Thursday, January 9, 2014

George LeStrange Preserve

January 6, 2014 3 PM Sunny, 80F  Cold Front visible to the Northwest (vestiges of the Polar Vortex!)

St. Lucie County maintains over 20 Preserves with a minimum of staff.  The largest, Bluefield, has over 3,000 acres, and the total acreage is over 7,000 acres.  George LeStrange is a small (94 acres) and diversified preserve, with a good-sized pond, a creek and an interpretive trail:

The trail is of ecological and botanical interest. Trees here include the Water Hickory, Carya aquatic and Carolina Ash, Fraxinus caroliniana. The Ten Mile Creek was a classic meandering oxbow stream, and some of the previous oxbows (the creek was "straightened") have filled with plants that like to have their roots in, or close to water (like the hickory and ash).
Water Hickory

Carolina Ash
There are many members of the Aster family found in Florida (and throughout the world!).  They are often difficult to distinguish, except by experts.  For example, I found this aster blooming along the trail. 

I conducted significant online study, including this article:

The 20 or fewer disc florets (what normal people may call petals!!), white-mauve colour and long reddish stems indicate the less common Bahamian Aster.  Only an expert could confirm this!

Some plants along the trail are identified in the trail guide.  Printed trail guides are normally a handy reference. Problems arise because the plants, and plant communities, change constantly. So a plant present during one season and year may be absent when you happen to walk the trail. Also, the trail guide's writer may be an expert, or may not be.  Corroboration is always advised if you need a certain identification.

Epiphytes abound in south Florida. Indeed, plants growing on other plants, especially trees, give south Florida its beloved "tropical" look.

One of my favourites, often seen on Live Oak, Quercus virginiana is the small bromeliad, known as Spanish Moss, Tillandsia usneoides (pictured below) . It is neither "Spanish" nor is it a moss.  It is a flowering plant with no roots.

One reader was interested in the recent posting about a unique Florida fern, many of which are also epiphytic.  As mentioned, there are 120 species of ferns in Florida.  Two are often seen on horizontal limbs of oaks and on Sabal palms. 
One is the Golden Polypody, Phlebodium aureum, also called Cabbage Palm Fern (pictured below),  since it is most likely to be seen growing on the old leaf bases, or "boots" which persist on these palms, and which make a convenient anchor for some epiphytes.
The other is the Resurrection Fern, Pleopeltis polypodioides var. michauxiana. This very cool plant responds to dry conditions by browning, curling and shrinking.  Add just a little water, and it "resurrects" quickly.  Some colonies of these ferns observed this year were in flux, common in winter, when rainfall is less reliable.  I saw colonies where half of the individuals were curled up and others were green and full.
This colony, photographed last year at Orcas Preserve, is lush and green.  There was a lot of rain in that period (November, 2012).
The other important trees in the coastal plains of Florida are the oaks.  There are many...Live Oak is a large tree as is the Laurel Oak.  There are many species of small scrub oaks. Myrtle and Chapman Oak are pictured here.  Both don't grow more than 15 feet tall, and can be large producers of acorns, important to many wildlife species, such as the Scrub Jay.
Florida Scrub Jay, Merritt Island NWR
The Chapman Oak has the wavy, thick, drought resistant leaves. The Myrtle Oak also has thick, waxy leaves, but the margins are flat, not wavy.
Chapman Oak, Quercus chapmanii, note the oak gall
Myrtle Oak, Quercus Myrtifolia

These scrub oaks and Slash Pine are savanna indictor species.  Interesting fact about the Slash Pine. Its name is derived from the 19th century practice of slashing the bark to collect the resin, which is distilled to produce turpentine. This tree is still used for turpentine production.  Today this is a by product of lumbering.  For an excellent learning experience, if you happen to be in south part of the State of Georgia, visit the Chesser Homestead at the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

I visited in April 2011, and enjoyed a boat ride on the Suwannee Canal.

Chesser Homestead

Way Down upon the Suwannee River (ok Canal) with Albert