Monday, August 20, 2012

Botanizing in the Florida Panhandle

The Florida panhandle is one of my favorite botanical areas.  This area is a well-known glacial refugium for many northern plants during the ice ages, and as a result there are many endemic species in the region.  I was in the area for continued research on the rare and poorly understood, but dramatically beautiful Lilium iridollae.  As is always true with any of these trips, it is reassuring and rewarding to find the species of interest (we found far more lilies than I could have imagined), it is the incidental species that help shape the personality of the trip and provide for unexpected thrills and random heart palpitations.  The panhandle happens to be home to some of my favorite groups of plants and some of the botanical scenes witnessed on this trip were among the most memorable of my life.  Here are some photos from that experience.


A scene from the jon boat


You know it's going to be a good trip when you the see the first clump of Sarracenia leucophylla 5 minutes into the trip.  We would see thousands of these.


The reason for this expedition -- Lilium iridollae.  Here is a photo of my first plant seen in the wild.  


A close-up of Lilium iridollae


A view of Florida "Muskeg", complete with Sarracenias, Sabatias, Orontiums, Polygalas, and other costal plain bog specialists.  Some native Floridians like to call this muskeg, but its quite different from the true muskeg of the north.  


Here is Cladonia evansii, a characteristic species of dry, sandy hills.  The vast stands of this species lend a distinction to the panhandle forests that contribute to their seemingly endless diversity and excitement.


Growing amongst the Cladonia was Pieris phillyreifolia, the vine wicky.  Some references state that this species is a vine.  Not exactly.  This rhizomatous species creeps in a manner quite similar to Euonymus fortunei, forming low, creeping mounds of loose stems that cover vast areas of dry and wet areas.  Where it happens to meet the trunk of an oak or saw palmetto, the stems have the chance yto prop themselves up and grow a little taller.  Hardly a vine, but an endlessly fascinating native plant. 


One of the highlights of this trip were the thousands, yes, thousands of Sarracenia xmoorei that I encountered.  The variation in this, and other Sarracenias is legendary.  An interesting feature of this bog complex were the presence of many plants that could be keyed to Sarracenia xcatesbaei...funny thing was, there not a plant of Sarracenia rosea to  be found!  The more I see Sarracenia in the wild, the more I am convinced that hybridization is the rule and species are the exception...


Another clone of Sarracenia xmoorei


Sarracenia xmoorei


A seen from one of the seepage bogs where many botanically and horticulturally interesting species could be found


Another seen from one of the seepage bogs.  In this photo you can see the floating flowers of Lilium catesbaei.  This species occurs only in pristine habitat that is regularly burned or mowed.


Lilium catesbaei will induce heart palpitations in even the most jaded field botanist.


Last but certainly not least is an image of the ridiculously rare Platanthera (Gymnadeniopsis) integra. This is a life plant for me, and certainly a moment I will never forget.  The specific epithet, integer, means "whole", in reference to the labellum of this species.  
















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