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.