March 24, 2014, continued. The swamp’s hardwood foliage is starting to show itself, and it’s interesting to see the large amount of “leaf-out” variation within the same species. Most of the swamp chestnut oaks, for example, are still in the young catkin stage, but a few already have their leaves starting to enlarge. Sweetgum flower buds are just starting to open, but some are already putting out young tender leaf shoots. I was down at Frenchman’s Pond recently and saw one cypress standing out among its peers with fresh, new needle growth while most of the others were still looking like winter trees.
One doesn’t usually think of significant color for hardwoods in spring (as compared to fall) but here in the swamp in early spring, every shade of pastel green, with some yellows and reds thrown in, provides a colorful palate that would please the most discriminating artist. The sugarberries get my vote for having the most striking green of all the swamp hardwoods. Like other species, there is much variation in sugarberry foliage chronology, with some now being almost fully leafed out while others are just getting started. For those with foliage, the intense lime green of young sugarberry leaves against a backdrop of a spring blue sky is as colorful as it gets.
Reds, yellows, and oranges, provided by red maple seeds, oak catkins, and the young foliage of laurel oaks, are subordinate to green this time of year, but provides a pleasing complement to the greenery. To fully appreciate the swamp’s spring colors, a view of the canopy from the Congaree Bluffs Heritage Preserve on the south bank of the river is highly recommended. The bluffs are 150 feet above the floodplain and provide fascinating glimpses of the park and its surroundings.