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|CP Trip 2008 in Alabama /Florida/Georgia : April 26 - May 4
|by Makoto Honda
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CP Trip 2008 - Alabama/Florida/Georgia
I took another CP trip to the Florida panhandle area. This time, the main purpose was to observe various pitcher plant species in the region. Of course, there are many other CPs growing in this area, including sundews, butterworts and bladderworts. I had made a detailed itinerary for the trip, but I intentionally kept my schedule flexible. As it turned out, I changed my plan frequently based on the growing condition of the plants and the local weather conditions. I was lucky that I got hit by a bad storm only once.
THIS IS HOW MY TRIP WENT:
Arrived at Mobile Regional Airport at 2:15pm local time. Rented a compact at Hertz. The sun still shining high in the sky, I visited a Sarracenia preserve in southern Alabama. Plants observed were Sarracenia leucophylla, S. psittacina, S. purpurea, Drosera capillaris & D. filiformis. Flowers of S. leucophylla were mostly done. New leaves were just coming out. S. psittacina was still blooming. D. filiformis bearing many newly emerged flower stems but no flowers yet. New glandular leaves were growing, glistening in the sun.
I took many pictures until the evening and decided to head east toward the central part of the Florida panhandle. I slightly miscalculated the distance/time and ended up spending the night in the town called De Funiak Springs (FL). I found a room in Hotel Funiak, an interesting historical hotel in this historical town. Got a takeout from a nearby Chinese restaurant just in the nick of time before they closed for the day.
In my planning for this trip, I had decided that the daylight must be used for picture taking. If I had to move from Point A to Point B, driving had to be done after the sun was gone, from 6 pm to midnight.
I left the hotel early in the morning, heading east to the Apalachicola National Forest. There, I spent the whole day, driving around, looking for prospective sites, throwing myself into the bog. I visited several sites, where I was able to observe various pitcher plants habitats. Plants seen were Sarracenia leucophylla, S. psittacina, S. purpurea, Drosera capillaris, D. filiformis, Pinguicula planifolia, P. ionantha, Utricularia subulata and Dionaea.
I saw massive, dense populations of Sarracenia flava. Flowers were finished long ago. S. psittacina were blooming well in many places. D. filiformis were blooming everywhere. So were D. capillaris. Oh yes, in one locality, I found Venus flytraps, growing very healthily, bearing many flower stems but not flowering yet. In fact, in some area the ground was densely covered with VFs. They were just starting to produce erect, summer leaves. Many seedlings were also observed, indicating the VFs were well established here.
Just like the previous March trip, I suffered from constant attacks from an army of nasty mosquitoes in the field. I was planning to bring an insect repellant, but decided against it at the last moment thinking it would be confiscated anyway at the airport security check. I took many pictures until 6 pm in the evening. I decided to stay in a local motel. A nightly weather forecast was predicting a heavy rain tomorrow.
My nightly chores included down-loading all the pictures I took through the day to my Dell laptop, so I could clear the CF cards for the next day shoot. I carried two 8GB cards, one in the camera and one more just in case. Also important was to charge the camera battery and the cell phone. The GPS would charge in the car. I enjoyed reviewing the pictures of the day on a large PC monitor, but this took a lot of time.
2008-April-28 (Mon) PHOTOS: Revisited the same sites
Indeed, it did rain during the night, but the morning brought some sunshine. I revisited some of the same sites in the Apalachicola Forest. It rained on and off the whole morning. Saw many S. psittacina plants flowering but some petals were already damaged. A few weeks earlier would have been perfect for blossom shots. New pitcher leaves were just coming out. Spring leaves of S. psittacina tend to be erect or at least semi-erect, as contrasted to the leaves further into the season that are typically decumbent in this species.
Initially, I was planning to stay in the south for a few days. Having shot many pictures here, however, I decided to head for northern Alabama - to see S. oreophila. Considering the distance I left Mariana, FL around 2:30pm. Using Rt.230, I drove to Montgomery, and then proceeded on I-65 North. I arrived at Gadsden past 8:00pm. I decided to stay here for the night.
Leaving my motel in Gadsden at 8:30am, I headed north to see one of the few remaining S. oreophila populations in northern Alabama. This is a preserve owned by the Nature Conservancy. The plants are considered endangered, and are federally protected. I had obtained permission to visit the preserve. As usual, I made countless wrong turns in spite of the help from my GPS unit. I finally found the site. It was a relatively small colony, covering, say, a 20 x 20 meter area in an open field in the forest. I was astonished by the dense growth of this population. I am happy to report that the plants were doing very well, sprouting new, spring pitcher leaves. Many flowers were seen, and many flower buds were also present, though not all plants had an inflorescence. This is a species in which flowers and pitchers are produced simultaneously. In this population the pitcher leaves were predominantly green. Here and there I noticed some pitchers with heavier venations, but majority of the leaves here were almost pure green. I wonder if the veins get stronger in a month or so, as there is a general tendency in all pitcher plants that the leaves get darker and deeper in color in the course of a summer as the pitchers age. There was no other carnivorous plants to be found in this site. I was told a prescribed burn had taken place this February, and the plants obviously responded very positively. I am glad to see this endangered species well protected in the hands of the Nature Conservancy.
After taking many pictures to my heart's content, I drove to another S. oreophila site, only an hour or so further north. This is the site I visited some 29 years ago. I managed to find the place using my old CP trip notes as a sole guide. As I entered the site, I noticed a big sign "The Nature Conservancy." This must have been a relatively new acquisition by the Conservancy. Walking along the trail, I looked for a sign of S. oreophila for an hour, to no avail. I almost gave up, but just for one last time, I re-measured the spot from a marker in a nearby town, based on the information in my hand-written note. I entered the forest and carefully looked for a trace of pitcher plants. I did not see any, then I noticed a colony of large ferns. I vividly remember S. oreophila was growing among huge ferns. This must have been the spot where I saw S. oreophila. Now, 29 years later, only the ferns had survived..... Then I noticed a green pitcher or two, several feet from me, hidden among large green ferns. It was like finding an long-lost friend.
If I remember it wasn't a large colony 29 years ago.... perhaps 20 x 20 m, supporting less than a few hundred plants. Now in the year 2008, I counted 30-50 individuals. A very modest existence. I saw one inflorescence. The pitchers were not as well developed as the previous site. But, otherwise, the plants looked healthy. I noticed some growth of sphagnum moss nearby, but no other carnivorous plants were found.
Next, I headed for De Soto Park, another known site for S. oreophila. I visited this site also 29 years ago. At that time I observed a handful of plants along the river. The plants were exhibiting only their characteristic, sharply curved phylodia. I attempted to find the spot, but my decade-old information wasn't sufficient to re-discover the site. Here in the park, I was given permission to enter another S. oreophila site in private land adjacent to the park maintained by the Heritage Foundation. A ranger and an ecologist kindly escorted me to the site. The habitat was deep in the forest, and due to the absence of controlled burns for the past several years, the surrounding vegetation was robbing S. oreophila of needed sunlight. Scattered among blooming azaleas, the pitcher plants were not doing very well. Many plants were just beginning to sprout new leaves. Some flower buds were seen. The plants in general were small er than the first site and appeared less developed. Apart from the general poor condition/health of the plants, the higher altitude of this locality may be delaying the yearly lifecycle of the plants compared with the more southern populations.
The day coming to an end, I took a room in a motel in Fort Payne, AL.
2008-April-30 (Wed) PHOTOS: Sarracenia alabamensis
Leaving the motel in the morning, I decided to swing by at the first dense S. oreophila site that I visited yesterday - one last time - before heading back south. The entire S. oreophila colony was glowing in golden yellow in the morning sun.
I retraced my way back south to visit a habitat of another pitcher plant species. This is a known site for S. alabamensis, yet another endangered species receiving federal protection. There are only a few extant populations of this species, all centered around central Alabama.
Around noon, I came back to central Alabama. My destination was a preserve owned by the Nature Conservancy, and one needs prior written permission to enter the property. I was anxious to visit the site since I had never seen this species in the wild. After a few wrong turns, I managed to find the road leading to the preserve. And after a little walk into the mountain, I managed to find the plants!
My first impression was that the plants were small er than I anticipated. I was told the plants were not doing very well this year due to the burn conducted just a month ago or so. Also, the substrate appeared a bit too dry. The plants tend to do better and grow larger, I was told, in a wetter soil condition. Only a few flowers were seen. Even so, I was able to observe their unique montane habitat.
After taking some pictures, I went back to my car, and opened my road map. Gazing at my schedule, I made a sudden decision to go to Waycross, GA. This was completely outside of my original itinerary. It was still early afternoon. I figured I could make it to Waycross by 11:00 pm. I kept driving into the night, but, still two hours to Waycross, I decided to call it a day. I stayed overnight at Tifton, GA.
This morning I hit the road early, arriving at Waycross at 9:00 am. South of Waycross lies the vast and majestic Okefenokee Swamp. I had been to Okefenokee once. I was excited to visit the swamp again. Of course, I would not have time to explore the Okefenokee swamp and take a canal trip as I had done in the past, but I did drive around this area and was able to take pictures of many carnivorous plants abundantly growing in and around the Okefenokee area.
Especially, I was able to see many purple flowers of Pinguicula caerulea, which I had missed in my Florida trip two months earlier. I am under the impression that yellow flowered P. lutea starts blooming a few weeks earlier than purple flowered P. caerulea. I saw only a few remaining flowers of P. lutea. As for pitcher plants I saw many S. minor plants on the same grassland. They were also blooming but the height of blossom seemed to have passed. Drosera capillaris and D. intermedia were growing together and blooming also.
Plants observed were................. Sarracenia minor, S. psittacina, Pinguicula caerulea, P. lutea, P. pumila, Drosera capillaris, D. intermedia, D. filiformis, Utricularia subulata, U. gibba, U. inflata & U. purpurea.
I drove back to Florida and stayed in a motel in Tallahassee, FL.
2008-May-02 (Fri) PHOTOS: Venus Flytrap
Leaving Tallahassee early in the morning, and after making a few stops in Apalachicola Forest sites, I decided to spend some time in the Eglin Air Force Base, looking for Pinguicula primuliflora. I came very close (I felt) because I found a nice creek.... but I could not find the plants in the time available for me. It was getting dark, so I left Eglin AFB and got a motel in a small town in southern Alabama. My return flight was 3:15pm tomorrow. I had to be at the airport no later than 2:00 pm.
2008-May-03 (Sat) PHOTOS: Sarracenia leucophylla
I woke up early in the morning. Before relinquishing my car at the airport, I wanted to swing by one more time at the same Sarracenia preserve in southern Alabama to see Sarracenia leucophylla. One week earlier, the plants were just sprouting new spring leaves. I thought the leaves would be nicer now. I left the motel heading for the site. The sky was totally grey, as forecast by the TV weatherman last night. When I got there, I felt a few drops of rain hitting me and my camera. As the last thought I grabbed my umbrella from the car and started to hit the trail. After I had walked only a small distance, I noticed a large white patch off the trail. I hadn't gone there last time. I approached the area. It was a large, dense colony of S. leucophylla. I had never seen such an extensive colony. All new leaves were in perfect condition. I managed to take a few shots but this was not an ideal situation, to say the least.
Now the rain increased its strength. Big drops were hitting my camera. Newer cameras (including my D300) can endure the rain due to their tight water/dust seal construction, but my older lenses are not so water-tight. Besides, what kind of pictures could I take in the rain? The rain started to pour heavily. I was hearing deafening thunders, some too close for comfort. I had to run back to my car. I threw myself and all the gears into the car. The rain was so hard I could not see anything through the car windows. The time was around 10 am. I had to make a decision. I must return to the airport by 2 pm at the latest. But I did not want to pass this S. leucophylla photo opportunity. I did not have any idea when this violent storm would let up. Would tomorrow a better day? I had to take a chance. I called the airline and cancelled my return flight reservation. I headed back to the small town that I had stayed last night. Some portion of the local road was flooded very badly. I arranged a room for the day at the same motel, and decided to hunt for the power code for my laptop that I lost in the Tallahassee motel. My GPS found a Radio Shack in a nearby town. There, it took me half an hour to find the right power supply for my Dell. In the town I noticed a nice, quaint buffet open for lunch, so nothing else to do, I decided to have an early lunch. In this kind of CP trip it is not uncommon that I cannot have a lunch, certainly not in the restaurant, because the daytime hours are very precious for shooting. As I finished my brunch, I noticed the rain was getting light. And then, almost stopped. I was told that a typical storm front was wide, but very thin. It passes a given area in a matter of a few hours. I even noticed the sky lighting up a bit.
It was still just after 12 noon. I decided to go back to the site. When I got there, half the width of the trail was flooded with running water. I proceeded to the large S. leucophylla colony. I was afraid that new, fragile pitchers might have been badly damaged by the violent downpour, but I saw only a few rain-bent pitchers. The sky was getting even lighter, and I was able to take many pictures for a few hours in a well diffused lighting condition.
Plants observed were.................
My new return flight was at 4:15 pm. I drove back to Mobile and then headed west to Mississippi to see some S. alata habitats. The last time I came come to this area was 29 years ago. I was able to see many vacant lands then near Ocean Springs filled with solid S. alata population. Needless to say, now, all the vacant lands were claimed for urban development. Even so, for a few hours that were available to me, I was able to see and photograph some S. alata plants along the shoulder of the road. I did not have time to search for any large colonies. I did not see any flowers, but some pitchers were pretty colorful with strong red venation. I saw many Drosera capillaris putting up many flowers alongside the ditches.
During the preparation for this trip, I obtained useful information from Keith Tassin, Director, Alabama Chapter of the Nature Conservancy. Without his generous help and directions, I would not have been able to observe all the habitats of many rare species in Alabama. I was gratified that many endangered CP were well protected under the dedicated effort of the Nature Conservancy. A large scale protection of the land is the only effective way to preserve the ecosystem and its endangered inhabitants within. I encourage everyone to support their conservation effort.
For the various CP sites in Florida that I was able to explore, I am indebted to Professor Thomas Miller, of Florida State University, whose generous help and guidance were indispensable for the fruitful outcome of this trip. I am hopeful that these CP sites will remain healthy and undisturbed from development, and support vigorous CP populations for many decades and generations to come.
In this CP trip, I had encountered, quite accidentally, several CP enthusiasts in the field. It was very informative to exchange information with people sharing the same interest.
On this trip I
used basically the same photo equipment as the previous trip except that
my Micro Nikkor 55mm was replaced by a new
Nikkor 60mm lens. Also, this time I carried a Dell laptop for photo
storage. I filled 80GB of hard disk memory during the trip. I used a
Nikon D300 at ISO200 most of the time, with RAW + Basic JPEG setting .
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