Thursday, December 11, 2008

From Scat to State Tree

One of my favorite things about tromping about in the forest is the interesting “stories” you can come across. How is it that tree grew with that interesting crook (the remains of another tree on the ground may yield the answer), why do the lichens on a tree in the wetlands stop at a certain height (how long water stood over the summer had something to do with it), or why is there a swale in the middle of the flatwoods (didn’t they ride off road through here years ago)? Discovering and realizing an origin of something not expected or seemingly out of order in the woods, no matter how easy to figure out, always invokes a certain pleasant wonder for me. It’s like that "three year old" kind of glee of realizing you are able to state; I know why that is. That is what the woods do for me every day.

My forest revelation this week starts with a funny clump of pleated strap like foliage under dense pine canopy. It is near a colony of toothpetal false reinorchids (Habenaria floribunda). Is it another type of orchid (the giant orchid [Pteroglossaspis ecristata] found earlier this fall had similar foliage)? Ooh, or is it some kind of iris?

A closer look reveals a clump of numerous black berries burst open with seeds germinating into mass of sabal palm (Sabal palmetto) seedlings.

A quick scan of the canopy reveals no cabbage palms mixed with the pines. Hmm, just where did these seeds come from? A quick scan around the forest floor nearby turns up a not yet germinated clump of berries and seeds in a distinct “pile” formation. A quick Google search of the names of some the likely culprits, along with the term scat, yields images to confirm a raccoon is the responsible party. Raccoons and many other forest inhabitants relish sabal fruit and do their best to ensure its distribution.

Mystery solved…glee realized…and a secondary benefit, you are now keyed in to notice the multitude of little clumps of sabal seedlings here, there, and everywhere.
Man that was one busy raccoon.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Native Terrestrial Orchid

The toothpetal false reinorchid (Habenaria floribunda) is making a show in the northern flatwoods.
This green/yellow flowered charmer is common throughout central and southern Florida.
Some texts describe it as having a distinctly unpleasant fragrance but, we have found it to have a pleasantly sweet smell with some musk undertones.
So, keep an eye out underfoot; this Habenaria sp. grows in colonies deep under the pine canopy treating us with a only short bloom in the late fall/early winter.

Please remember to enjoy the flowers by admiring from a distance or keep the memory through photography but, please do not pick flowers or remove plants from the preserve.

Invasive Treatments and Wetlands Revealed

A second round of spraying has just been completed in the Back Woods. You may still notice blue marker dye on treated plants like this camphor tree (Cinnamomum camphora) that has been both girdled with a chainsaw and treated with herbicide. More before and after pictures coming soon!

There is a little fall color developing on the tupelo, red maple, cypress, and sumac particularly around the wetlands.
If you are intrepid, the wetlands are mostly dry and have all kinds of interesting plants and structures to see like the hummock above found in the center of the central wetland.
Lizard's tail (Saururus cernuus), an aquatic herbaceous perennial, is still in bloom in the central wetland.
Bottle based swamp tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica var. biflora) stand sentinel in the winter light at the wetland edge. Lichen and moss lines on their trunks reveal the history of water levels in the central wetland.
Fetterbush (Lyonia lucida) grow in wet flatwoods but can also be found growing in the midst of the wetlands on hummock islands of roots and decaying vegetation. Even when not in bloom they can be readily identified by the very distinct vein that runs along the outside edge of the leaf blade.
(Lyonia lucida leaf closeup courtesy A.C. Moore Herbarium)
And last but, certainly not least, climbing aster (Symphyotrichum carolinianum) are making a show in the eastern wetland. You may also know this plant by its synonym Aster carolinianus. This woody vine is frequently found along riverbanks and swamp margins. Its lavender-pink flowers attract bees and butterflies alike. Should you come across some; it is easily started in your own garden from collected seed.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sandhill in Bloom

Now is a great time to check out the sandhill communities in the Back Woods at MOSI. Many beautiful sandhill and scrub wildflowers put on their show in the fall.

Blooming now are fragrant coastal plain palafox (Palafoxia integrifolia)
snowy clumps of sandhill wireweed (Polygonella robusta),

vivid spikes of blazing star (Liatris tenuifolia),

and the glowing rays of goldenaster (Chrysopsis scabrella),

Please remember to enjoy the flowers by admiring from a distance or keep the memory through photography but, please do not pick flowers or remove plants from the preserve. Wildflower watch critters are on duty!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Project BudBurst: Citizen Scientists Unite

Plant enthusiasts of all levels of expertise have the opportunity to participate in a nationwide project to collect phenology data. What's phenology you ask. Well it is defined most succinctly by the folks at Project BudBurst; "Phenology is the study of the timing of life cycle events in plants and animals." Simply pick a plant from their list and record and report bud break, leaf out, and flowering. Researchers and "citizen scientists" can participate in a study with more rigorous guidelines at the parent site of Project BudBurst, USA National Phenology Network.

Currently the plant choices look a little slim for species found in Central Florida. But, on the list you will find red maple (Acer rubrum) a great species to track even for the novice. The red maple is easy to find and recognize and actually goes through a complete cycle of dormancy and growth in our sub tropical climate.

We will be tracking the red maple and other species in the Back Woods starting this fall. If you are interested in participating in a phenology project involving butterflies, check out MOSI's butterfly blog Lepcurious for details on MonarchLive.

Photos courtesy: Shirley Denton via Wunderlin, R. P., and B. F. Hansen. 2008. Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants([S. M. Landry and K. N. Campbell (application development), Florida Center for Community Design and Research.] Institute for Systematic Botany, University of South Florida, Tampa.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Habitat Restoration Update

The effects of the herbicide applications are now plainly evident throughout the forest. It is really interesting to see the actual structure and stratification of native shrubs and trees revealed as the blanket of air potato has died back.

This is only the beginning of a long term non native invasive species control program. Many of the non native invasive species infesting Florida and those in our little neck of the woods will never be completely eradicated. But, by aggressively treating established populations and taking actions to prevent new introductions we hope to mitigate the detrimental effects of these invaders on our forest’s ecosystems.

Although it may hard to believe, there are some positives associated with the invasion of non native species. There are opportunities for educational outreach and for people of varied backgrounds to come together to tackle an issue that affects us all. On that note, one of the greatest challenges we will face in the Back Woods will be maintaining the level of non native species suppression obtained by the professional treatments. Volunteers will be critical to the process helping us locate and identify new outbreaks, monitor and control existing populations, and educate the public to the threats posed by non native invasive plant species. If you would like to learn more about Florida ecosystems by volunteering in the Back Woods at Mosi, please contact our volunteer team, Joel Bates,, or Esteban Tarré,, at (813) 987-6370.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Local Native Plant Guide

The English Creek Native Tree & Plant Tour guidebook featuring many of the most common trees and plants found in bottomland hardwood forests in our area of central Florida is now available online.

The guidebook contains color photographs of key identifying characteristics as well as details about the plants' uses, range, and habitat. This is a nice portable reference manual for the layman and professional alike.
A similar project is in the works for our little forest. We will have a guidebook to common plant species of the Back Woods as well as a self guided tree tour before the end of next year.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sandhill Surprise

Florida sandhill and scrub systems are two of my favorite plant communities. There are so many neat things to be found. And, today I found something new to me! Too Cool!!!

While searching for wiregrass and checking on the progress of the liatris (shortleaf gayfeather: Liatris tenuifolia), I almost stepped right past this little beauty. This gem is the native terrestrial orchid Pteroglossaspis ecristata, common name giant orchid or false coco or wild coco. Native to the Southeast, it is threatened in Florida and endangered in North Carolina. Upland habitat loss and fire suppression are likely the key reasons for this plants decline.

Now with a mouthful of a name like Pteroglossaspis ecristata, I just had to find out what the derivation was! Pteron (wing), glossa (lip), aspis (shield) then ecristata for without crest. Interestingly enough, this plant used to be genus Eulophia which means well crested. That means the original naming was well crested without crest. (I am such a plant nerd!)

The foliage has an almost pleated appearance and could be easily mistaken for palmetto or sabal seedling if you were not paying attention.

And I actually did find a clump of wiregrass. Hard to believe but, I think it is the only one.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sandhill Show N Tell

Today, I was treated to a multitude of six-lined racerunners (Cnemidophorus sexlineatus sexlineatus) scurrying about in the sandhill. Every step I took sent zippy little teeids scurrying in every direction (they are supposedly capable of running up to 18mph). Amazingly, one allowed me to get close enough to snap a couple of photos.

One of our western sandhill residents... gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)...I call him Fred.

A little ceraunus blue (Hemiargus ceraunus) butterfly atop narrowleaf silkgrass (Pityopsis graminifolia).

Florida harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex badius)... I love how they usually adorn the perimeter of the mound with charcoal.

Habitat Restoration

I am excited to share that we are about to undertake a major step towards the restoration of our little forest!

Like many urban and natural areas, the Back Woods has been overrun with non native plants that often out-compete and displace our native plants and potentially alter the functions of the ecosystems.

Beginning as early as the end of this week, 3-5 man crews from Biological Research Associates will begin treating these non native invasive plant species mechanically and with herbicides.

Over the next 30-40 days sections of the forest will be closed as the treatments are applied. Signs will be posted to let you our guests know what areas have any entry restrictions.

The products that will be used are professional formulations of the same chemicals many of you may have used in your own gardens e.g. Roundup for weeds and Brush Be Gone for poison ivy.

In a few weeks time the treatments will become very noticeable. Many of the non native invasive vines and ferns that cover large areas in the forest will brown out as they die. Swaths of some non native invasive trees and large shrubs will be cut and removed opening up areas previously densely vegetated. Native species will once again have space to grow and thrive.

Please feel free to email any questions you may have about the process. I always enjoy the opportunity to share information on our restoration activities and the benefits of controlling non native species.

Here are a few links to information about non native plants in our natural areas.
(Control and ID of non native plants found in Hillsborough County for the homeowner can be found here.)
Florida Division of Forestry
UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants
Florida Invasive Plant Initiative in Parks
Nonnative Invasive Plants of Southern Forests
Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council

“…approximately 46% of the federally listed threatened and endangered species in the United States are considered to be imperiled in part due to impacts of invasive species….and…In Florida, approximately $30 million taxpayer dollars are spent annually on invasive plant management on natural areas and waterways” FLDOF

Non Native Invasive Plant Species Found in the Back Woods
(check out the links, you might be surprised to find a few of these in your own back yard)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Weekend Foresters

Volunteer USF Community Plunge:
Volunteers from USF dove into service in the forest on Saturday August 23rd!

Twenty students from varied backgrounds took a day out of the hectic fall semester to help cut and pull vines from the perimeter fence. Armed with only loppers, rakes and handsaws; they grappled with wrist thick grape vines, endless air potato vine, and rock hard sand live oak.

The overgrowth was no match for these determined Bulls!

Much thanks to the young men and women of USF for their service to the community and Museum of Science and Industry!