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Crooked River State Park Bay Boardwalk

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Crooked River State Park

Bay Boardwalk


The boardwalk takes you into a Bay Forest ecosystem. This hardwood wetland is dominated by two species of broad-leaved evergreen trees, loblolly bay and swamp bay. Typically, swamps in south Georgia contain cypress or gum trees. Even during the winter, this bay forest appears as a wall of dark green, dense foliage. During the summer the dense shade feels cooker than the surrounding Longleaf pine forest.
As you walk into the Bay Forest, notice how the tree canopy gets taller and closes in, shading the forest floor. There are more mid-story trees than in the pinewoods, and few grasses. The sir feels more humid.

Common Birds

Woodpeckers: Red-bellied, Piliated, Flicker, Sapsucker

Warblers: Common Yellow, Pine, Northern parula, Yellow-rumped

Perching birds: Nuthatch, Great crested flycatcher, Acadian flycatcher

[1] Loblolly Bay

The loblolly bay (Gordonia lasianthus) is the most common bay in the swamp. The eliptic, dark green, leathery leaves are about 6 inches long and have wavy margins. In the late spring there are beautiful 5-petaled white flowers with silky yellow stamens in the center.

[2] Water Oak

Look up at the tall tree above this marker. The water oak (Quercus nigra) has leaves 2-4 inches in length that are wider toward the tip. This mature tree is much taller here in the swamp then its brethren in the adjacent pine flatwoods. However, the abundant water comes at a price: the oak must compete with other canopy trees for light. The evergreen bays can photo-synthesize during the winter, whereas the oak drops most of its leaves in the fall.

[3] Peat Soil

Notice the remains of a tree stump that is decaying into a brown, crumbly peat. This surface layer of peat can be many feet thick. The soil in the Bay Forest is strongly acidic, somewhat sandy, and high in organic matter. It holds water like a sponge, so many wetland plants appear here that are not found on the drier pine flats surrounding the bay swamp. The peat soil will not burn as long as the remains saturated.

[4] Turpentine

This old pine stump is scarred from pitch collection many years ago. The slanted cuts caused the pine to bleed sap, which was channeled into a collection bucket by metal strips. The pinesap was then distilled to make various grades of naval stores from turpentine to tar. Turpentining was an important part of the local economy in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

[5] Christmas Lichen

Christmas lichen (Cryptothecia rubrocinta) grows on tree trunks. Look for a round, gray-green patch with a red edge, and tiny red balls sprinkled in the middle. If some-what resembles a Christmas wreath, hence its common name. Lichens are usually a combination of two species: a fungus and an alga. This unusual lichen has an additional bacteria giving it the red color. It thrives in the tropics, so it is at the northern edge of its range here in south Georgia.

[6] Swamp Bay

Swamp bay (Persea palustris) has a dark reddish trunk. There are a couple of smaller loblolly bays (with gray trunks) to the right of the swamp bay, so you can compare them. The leaves of both types of bays are similar, but the swamp bay’s are slightly longer and narrower, the margins are smooth, and the undersides are lighter. Though they are both called “bay”, the two trees are not related. The swamp bay is in the laurel family (related to a shrub whose bay leaves are used for seasoning). The loblolly bay is in the tea family (related to a shrub whose leaves are steeped into a beverage).

[7] Fetterbush Lyonia

Fetterbush lyonia (Lyonia lucida) is a shrub with alternate, shiny evergreen leaves about 3 inches long. It has small, pink, bell-shaped flowers in the early spring that hand in clusters.

[8] Cinnamon Fern

As you look at the edge of the Bay Swamp in front of you, notice how the saw palmetto shrubs abruptly stop at the edge of the dense canopy. The forest floor opens up, and there are numerous clumps of cinnamon ferns (Osmunda cinnamomea), a common wetland fern. Its fronds are 2-4 feet high. Cinnamon-colored spores appear on a central stalk, hence its common name.

[9] Muscadine Grape

The thick vine with the shreddy bark climbing the tree at the right is muscadine grape (Vitis rotundifolia). It has round leaves with coarse teeth. You can see many vines climbing into the canopy to reach the sunlight. Young vines will sometimes “hitch a ride” on small trees, growing with their host.

[10] Tulip Tree

The tulop tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) has a tall, straight, gray trunk. The deciduous, alternate leaves have four lobes and long petioles. Its tulip-shaped flowers are yellowish-green with a splash of orange. Tulips are among the tallest trees in the Bay Swamp and can grow to 175 feet.

[11] Netted Chain Fern

The netted chainfern (Woodwardia aerolata) has small light green, coarsely-cut leaves that are widest toward the base. The scattered fronds grow in wet acidic soils along the creek. This is a common fern found in swampy woods, pinelands, bogs and roadside ditches.

[12] Hydrology

Although the creek bottom is mucky, the creek water is surprisingly clear, even after a rain. The water comes from rainfall and seepage from the surrounding pine uplands. If you are quiet, you might hear or see some of the animals that live in the swamp. Several types of frogs, toads and salamanders live here, as well as king snakes and garter snakes. Perhaps you will hear a woodpecker tapping of a Carolina wren singing.

[13] Southern Woodfern

There is a large colony of southern woodfern (Dryopteris ludoviciana) on both sides of the boardwalk. This large fern has dark green lustrous fronds 2-4 feet high. It spreads via rhizomes (horizontal roots), forming loose linear clumps.

[14] Swamp Tupelo

There are two types of tupelo in the Bay Swamp. Both have buttressed trunks and pointed elliptic leaves that turn bright red in the fall. Water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica) leaves are 4 to 12 inches long, while Swamp tupelo (Nyssa biflora) has smaller leaves, 1 to 4 inches long.

[15] Resurrection Fern

Resurrection fern(Pleopeltis polypodiodioides) is a common swamp fern normally found on upper tree branches. There is a clump at the bottom of this snag, which has fallen from the larger colony at the top. When dry, the four-inch fern leaves curl up and look dead. Within a few hours sfter a rain, the leaves fluff out. Epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants, but so not take any nourishment form the host plant. Another common swamp epiphyte is Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides).

[16] Wax Myrtle

Wax Myrtle (Morella cerifera) is a tall shrub with slender, spreading branches. The yellow-green leaves are broader toward the upper end, and coarsely toothed above the middle. Wax myrtles prefer the open pinelands, and so will not develop many wax berries here in the swamp.

[17] Sweet Gum

Sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) trees have star shaped, palmate leaves that are 4-7 inches in diameter. Its blooms are inconspicuous, but its fruits are easy to see in the fall. Look for hard spiny balls about an inch in diameter in long stems

[18] Sapsucker Holes

If you look at the large tree about 20 feet in front of this marker, you will see lines of holes along the trunk. These are pecked by a yellow-bellied sapsucker, a small woodpecker. It pecks holes, and eats insects such as ants attracted to the sap. Each sapsucker has a couple of “favorite” trees within its territory.

[19] Climbing Hydrangea

The small vine winding its way up this tree trunk is climbing hydrangea (Decumaria barbara). The opposite pointed oval leaves are 2-5 inches long, with teeth towards the apices.

[20] Red Maple

Red Maple (Acer rubrum) is a common wetland tree. It has opposite, lobed leaves 2 to 5 inches ling, with 3 to 5 main points, and light undersides. Showy clusters of reddish flowers appear in early spring. The winged seed is called a samara, and helps the seeds scatter in the wind.


While walking along the Boardwalk you have encountered many plants and animals typical of a Bay Forest ecosystem. The evergreen canopy is dominated by bay trees, with an open midstory of tall shrubs and vines. Ferns sparsely cover the ground, as little light reaches the forest floor. The moist peaty soil supports many wetland species, and discourages fires. A small stream receives seepage water from the surrounding pine uplands. Warblers hunt for insects in the dense vegetation, and woodpeckers tap holes in trees.
Please recycle this leaflet in the box at the start of the trail.
Developed by volunteer naturalist C.A. Schneier 04/04

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