Wild Florida - Young Amorous Lubbers, Madonna and Sarsaparilla Child, and the Ichetucknee
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.
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.
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) 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.
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.
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)