Monday, August 4, 2014

Botanizing the Florida Panhandle: Blackwater River State Forest

*Part I* *Part II* *Part III* *Part IV*

It's hard to believe it has been nearly a month since I returned from the Florida panhandle.  It might be even harder to believe I've been able to get all four posts on the trip published in a week's time!  Your narrator will be the first to admit it can take longer than preferred to get things online.  This fourth and final topic will deal with my short visit to nearby Blackwater River State Forest in the western panhandle. 

Longleaf pine forest after a recent forest fire (more than likely prescribed and purposely set)

The day started out a bit later than planned and was then spent dodging thunderstorms and the smoldering aftermath of numerous forest fires within the state forest.  Blackwater River is known for its contiguous stands of longleaf pine and accompanying wetlands that represent what much of the region looked like pre-settlement. These ecosystems evolved to have an intimate relationship with naturally-occurring and/or man-made wildfires and relied on them to remain healthy and intact.  So it was no surprise to see so much fire management at work and turned out to be a unique opportunity to see the forests in their immediate post-fire charred condition.  Fire doesn't benefit just the flora but the fauna as well in fire-dependent species such as the gopher tortoise, Bachman's sparrow and northern bobwhite.

Pineland Milkweed (Asclepias obovata)

While traversing the sandy roads of Blackwater, I noticed some type of oddly-colored milkweed beginning to bloom among the pines and open sand.  It turned out to be the aptly-named pineland milkweed (Asclepias obovata), a species restricted to the sandy pine forests of the western panhandle.

American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)
American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)






















Another easily noticed plant along the roadsides was the flowering shrub American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) with its pink tufts of axillary flowers.  Similar to the Venus fly traps or pitcher plants from the first couple posts, the beautyberry is a plant more distinguished and well-known for its non-flowering state; specifically its stunning bright purple-pink fruit clusters.

Gopherweed (Baptisia lanceolata)

Learning the distinguishing characteristics of a particular plant family/genera is a helpful accessory to have in your botanical tool belt no matter where your travels take you.  Despite never seeing it before, the three-parted leaves and unique seed pods of the pineland false indigo or gopherweed (Baptisia lanceolata) stood out as something from the Baptisia genus and allowed for a quick sort through Florida's respective species.

Tall Ironweed (Vernonia angustifolia)
Tall Ironweed (Vernonia angustifolia)






















The soaring purple-topped stalks of tall ironweed (Vernonia angustifolia) were just beginning to break bud during my foray and was another plant genera easily recognized by its similarity to its Ohio brethren.  The ironweeds are some of my favorite late summer wildflowers and this particular taxon was one I'd only ever seen as mounted specimens in a handful of different herbaria.  The flowers look nearly identical to our tall or common ironweed (V. gigantea) but the southern tall ironweed's narrow, needle-like leaves definitively set it apart.

Spurred Butterfly Pea (Centrosema virginianum)

Much like my experiences in Apalachicola National Forest, the spurred butterfly pea (Centrosema virginianum) was a common associate to the pineland's understory and speckled the landscape in soft purple splotches when found in exceptionally nice tangles.

Water tupelo swamp and emergent vegetation

Throughout Blackwater River state forest were pockets of shallow wetlands dominated by water tupelo swamps and the occasional bog.  Much of the emergent vegetation I didn't recognize but numerous beak-sedges (Rhynchospora spp.), nut-sedges (Cyperus spp.), umbrella-sedges (Fuirena spp.), rushes (Juncus spp.), yellow-eyed grass (Xyris spp.), fragrant water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) and watershield (Brasenia schreberi) were intermixed at the swamp's margins.

Ten-angled Pipewort (Eriocaulon decangulare

In select spots of one particular tupelo swamp was the unmistakable flowering stems and blooms of the ten-angled pipewort (Eriocaulon decangulare), also known as bog buttons.  They seem almost alien to me and unlike anything else in the plant world, whether in Ohio or Florida.

Ten-angled Pipewort (Eriocaulon decangulare
Whitehead Bogbuttons (Lachnocaulon anceps)






















I'd seen the much smaller common pipewort (E. aquaticum) in upstate New York a couple years before and had no idea other members of the genus got so big.  Growing intermixed with the true pipeworts was the very similar and tiny whitehead bogbuttons (Lachnocaulon anceps); which only managed to cause for more confusion while in the field.  Ohio can only claim one species of Eriocaulon (the aforementioned E. aquaticum) while Florida has a handful of species from both Eriocaulon and Lachnocaulon.

Carolina Redroot (Lachnanthes carolina)

As mentioned many times before in this series, it's fascinating to explore an environment and region so utterly different and separated from your own that plants growing like weeds are something you've never encountered before.  A fuzzy and very eccentric looking wildflower that would come to be known as Carolina redroot (Lachnanthes carolina) was one of those plants and turned some stretches of roadside white with their flowers.  It hails from the predominately southern hemisphere bloodwort family (Haemodoraceae) and was hands down one of the strangest plants I encountered.

Banana Spider or Golden Silk Orb-Weaver (Nephila clavipes)

Speaking of the strange, while exploring the margins of the tupelo swamp from earlier in the post, I about walked face first into the single largest spider I've ever laid eyes on.  Literally.  The banana spider or golden silk orb-weaver (Nephila clavipes) is a frequent species of the Southeast and on into the Caribbean and tropics.  This particular specimen was a female, which is much larger than its male counterpart.  Their "bark" is a lot worse than their bite which is said to hurt less than a bee sting.  I don't think I'll be putting that to the test anytime soon.

Banana Spider or Golden Silk Orb-Weaver (Nephila clavipes)

The spider's markings of brown/yellow/orange/black were quite engrossing and I couldn't help but move in as close as I dared to get a good photo.  I've had my fair share of spiderwebs and their residents end up on my face or clothing and deal with them just fine but this mighty specimen would definitely send me for a loop and screaming in a much higher voice than normal!  This female was every bit of four to four and a half inches long from top to bottom in the photo(s) above.

Thus ends what I have to share on my time on the endlessly charming Florida panhandle.  I barely scratched the surface of the few places I managed to visit but that shallow scrape did enough to thoroughly entice me to return for more.  There are so many other places on my list such as Wakulla Springs, Tate's Hell state forest, Tarkiln Bayou etc. to name but a few.  I hope you enjoyed this look in and found exploring its contents as unfamiliar and captivating as I did writing it!

*Part I* *Part II* *Part III* *Part IV*

2 comments:

  1. Very cool! I saw the beautyberry berries in Alabama last fall- they look like baubles from the craft store! We have seven-angled pipewort in a few special places in Michigan, so I have seen that, but no others in the genus. And I love seeing yet another milkweed!

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  2. Excellent post, Andrew! I'm glad you posted the photo of the Lachnanthes caroliniana, as I too found that one in the NJ pine barrens, but had mis-identified a specimen of it as Lophiola aurea (Gold crest) -- didn't realize there was a different fuzzy, white unusual-looking wildflower found in the region, ha. Although, I did see the true-blue gold crest at another site (but wasn't flowering). Very cool to see quite a few similar plants between the pine barrens of NJ and the panhandle of Florida, despite the fact they are very far apart distance-wise! Loved your series of posts on your trip, looks like you got to see many awesome plants.

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