Chestnut Herbal School

Wild Florida: Young Amorous Lubbers, Madonna and Sarsaparilla Child, and the Ichetucknee

Written and Photographed by Juliet Blankespoor

Intercoastal adventure

Here are more-than-a-few photos of our recent school field trip to Florida, a place dear to my heart for its wild beauty and overflowing biodiversity. Despite the formidable human presence, it still has pockets that are alive, fertile and thriving.The first sets of photos are from a family canoe camping trip to Snuggle Island in the intercoastal waterway off the Atlantic.

Coquina rock beach in Flagler County

The large boulders on the beach are coquina, made of seashell fragments – quite the playground for children, with its endless crevices, hideouts and caves.  Washington Oaks State Park is an excellent place to see coquina beaches; these photos were taken very close to this park.

Intercoastal canoe camping

Pictured above are the germinated seeds of the black mangrove (Avicennia germinans, Acanthaceae), which were washed up on the beach in great numbers. The black mangrove produces seeds that germinate on the mother plant and drop into the water, ready to float some distance, before finding ground and continuing the growth process into seedling. The term for plants bearing germinated seeds is Viviparous. Many unrelated mangrove species evolved vivapary independently, in response to their uniquely challenging maritime habitat.

Florida Coontie – Zamia integrifolia, Zamiaceae

Florida Coontie (Zamia integrifolia, Zamiaceae) is a cycad growing throughout Florida and coastal Georgia. Cycads are ancient plants; they are gymnosperms and are closely related to the conifers, ginkgo and ephedra. The coontie is rare in the wild due to habitat loss and a period of history stranger than fiction. Its roots yield an edible starch after processing (poisonous when raw or unprocessed), and were overharvested and made into animal crackers. It is making a comeback as a popular ornamental in native xeric low maintenance plantings.

We met my students for our last field trip of the year at the Suwannee River, and made a day trip to the Ichetucknee River for a plant float (akin to a plant walk, but from boats instead of foot). The Ichetucknee is a crystal-clear spring fed river, which means that its headwaters are not born from rivulets and streams, as are most rivers, but instead are sourced right from the aquifer. Its waters contain an endless expression of blue, contrasted with the green ribbons of eelgrass; the combination is mesmerizing, to say the least.

Ichetucknee River

Buttressed ash trees reflected in the waters of the Ichetucknee River

Mating eastern lubbers grasshoppers – (Romalea guttata)

My family was picnicking on the beaches of the Suwannee when I noticed something moving out of the corner of my eye. It was a great blue heron approaching us slowly, looking unusual with its downy feathers blowing in the strong breeze, and a deranged look in its eyes. Almost like it was rabid. It also seemed to be begging – maybe for fish? I had never heard to a begging heron, maybe this one was fed enough by fisherpeople that it had unlearned human distrust.

Begging blue heron and cypress trees

Sarsaparilla (Smilax laurifolia, Smilacaceae) roots – Top left Madonna and child (sarsaparilla youngling) Bottom left – Ruby naming each tuber

Pictured here is Sarsaparilla root  (Smilax sp., Smilacaceae) a medicinal and edible root of gargantuan proportions.

Pictured above is a mint family sandhills endemic, too rare for anything but a made-up or local name; my students came up with the name southern pennyroyal. (Dicerandra sp., Lamiaceae)

Juliet and Tom on the Suwannee River

Meet The Green Mastermind Behind Blog Castanea:

Juliet Blankespoor

JULIET BLANKESPOOR is the founder, primary instructor, and Creative Director of the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, an online school serving thousands of students from around the globe. She's a professional plant-human matchmaker and bonafide plant geek, with a degree in botany and over 30 years of experience teaching and writing about herbalism, medicine making, and organic herb cultivation. Juliet’s lifelong captivation with medicinal weeds and herb gardening has birthed many botanical enterprises over the decades, including an herbal nursery and a farm-to-apothecary herbal products business. 

These days, she channels her botanical obsession through her writing and photography in her online programs, on her personal blog Castanea, and in her new book, The Healing Garden: Cultivating and Handcrafting Herbal Remedies. Juliet and her family reside in a home overrun with houseplants and books in Asheville, North Carolina.

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10 thoughts on “Wild Florida – young amorous lubbers, madonna and sarsaparilla child, and the Ichetucknee

  1. What they call the mangrove community here: Red Mangrove (Rhizophora mangle), Black Mangrove (Avicennia germinans), White Mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa), and Buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus). They grow so intertwined, but the trunks themselves tend to grow from different levels, with the Red Mangrove closest to the water and the Buttonwood the furthest.Only White Mangrove and Buttonwood are related. The others demonstrate convergent evolution. I could go on and on! They are part of my daily life, so I decided to enjoy my own backyard.

  2. Snuggle Island!? I want to go there! Beautiful photos Juliet! Brought back so many sweet memories of such a lush and lovely place. (Also- Madonna and Child! haha, you made me laugh out loud!) <3

  3. Thank you for taking us on a very pleasant journey. Enjoyed the images and information. I’m imagining your daughter taking her own herbal students on similar trips in a number of years…what a gift you are giving her!

    • Thanks Patricia! R. would like to start her own school about global warming for kids, so we are working on researching first. She has talked about having a nursery, herbal school,etc. but she’s more interested in animals than plants at this point, and trying to let her interests unfold (while secretly installing a subconscious drive to study botany).

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