Now, three months after the prescribed burn, in-between the blackened pines with their flush of green and the flowering saw palmettos, a carpet of gopher apple, Licania michauxii, lines this forest floor. Their shiny lime green leaves provide quite a contrast to the once bare and ash covered ground. They are flowering now and I have heard that the ripe purple fruit which is a 1” long elliptical drupe is not only a food source for gopher tortoises and other wildlife but can be eaten by humans as well. I look forward to trying them but hear that they are quite popular with the wildlife and I might not be able to find many once they ripen. It’s not surprising then, that these gopher burrows I noticed so prominently after the fire, border this patch of ground cover. Other ground covers have taken root as well, each according to its own needs. The placement of plants resembles a patchwork quilt and my brain is flooded with all the variables in soil, moisture and light that make this possible.
Among the low growing groundcovers is Phyla nodiflora or frogfruit, one that I also find in my weedy lawn. In other areas the ground is carpeted with perennial seedlings such as rusty Lyonia, beauty berry, groundsel, and wax myrtle. Grape and hemp vines are sprouting up next to the palmettos but the edges between the pines and palmettos contain a large variety of flowering annual wildflowers. Those areas include Spanish needles, fleabane, tickseed, heliotrope, purple thistle, and large patches of ragweed, one of the first to sprout up after the burn. Invasive Caesar weed is also present with bushy clumps of dog fennel. Saw palmettos are in bloom and their inflorescences punctuate the blackened floor with their cascading white flowers. I find the fragrance sweet as do the bees and treasure the honey made from these flowers that help me fight off allergies. Raccoons, deer and bears go after these plants in the fall when the fruits have ripened. I have tried the saw palmetto berries but can’t recommend them as a taste treat. However, it is used in some medicines.
The diversity of plant life demonstrates how fire can be regenerative and necessary to the health of this pine upland ecosystem and adds to my own health and well being. In 2-3 years this land will be ripe for another burn either wild or prescribed and this cycle will begin again. Until then, I will compete with the rest of the fauna, waiting for a taste of the ripe gopher apple fruits!