours or rangers to learn from. Your photos and post point to its magnificence!

    • With your visit to the Suwanee River you are definitely familiar with the habitat, such a different kind of place than what we experience in the northern states. I’m glad I could share the Okefenokee with you, Eliza, and I’m really glad you’ve been to the Suwanee River. Thanks so much.

  4. What an amazing place. I’ve seen photos and videos of this region, but never realized it’s depth, diversity and uniqueness. Glad you didn’t have and encounter with on of those human eating mammals!!

    • I was so glad we had the chance to visit here, because like you, Dave, I’d heard about it. My sister and her husband recently moved to the region, so I am hopeful I will have another chance to visit it sometime again. If you and Sue were to visit the Okefenokee you’d have to stay out of the water…not so sure you’d be able to curb your wild adventurous ways. Thanks so much for your visit and comment, Dave–sending my best to you and Sue.

  5. I very much enjoyed your post and photos, Jet. Would you believe, my Dad was born 40-50 miles north of the top of the refuge and I’ve never been here?!! This refuge is on my bucket list for hopefully in the next couple years. Most of Dad’s side of my family still live in that general vicinity. So our visit to this refuge will be planned together with a family visit to see my cousins again! 🙂

    • I know how it is, Donna, to want to visit a place but not getting around to it. So I’m glad I could fill you in on the Okefenokee here, and can guarantee you will like it when you do go. You would want to set aside at least one day, maybe two. And don’t go if you don’t have time to take a boat ride, it’s really the best for seeing everything. So glad to hear from you, my friend.

  6. What an amazing environment! Thanks for sharing your floating adventure in this wild place. I think I’d like to paddle on the blackwater, but I’d be somewhat concerned about the alligators…

    • It’s easy for me to imagine you and Mrs. pc canoeing the Okefenokee Swamp, pc. I’m not sure Scout would fit in too well, he’d probably rock the boat too much and dump you all in the black alligator drink! lol. Sending my warmest wishes to all three of you, hoping your weekend ahead is a great one.

  7. Jet, your descriptions accompanied by AA photographs transported me right there alongside you both. What a marvelous adventure. Glad no one fell from their boats into the murky black alligator inhabited water.

  8. Pingback: The Okefenokee Swamp — Jet Eliot | huggers.ca

  9. What an absolutely fantastic place! I love the idea of the cypress knees and that Spanish moss is incredible. Tannins making the water black makes me think of wine and the floating batteries I am sure would make you tremble if you stepped on them – before you sank to feed the alligators. I want to go myself now 😉 Thanks Jet.

    • Fun comment, Alastair, thanks so much for your visit. You might find it interesting that the early settlers to the Okefenokee used the Spanish moss, after drying it, in their textiles. Cheers, my friend, great to “see” you today.

  10. The Okefenokee Swamp is a vast area, filled with very diverse wildlife. No doubt, a natural treasure that should be preserved forever!. Very nice post, Jet. 🙂

    • Yes, we’re very lucky this park has been protected over the decades. In addition to the previously mentioned threats, more recently, in the mid-1990s, DuPont was set to begin titanium mining here. yikes! Fortunately there were protests and DuPont backed off and subsequently donated their 16,000 acres–7,000 of it going to the Refuge. Glad you enjoyed the Okefenokee, HJ. Always a pleasure to have you visit, thank you.

    • I am grateful to you, dear Nan, for introducing me to this fantastic swamp, and I do indeed look forward to visiting again and again. Many thanks for your visit today and every week.

    • What a pleasure it was to cruise the black waters of the Okefenokee with you and Nan, Bill. Really fun doing the research for this post too. Thanks for your kind words and visit.

  11. Cool 😎. Heard the name, didn’t realize it was an actual place. Alligators will eat small humans for sure, but they are reptiles. I don’t think I’d enjoy canoeing in those waters, but your guided boat tour sounds great 👍🏻

  12. Are the insects really bad, Jet? I think of swamp and immediately after that thought swarms of insects, and their size is appalling. Not sure if I would venture in a swamp. Did that once and regretted it. Your pictures however did not have insects attached with it so I enjoyed it. Thank you!

    • Yes, swamps in general, especially at sunset, can be mosquito-laden. I’ve been in loads of swamps and wetlands, often at dusk when the light is good, and can say it is a definite hindrance and annoyance. At the Okefenokee, I’ve read there can be bugs, but we didn’t experience them as it was rather cool that day (high 60s). Summer visits are not especially buggy either though, I’ve heard, due to the acidity of the water that is not conducive to larvae. There was only one time that the thick swarms of mosquitos chased me out of a wetland, and that was the Everglades. Fun exchange, Amy, thanks so much for your visit and question.

  13. So much of this is part of my world, even on a daily basis. My ‘front yard’ is filled with cypress knees: small, but emerging even twenty feet from their parent trees. Spanish moss is common, even in the nature center where I walk from time to time, and of course there are those alligators! Even though there are plenty of people who canoe and kayak around here, I can’t bring myself to do it. I keep imagining tipping over, and I know who’s lurking under the surface.

    It’s interesting that east Texas has bogs as well, and all of the plant life that goes along with them: pitcher plants, sundews, and so on. My first trip into a swamp was in Louisiana, where the meaning of ‘swamp’ is somewhat different, but it certainly wasn’t the gloomy, depressing, or frightening place that swamps can be portrayed as — especially in literature. If I ever make it to Florida again, the Okefenokee and the Everglades would be first on my list. My visits to the Keys were delightful, but my tastes in travel have changed.

    • I so enjoyed hearing about the cypress knees, Spanish moss, alligators and bog life in your area, Linda. The U.S. south has such a vastly different landscape than the north. I also enjoyed reading your post about the squirrels on your cypress knees. We are fortunate in this very large country to have such diversity. Many thanks, as always, for your visit and interesting input.

  14. Wow! I can’t say I’ve ever been to any of the places you’ve shared here on your blog, but I have been to Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, about 7 years ago. Our son and his wife live nearby. We took a sunset boat tour and the swamp was magical at dusk. My husband wound up taking the pictures because I was too spellbound to point and shoot.

    Thanks for sharing your lovely pictures and for stirring up some wonderful memories. Love the alligator shots! I agree, Okefenokee Swamp is indeed marvelously unique.

    • I think it’s wonderful that you found your sunset tour through the Okefenokee spellbinding and magical, Barbara. We are lucky this Refuge is protected, as it is quite a gem. Thanks so much for sharing your visit experiences.

  15. “Okefenokee”, what a name. It remembers me a little bit of Star Wars and “Obi Wan Kenobi” 😀
    But what fantastic photos from a amazing hidden world. Thanks a lot, dear Jet. ❤

    • So lovely to hear from you, Vera. It’s a curious name and one most of us do not forget. I’m glad you enjoyed the photos of the Okefenokee, and thank you for your visit today.

    • I am so glad you had a chance to see my Okefenokee post today, Cindy, as your year of working there and so many enticing posts were a big influence on me visiting here. I was admiring your posts years ago, and then in this past year my sister and her husband moved to the area, so I returned to your Okefenokee posts and learned more prior to visiting her. It is indeed an amazing ecosystem, and one that I am only learning to understand, so I look forward to visiting more. When I do go back, I will take your great advice and visit Banks Lake, for your photos and the mystical video are already calling. Thanks so much.

  16. Fascinating post Jet. As I was reading I couldn’t help but imagine the cobra shaped plants beginning to slither and the ‘knees’ of trees starting to bend as the black water beings come to life. A frightening scene so scary that even the alligators scurry away for cover.
    As much as I like adventure, the idea of canoeing seems a bit high on the risk taking barometer.
    Thank you for the tour and for giving my imagination a workout!

    • Well I never thought in a million years I would find a place that Sue the Risk-Taking Adventurer would find intimidating. Of course I don’t blame you, I wouldn’t canoe in those frightening waters either. But I wouldn’t jump in winter-freezing water or balance precariously along rocky mountain sides either. lol. I liked your imaginative thoughts on the black water coming to life. My warmest thanks for your visit today, much appreciated. Thinking of you and Dave.

      • I definitely have a line in the sand, or in this case the black water, where life threatening outweighs adrenaline addiction. I can only think of once where I misjudged and that was sitting at the edge of Victoria Falls. All turned out all right but I thought ‘when they find us dead at the bottom of these falls a lot of people will say I knew one day they would go too far’.

      • I love that you told this story, Sue. Now that one we passed on, and watched from afar shaking our head at the people at the top of V. Falls. I think we were extra nervous at VF because we heard shots fired somewhere nearby. Travel takes us on unexplainable adventures sometimes, yes?

  17. Thank you, Jet. I’ve always been fascinated by swamps & marshes and have mused on visiting the more renowned locations like Okefenokee & the Everglades. You’ve convinced me that an early spring or late autumn visit to the big Okee has to be seen directly!

    • Oh you would really enjoy the big Okee, Walt (I like your name for it). I’m really happy I could relay the beauty and mystery of it to you, enough to convince you of a future visit. They have fishing. Cheers to you, and thanks for your visit.

    • I know you would enjoy one of their boat tours on the Okefenokee, Kirt. And you’re right, if you/we can visualize tipping over in a canoe, then that’s not too relaxing or fun. Always a joy to “see” you, thank you.

  18. Thanks for sharing the wonderful photos and your journey through the swamp! Love photos of Spanish moss and what a fabulous shot by Athena of the alligator peering out and the affect of the color of the water on the photo. I would have definitely chosen to be safely inside the boat and not in a canoe!

    • Enjoyed hearing that you, ACI, an experienced kayaker, would prefer being on the Okefenokee tour boat than in a canoe. Gave me a smile. I don’t think Harper would do too well any other way. 😉 Thanks so much for stopping by, always appreciated.

  19. Like you, I’ve heard of the place but haven’t seen it. I had hoped to see a smaller place along the same lines last year in South Carolina, but it was almost entirely dried up – big disappointment. I’m glad you were more successful.

  20. I seem to be missing the gene that enjoys swamps or tropical places, but you actually made this virtual visit very enjoyable. We have pitcher plants that look very similar in our hills here. Absolutely wouldn’t want to be walking on those floating batteries and experiencing trembling with those alligators around. Might even be they were trembling because of the alligators. 😀

    • I enjoyed your comment, as always, Gunta. I’m glad you enjoyed the Okefenokee post here, in spite of that missing gene. Thanks so much for your visit, much appreciated.

  21. A wonderful and fascinating post, Jet. What a vast area this swamp covers. I wonder just how many alligators there are living there. 😳 I so enjoyed your narrative and the information you shared. I could just imagine the Monarchs and Blue Jays flitting around. Those canoeists are very brave indeed.

    • A gift to receive your warm comment, Sylvia. You are very familiar with this kind of habitat, and I like how you live cooperatively with your alligators. Thanks so much for your visit.

  22. JEETTTT!!!! You were right down the road from me!!! I live on St. Simons Island which is sooo close to Okefenokee!!!! It IS beautiful there, isn’t it? We’ve been on that tour and it’s just lovely. You captured it wonderfully!!! How fun! If You’re ever down this way again and feel like it, give a holler!!! Thanks for the smile You just gifted. Cheers!!! 🤗❤️😊

    • I had no idea, Katy, this was your neck of the moss-covered woods. How very fortunate for you! As a birder there were too many places for me to see in this visit to SE GA, so we had to leave a few gems for the next visit. My sister and her husband just moved to the area, so this was our first OF MANY visits. I would love to meet up with you and your sweetheart, and appreciate the invitation and will most definitely do that next time we’re there. It will probably be next year. How very great to know you live in this beautiful part of the country, dear Katy. Thanks so much.

      • How fun and cool beans!!! I hope Your sister and her brother have a wonderful life down here! “…your neck of the moss covered woods” is a brilliant statement! 😅Isn’t the moss incredible? Art in the trees!!! And You are right….there are tons of beautiful birds about. We never tire of watching them! I look forward to next year! Maybe Bill will have an idea of a cool bird space to show You….he has a few. And I’m sure You’ve heard this but one of Y’alls ventures down here You’ve got to head over to Cumberland Island. It’s crazy beautiful!!! Huge hugs and Cheers!!! 🤗❤️😊

      • I’m working on the Cumberland Island post this week, posting this Friday. We went and loved it. Funny you mentioned it! Thank you, Katy, a pleasure.

  23. Wow, excellent travel journal! The Okefenokee Swamp truly is a majestic and mysterious place. I’ve been able to make many trips there over the years. With so many wonderful photos the swamp has afforded me, I decided to honor the Okefenokee with a dedicated photography blog. If you’re interested, it is at this link: https://okefenokee.photography/. Thanks! William — “What a wildly wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at Your side, made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.” Psalms 104 The Message

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