Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don't claim them. Feel the artistry moving through and be silent. ~ Rumi

Monday, August 30, 2010

Guardian of the forest

“Guardian of the Forest” or Ix-canan is the name that Mayans gave to the Firebush, Hamelia patens. But as its common name suggests this plant is on fire. Or at least it appears that way. Even in the coldest days of winter here in South Florida its embers of life are smoldering deep within its roots. The cold stopped its growth dead in its tracks during the freeze this past winter but some of the leaves hung on, changing to lighter reds and greens in hopes of catching those different wave lengths of light. Growth was slow and steady during the spring months but as soon as the heat and wet of summer hit, it exploded with green growth and blossoms.

Each blossom strikes up a flame of such intensity, that the hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and ants just can’t ignore. The anoles wait patiently on the branches in hopes of catching those nectar seeking ants and once in awhile land a butterfly. As I looked closer on this plant and watched the pollinators, I observed that the ants were crawling in and out of holes just above the ovary. These holes were absent from the newly formed flowers. I then watched as a carpenter bee, too large to climb down into the tubular flower, appeared to pierce the base with its mouth parts. I thought this was clever for the bee and fortunate for the plant that the ants were distributing the pollen while they crawled around. There seemed to be more than enough nectar to go around.

Towards the end of summer and into the fall the berries attract song birds. They are not particularly sweet enough for my tastes but I can see making a jam or jelly from them. The firebush also has many medicinal uses that have been discovered by the indigenous people of Central and South America, the West Indies and Mexico. These uses are many and include treating burns, another reference to its name, to healing headaches. With its gift of abundance it’s easy to feel gratitude for this marvelous plant.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Florida Fairies

I first became interested in native Florida orchids ten years ago when one almost hit me on the head. It was right after a summer storm and I was standing under an oak tree in Okeechobee. I suppose the limbs had weakened because when a wind came up, one fell right in front of me. The limb was about the size of my arm, water logged and mostly rotten. It was covered in bromeliads, resurrection fern and what I identified as a butterfly orchid, Encyclia tampensis.

What a great way to sensitize yourself to the wonders of nature in Florida! Ever since then I always look up and into the trees. I also look right into the face of the flower. Not an attractant to butterflies, this epiphyte’s general appearance seems to resemble a kaleidoscope of butterflies. But the petals actually look like little angels or fairies to me. The flower is made up of five sepals that appear green with orange brushed over them and there are three white petals; two on either side of the column that resemble wings if we are still thinking of the fairy analogy, and a broader petal or lip is brushed with purple that resembles a dress. Fairies and angels aside, I’ve always been intrigued by that clever adaptation of orchids to entice their pollinators to come hither. That petal could serve as a landing pad for pollinators and the splash of color and sweet fragrance really does seem to point the way to the ambrosia that awaits them. And if you look at the orchid’s “face” straight on, is there some resemblance to an insect? Maybe, I still see fairies. In my own wanderings I have seen it growing on oaks along streams or river beds and up in the cypress trees. This protected orchid is not as prolific as it once was due in part to habitat loss and cold spells but if you find yourself in a wild area after a storm, watch out, they fall down a lot.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Exceptional Encounter

My dream is to be a painter so I paint every day. This morning I was pulled from my canvas after listening to the call of a swallow tailed kite. At first the sound was in the background of my activities but it continued and pulled me outside to connect the voice with the action taking place. Right in my backyard in the canopy of the slash pine was a juvenile swallow tailed kite alternately calling out and shredding what appeared to be a squirrel. I had known that these birds eat mostly on the wing so I was delighted to get a glimpse of something I might not ordinarily see. I also know that its’ talons are not as strong as other raptors so it normally takes smaller prey. As it ate it appeared to use its right wing as an arm to help hold down the animal and/or to balance on the branch. After the bird’s meal was finished, he dropped down off the branch and spiraled around the tree and up.

The rains this week have lightened the air and the shadows seem slightly longer. It’s almost the middle of August and these beautiful birds will soon leave us for South America. With chicks fully fledged I’m told that just before they leave they gather together in a flock just at the western edge of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Perhaps they talk about their journey they are about to undertake, across the Gulf of Mexico over to Central America and onto their wintering grounds in South America. I imagine that they check to see that everyone has had an opportunity to ride the thermals since that is what they will use to get to their destination. If not I suppose that someone will keep an eye on those that fledged too late for that activity. There may even be some discussion as to who will lead the journey. Perhaps they will take turns. I can just imagine. Until then I wish them a bon voyage and look forward to their return in the middle of February.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Midsummer Smorgasbord

The air is heavy and hot but cooler at the water’s edge and full of food, both flora and fauna. Before I head out on my walk, I rub my arms and neck with the leaves of the beauty berry, a prolific native shrub that grows here in the pine uplands. This treatment keeps most of the buzzing insects at bay.

As I approach the pond cypress swamp here in Bonita Springs, I can see that the pond apple trees are actually bending with the weight of their fruit. Swollen plant ovaries are encapsulating fertilized seeds everywhere I look and animals are beginning to take notice of the bounty. Elderberry shrubs are trampled and their fruit stripped from the branches. At the water’s edge the fleabane and the mist flower are still blooming and offer up nectar for the peacock butterflies that are hovering close by. Many wildflowers have set their seed but still some are continuing to bloom. Even the butterfly orchids are setting their seed pods. The yellow cannas imitate bird heads with their pods stretched out ready to burst and the swamp lilies bend down on purpose next to the water to release their seeds.

The water is full of aquatic life, including fish, frogs, snakes and an assortment of invertebrates including shrimp and snails. I inadvertently scare up a southern leopard frog that lets out a scream while jumping into the water. Further out I detect the frog’s round mass of eggs about the size of a softball. Dragonflies hover above and mosquitoes hatch out from below. The beauty berry that I applied earlier is doing its part to keep me out of this food web.

With the high water and availability of food the wading birds have been hard to locate. But today I am happy to report that the old feathered gang is back. Together with snowy egrets, a flock of ibis, an immature blue heron, and a great egret, a small flock of four roseate spoonbills came in to feast at the edge of the cypress pond. I smile and walk back knowing that all is right with this world.