Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Gordonia lasianthus

With a name like that, it has to be cool.

DSCN8201And, it is! The loblolly bay (Gordonia lasianthus) are in bloom in the Back Woods. The white saucer like blossoms might look somewhat like small magnolia flowers but, they are of no relation. Loblolly bay are actually in the tea family (Theaceae) and are  related to the ornamental camellia  that you may have in your yard and the camellia cultivated for the production of tea. Loblolly bay can reach heights up to 65 feet. They prefer wet, poorly drained acid soils and are commonly found in wet  flatwoods forest systems. The blooming period of loblolly is fairly short (usually just June through July) and individual flowers last only a day or two. So, now is the time to stop by the Back Woods and catch a glimpse of this flatwoods beauty before the show is over.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Flickers and Cicada Killers

I spotted a yellow shafted flicker (Colaptes auratus) this morning along the trail in the southern portion of the woods. This bird was unmistakable with its bright white rump noticeable as it flew off from the trail and the tiny red patch visible on the back of its head as it lit into a tree. Although not threatened, flicker populations have been noted to be on the decline. Protecting and maintaining nesting snags (dead trees) in the forest, parks, and other natural areas can be helpful in protecting populations of flickers in our area. This is one more new species for the Back Woods list of visitors and residents.

The cicada killers are emerging and are notable through out the forest. Dodging them is sometimes a challenge. It can be an even greater challenge when they are weighed down in flight with a cicada in their grasp! Check out Prof. Chuck Holliday's Cicada Killer Page for more info on these really cool wasps.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Another Day in the Woods

I just knew today was going to be a little absurd. You know the feeling… you are sure everything is going to be slightly askew. With that thought in mind, a grin on my face, and loppers in hand I headed for the woods. My heart sank in the sandhill when I saw what appeared to be one of the larger adult gopher tortoise dead in the mouth of a burrow a little too small for it. The burrow was collapsed at the top and the apron and surrounding bare sand held imprints of dog paws. Reaching in to the burrow to retrieve the body I was treated to a hiss and flip of sand by a still kicking tortoise. Fortunately our little guy had survived but was obviously exhausted by the ordeal of escaping from a domestic dog and still with back to wall per se wedged in a too small burrow. I left it be and happy to find it recovered later in the day. Dealing with free roaming domestic animals, other feral non native animals, and even some native predator species are some of the greatest challenges to maintaining a natural area for native wildlife in urban areas. Gopher tortoises are susceptible to predation from dogs, cats, armadillo, opossum, and raccoons. All of these animals are known to predate juvenile tortoise and eggs while dogs pose the greatest threat to adult tortoise. Forgive me if I am repetitive in the message of being a responsible pet owner. Please do not allow your domestic animals to roam free. Most of the animals we consider as pets are predators and no matter how well fed will prey on any native wildlife they come upon. Never release unwanted pets in the wild. Domestic pets dumped in the wild are subject to injury and death from other animals and disease. Of course spay and neuter to prevent reproduction should your pet get out or get away. Preaching done, thanks.

DSCN8150 How is it that a plant this pretty is such a pain in the back side?! My perpetual nemesis the air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera) is on the come back after the treatments of last fall and spring. This PDF on Air Potato Management in Florida tells you all you need to know and more about air potato. Should you happen to feel the need to enact your own form of vengeance on this pernicious example of flora; I would welcome any assistance in maintaining control of this green monster in the Back Woods. Potential attacks could come in the form of air potato pick ups, hand pulling vines, or machete meets vine action and I’ll bring up the rear with the herbicides. In the process, you will hopefully come across a few examples of the resident wildlife, flowering native plants, and donate a few thimbles of blood to the mosquito population. Possibly you might find an interesting artifact or two.

DSCN8154 What an odd little find. This strange little “bird” figurine almost looked like a mummified bird body when I first came across it in the leaf litter. A closer look around revealed several other old plastic toys and children’s items long ago discarded in another one of the Back Woods’ remnant trash heaps. All of this was beneath a very nifty toppled laurel oak (Quercus laurifolia), with a 10 foot diameter pancake of upturned root system, still happily growing horizontally.

DSCN8156 Also beneath the oak was a smattering of Virginia chain fern (Woodwardia virginica) and even a clump of royal fern (Osmunda regalis). I really need to buff up on my ferns again. It’s all about venation and where the sori are! (LOL) A nice online key to ferns in southwest Florida can be found on the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary website.

DSCN8159 (plant nerd alert) And then I looked up to see a sprig of inequilaterally based, doubly serrate margined, distinctly parallel veined leaves and shouted to the sky, “It’s an elm!” To the west of the sinkhole complex there are several long dead snags of American elms (Ulmus americana) (now charred from the brush fire) but I have not come across a single live American elm anywhere on the property. Now, low and behold, one skinny little sapling was arching its way out of the weedy brush towards the light right in front of me. It had taken advantage of growing space provided by the falling of that big laurel oak mentioned earlier and was holding its own against the smother of elderberry and wax myrtle (Morella cerifera). Yay, new tree species to add to diversity of the site.


I leave with you the simple raceme of gopher apple (Licania michauxii). One of my favorite plants (aren’t they all). These petite blossoms will give way to a delicious ( to the peculiar palate) white egg shape fruit. The taste is some what reminiscent of the philodendron Monstera deliciosa and simultaneously of that of something overripe. A couple of fairly large patches of gopher apple are really putting on a show right now in the western sandhill. There should be lots of fruit for the gopher tortoise with maybe a few left over for me.

Happy weekend. Get outside!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Playing in the Woods

Volunteers have been pivotal in helping us achieve some of the clean up and restoration goals in the Back Woods. We  have opportunities for interested and dedicated individuals to serve on a reoccurring basis and help us with day to day maintenance and restoration. Want to come play in the woods  a day or a few days a month this summer? We currently have up to 10 openings for volunteers to be Forest Stewards for the Back Woods.


Volunteer Forest Steward opportunities:

Volunteer opportunities are open to individuals who can commit to a minimum of once a month service on a reoccurring basis. One time group projects can be coordinated.

Preservation Steward
Position description: Preservation stewards may be involved in trail construction and maintenance, boardwalk construction and maintenance, native plantings, invasive plant removal, habitat protection, and basic forest upkeep.
Requirements: Must be at least 18 years of age and capable of working out-of-doors year round in extremes of temperature. Position requires a moderate to high level of physical capability. Previous experience with landscape related hand tools and power tools helpful but not required. Closed toe shoes and long pants are required year round.
Shifts: Monday through Friday 8am to noon as available

Monitoring Steward

Position description: Monitoring Stewards may be involved in collecting data on the plants and animals present in the Back Woods, establishing photo reference points to track habitat changes, quantitative measure of plant populations, updating database records, locating and recording positions of invasive species, and assisting in basic forest upkeep.

Requirements: Must be at least 18 years of age and capable of working out-of-doors year round in extremes of temperature. Position requires a moderate to high level of physical capability. Knowledge of Central Florida plant/animal species and habitat types helpful but not necessary. Closed toe shoes and long pants are required year round.

Shifts: Monday through Friday 8am to noon as available

Outreach Steward (Coming Soon)

Position description: Outreach Stewards may be involved in docent activities in the Back Woods including; conducting nature walks and developing/delivering natural resource related talks for MOSI guests, school groups and the general public.

Requirements: Must be at least 18 years of age and capable of working out-of-doors year round in extremes of temperature. Position requires a moderate to high level of physical capability. Working knowledge of Central Florida native flora, fauna, and habitats preferred. Closed toe shoes and long pants are required year round.

Shifts: Variable daytime shifts and weekends may be available as the program develops.

Please contact Carolyn at crhodes@mosi.org for more information on volunteer positions.

Turtle Crossing Merit Badge


If you live in Florida, you have no doubt already earned your helping a turtle cross the street merit badge a hundred times over. Once again I was called into action. Along with requisite consumption of two very strong cups of coffee, this mornings duties included helping a turtle navigate a daunting curb after crossing the street. Although I sure this Florida box turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri) would have been quite capable of navigating along the curb until he came to grass again; I really didn’t want him to spend that much time on the roadway with the all the summer school traffic coming in this morning.  And of course it gives me an excuse to share him with you.


A very easy to ID turtle in the field; the Florida box turtle has a very dark brown carapace (top of the shell) with bright yellow striations. This little guy was also easily identified as a male from the deep indentation at the rear of the plastron (belly of the shell). Another neat feature of the box turtle is the hinge on the forward portion of the plastron which allows the box turtle to nearly seal himself in completely.


Not previously noted in any historical wildlife sightings in the Back Woods; this Florida box turtle is a welcome addition to our little forest home.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Diminutive in Blue


A lovely carpet of  Baldwin’s eryngo (Eryngium baldwinii Spreng.) has developed on the margin of the forest near the old wetland boardwalk/overlook. Common throughout Florida into Georgia this plant is frequently found in moist open pinelands and disturbed areas. In the celery family (Apiaceae), the tiny oblong globes of flowers start out white and develop into a rich cornflower blue hue making for a delightful dapple of color nearly year round.


Friday, June 5, 2009

Elderberry Time


One of my favorite plants found in the Back Woods (and found  throughout most of the US and Canada) is the elderberry; Sambucus nigra L. subsp. canadensis (L.)Bolli. In the honeysuckle family Caprofoliaceae, it has beautiful fragrant white flowers arranged in dense flat clusters reminiscent of  the more herbaceous Queen Anne’s lace of more northern climes. Following those fabulous flowers come some quite delectable black/purple berries that are perfect to stew up into some jelly or jam or ferment into a fine elderberry wine. Notably the rest of the plant, including unripened berries, is mildly toxic. ( When in doubt never consume any wild fruit or other plant parts)


Very popular with wildlife, this plant can be found in semi shaded dry areas and tolerates full sun in moist conditions. Elderberry is a vigorous pioneering species readily colonizing any clearing particularly on moist sites. Deciduous in the winter and resprouting every spring in dense clumps; Elderberry can be easily recognized in the field even when not in flower by it’s distinctive compound leaves and soft pithy stems covered in warty lenticels.