Saving cypress: hit offending merchants where it hurts

by Francis E. “Jack” Putz

Despite overwhelming and long-standing evidence that clearcutting cypress trees to make landscape mulch is unsustainable, the practice is legally sanctioned and continues.

Given the published research results, letter writing campaigns, and other sorts of protests about this issue over the past decades, this situation is deplorable.

Government officials and buyers for the sustainability pledge endorsing “big-box” stores that continue to sell cypress mulch must recognize that the practice is unnecessarily destructive. Given the failure of previous campaigns to stop this plundering of nature, it’s time to ramp up efforts lest these iconic ecosystems continue to be destroyed.

Consumer education efforts should continue, but a more direct way is needed to attract attention from the merchants of destruction.

The recommended cypress protection tactic hits offending merchants where it hurts, right in their profit margins. Here it is: Whenever you see cypress mulch for sale, fill a shopping cart with as many bags as you can manage, push the cart to the opposite end of the store, and abandon it. In response to this simple, legal, and non-confrontational action, some salaried employee will have to re-shelve the bags, which takes time and therefore costs money. If the bags are inadvertently torn in the process, the financial impact is magnified. 

This action might seem unfair to store workers, but remember that they are paid regardless of whether they spend their time on revenue generating activities.

Note that big box stores monitor worker productivity to the minute and profits to the penny. If the sale of a $3 bag of cypress mulch yields a profit of $0.30, a worker paid $20.00/hour (salary plus benefits) would have to restock the bags in less than a minute for the store to break even on a product that should not be marketed in the first place.

If even a small number of cypress defenders follow this procedure and we continue to hound the merchants with evidence and arguments, our collective action will grab the attention of their all-powerful accountants. While you’re doing something real on behalf of our fragile environment, remember the final stanzas of “Alice’s Restaurant” and feel good about yourself. Although big-box stores may lack any corporate conscience, they do respond to lost profits.

For references and a more detailed account of this environmental campaign, see the article in The Palmetto by H. Dutcher and F.E. Putz entitled “Saving Cypress” on the Florida Native Plant Society website ( D

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