- The Washington Times - Friday, September 1, 2006

COURTLAND, Va. (AP) — Virginia is in the early stages of negotiations to purchase a 40-acre forest with massive cypress trees that date back more than 1,000 years.

“It’s the kind of place that gives you goose bumps just thinking about it,” said Tom Smith, director of Virginia’s Natural Heritage Program, which works to protect rare natural areas.

“To stand among trees that are 1,400 years old, that captures everyone’s imagination,” he said.

The forest along the swampy Nottoway River is part of a 650-acre tract owned by International Paper.

The old-growth forest, known as Cypress Bridge, is about 80 miles southeast of Richmond.

The forest is a remnant from the days when towering cypress and tupelo trees lined the swampy rivers of the Southeast.

Loggers cut virtually all those trees in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“It’s a remarkable discovery,” said University of Arkansas geosciences professor David Stahle, an old-tree specialist.

Only “two one-hundredths of 1 percent” of the Southeast’s cypress-tupelo forests escaped the saw, he said.

Scientists discovered the forest last fall but made no public announcement.

The old forest lies in a slough, or inlet, that is often flooded, according to a reporter from the Richmond Times-Dispatch who was part of a recent tour of the forest.

During the canoe tour, virtually no mosquitoes buzzed the visitors.

“There’s got to be 1,001 bat cavities in here, and they eat mosquitoes,” said Byron Carmean of Suffolk, a retired horticulture teacher.

Mr. Carmean, who hunts big trees for a hobby, is given much of the credit for discovering the lost forest.

In late September 2005, he and Gary Fleming, an ecologist for the Natural Heritage Program, explored the area from the Nottoway’s bank.

The men looked across the slough, and Mr. Carmean saw what appeared to be the biggest tupelo he had ever seen. “It was like 100 yards away, yet it still looked like the side of a house.”

Mr. Carmean, Mr. Fleming and scientists from Mr. Fleming’s office made follow-up visits by canoe.

What they found amazed them. While some forests sport a huge tree here and there, this place featured monster tree after monster tree.

Mr. Carmean doubts any other cypress-tupelo forest in the nation contains such giant trees. “This is like primeval. You look around for T. rex.”

Cypress knees, rootlike appendages that protrude from swampy ground, are typically the shape and size of traffic cones.

Some knees at Cypress Bridge are nearly 10 feet tall. Some are so thick that Natural Heritage Program ecologist Karen Patterson calls them “cypress thighs.”

No one knows the age of the Cypress Bridge trees. Scientists can check by drilling out small cylinders of wood and counting rings. That will be done here eventually.

Mr. Fleming has examined the remains of a few cypresses cut nearby. At one stump about 31/2 feet in diameter, he counted more than 500 rings. A tree forms a ring each year.

“That does give you an idea that something that’s 12 feet in diameter could be pretty darn old,” Mr. Fleming said.

“It wouldn’t surprise me at all if [many Cypress Bridge trees] were more than 1,000 years old,” Mr. Fleming said.

Mr. Carmean thinks some are 1,500 years old.

The oldest known trees east of the Mississippi are cypresses in a preserve on the Black River in southern North Carolina. They are at least 1,700 years old.

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