Wednesday, September 29, 2010
There’s one in every group, one that marches to the beat of a different drummer. Plants usually grow up in search of light but this perennial has found its’ light another way. Spanish moss or Tillandsia usneoides grows down…down through the cypress trees, down into the light, down into the breezes that spread their seed. Tiny green flowers growing in the axils of the leaves pollinated by wind or insect, I don’t know which; create a long, dehiscent seed pod. When the pod ripens, it explodes, propelling seeds with hairy sails. From time to time the wind blows the delicate plant toward limbs where they clasp on with their rough scales, creating a decorative swag from limb to limb and continue to grow down like water pouring over the trees. They are usually found on cypress, oak and sometimes pine here in south Florida. It is not a moss at all but an epiphyte and a plant dependant on its host plant for support not food. Unlike other aerial plants this one does not have any roots. The blue gray scales on the leaves called trichomes have the ability to soak up nutrients, including water and to conserve moisture during periods of drought.
The pendulous clumps of these soft plants become homes for the yellow throated and northern parula warblers. Other birds use the plant for nesting material. Bats roost in them and there is a jumping spider that also calls it home. Sometimes they become so thick on a branch that when wet, can cause it to break. Over time the growth can actually cut off the light needed by the trees that it uses for support, causing them to weaken. Native Americans found many uses for this plant that include using it as a tea for fevers, the fresh fibers for padding and sponges and the stripped fibers for cordage. Currently, it is used in the plant trade and as stuffing for furniture. I enjoy watching it pour over and down through the swamp.
Being contrary definitely has its’ place.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Today, my seven year old niece asked me to go with her on a walk by the edge of the Pond Cypress swamp and to bring my camera. She often accompanies me on my photographic outings and today she had plenty of direction for me, pointing out only the best shots. One shot was this water lily, Nymphaea odorata Aiton. The first time I spotted them was years ago, shortly after the meteor showers here in August. When I spotted them floating under the cypress my first thought was that they were the remnants of those shooting stars. I guess technically everything is stardust but on that morning they were particularly bright and dazzled me with their freshness against the rust colored water. Since then I have become accustomed to those floating stars marking the coming of fall when they become more plentiful.
But today they became a fresh discovery. I could hear her breath as she gasped when she eyed the singular blossom. What I heard, I realized, was my niece falling in love. Next time she will want to get closer, maybe examine it and ask me questions about how it lives in the water. I will explain the parts of the flower and maybe draw pictures to help her visualize. We’ll take tissue from the leaf and examine the stomata under the microscope. We’ll spend time observing the other life forms that benefit or are harmed from the lily’s presence. As long as she has questions we will keep learning. As long as she continues to fall in love with nature, then she will continue to care for her world.
In the moment that she gasped I was connected to all of those “first times” that impelled my heart to know more. So, take a child out on a walk to a wild place and fall in love all over again with earthly wonders. The planet’s counting on it!
Coming across the Florida Box Turtle, Terrapene Carolina bauri, which resides along the edges of the uplands and wet areas, is a magical experience for me. The Native Americans believe that earth was created by a turtle and that the world rests on her back. The Florida Box Turtle carries her “home” with her and with the aid of a hinged plastron can defend herself against predators by closing her shell. The shell can even regenerate if damaged. Unfortunately, they can’t defend themselves against the loss of their habitat or the increasing fragmentation of their remaining home ranges. Each turtle’s range extends out 750 ft in diameter and if that area is in a subdivision then roads and machinery are their obstacles.
I was fortunate enough to spot this omnivore, as it walked across the grass and nabbed a beetle. The recent rains added to the vibrant yellow stripes on the black domed shell, showcasing a vibrant design of lines and dashes with a raised yellow stripe down the length of the carapace. There seemed to be a hidden message there in a language I couldn’t read, a sort of hieroglyphics. This particular one was a female. The plastron was convex in contrast to the male with a concave plastron and the iris was yellow brown while a male’s is red. They are easy to spot now, either feeding or soaking in the water and hopefully, I will get to witness some egg laying.
Sadly, Florida Herp law allows for these turtles to be collected without a permit. The law states that you may have up to two turtles and two eggs in your possession at any one time. However, you do need a permit if you intend to sell them. I recently read that they bond with the place of their birth and when captured, become stressed and succumb to disease. I hope that others will see that this unique creature needs to stay in the wild and that we need to think carefully about our wildlife corridors if we want them to be around. Perhaps that is the message hidden on their backs.