Monday, March 25, 2013

Bright and Brilliant Spring

Red Buckeye

Spring comes in stages in North Florida.  It's long and drawn out, with blooming starting in January, sometimes even carrying over from the previous year.  Yellow Jessamine, one of the first plants to bloom, sometimes starts to release its yellow blossoms in late November.  In reality, North Florida doesn't get a winter... most years skip from autumn to spring.

Rain Lilies

Along the Apalachicola River, tributary streams have cut into the sloping land to create secluded areas for rare plant and animal life.  One very specific example of this can be found at the Angus Gholson Nature Park in the city of Chattahoochee, FL.  Here, it is a short walk to the great river, with hardwood forests offering a buffer zone from development and safe harbor for many endemic plant species.


A steephead spring near the park's entrance is the birthplace for a stream that runs along the main trail. The stream disappears and reappears from the ground as the terrain drops, the edges of the water often punctuated in February and early March with the highlighter yellow blooms of Erythronium americanum, the Yellow Trout Lily.  Nowhere else in Florida does the plant grow in such abundance.

Trout Lilies 2013

A few weeks after the trout lilies go to seed, the forest is accented by another bright-colored bloom from Rhododendron austrinum, Florida Flame Azalea.  It grows high above the stream on the steepest slopes in the patchy light from overhead trees.

Florida Flame Azalea

A few more weeks into the season, and the giant tulip poplar trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) drop their neon orange-streaked blooms. The forest floor, coated in their petals, resembles the aftermath along a parade route, coated in confetti. It is also around this time that the bright red, cigar-shaped pinkroot (Spigelia marilandica) blooms open, and the delicate, pink flowers of Fringed Campion (Silene catesbaei) unfurl.

Tulip Poplar   Tulip Poplar Petal

Tulip Poplar Bloom

Fringed Campion   Indian Pink or Woodland Pinkroot

There is always something in bloom here, but when spring turns into the intense heat of a North Florida summer, the forest closes in on itself like a secret, weaving together the ever-growing foliage with Smilax vines and the sturdy webs of Golden Silk Orb-weaver spiders.

More photos from Angus Gholson Nature Park throughout the entire year can be found here.


Friday, March 15, 2013


Insect Gall

Nature is not about perfection. Nature is about use and balance, one creature associating with another for some benefit to one or the other or both. In the case of plant galls, the intruder benefits at the plant's expense.

Plant Gall

Galls are formed from the plant's tissue as the insect or fungus affects it.

Plant Gall

For insects, galls provide a birthplace for offspring, food, and shelter.

Insect Galls   Something Hatched
A comparison of the same leaf after one month; larvae have hatched.

At first glance, galls can sometimes look like plant fruits, berries, or seeds.

Insect Galls on Oak Leaves

Galls are normal even in a healthy forest. From my experience, they affect plants heavily in a particular area, even if surrounding areas are gall-free. I have often wondered why some areas were more susceptible than others to the attacks. Perhaps conditions are more favorable.

Globular Hickory Gall

What Is This?  Woolly Oak Leaf Gall

Plant Gall

Plant Gall

Plant Gall

Monday, March 11, 2013

Looking Down Into Water

Florida may be named after its flora, but it is the land of water, too, water that changes moods with every wind, rain, and angle of the sun.  It changes the land, and it changes us.


Want for its mythical Fountain of Youth has turned into an aquifer-sucking need.  Florida’s water is drying up. It seems hard to understand when every river from Escambia to Suwannee County is over its banks after the wettest February on record, but yearly use from population growth outdoes yearly accumulation.  Some bubbling springs have ceased flowing, turning stagnant and warm.

The still bubbling and pristine Juniper Springs

Pollution is another matter, with more water discharging directly into streams than back into the aquifer, much of it rank with manmade chemicals.  Pesticides and fertilizers are very well known in these waters.

But there are still beautiful, water-filled places, despite less groundwater and more pollution from wastewater runoff.  A visitor might not know the difference in the appearance of our spring-fed rivers today compared to only a few decades ago, before the hydrilla started taking over, before the crystal waters began to tinge green and brown.

Ichetucknee River, North End   Sopchoppy River

There is a fight for development versus the necessity of keeping our wild swamps and coasts, the bogs that suck boots right off the feet of any who try to trespass but shelter the most delicate and rarest of nature’s species.

Looking down into water may be a good place to start helping our state.  Maybe the reflections we see in  Florida’s rivers will show us all there is to be gained by saving them.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Flood Stage

The local rivers made it above flood stage recently with all the rain the panhandle received.

Chipola River at Flood Stage The Chipola River near Florida Caverns State Park just north of Marianna, FL crested at 22.97 feet a week ago. Flood stage is 19 feet. The photo above is of a boat ramp just off the highway. You can see the "Please Don't Litter" sign is partially submerged, but farther down the ramp to the far right is the top of a mostly submerged sign. A park across the road was under several feet of water, the flood waters threatening a building up a small hill.