Monday, March 30, 2009
After a brief breakfast at my hotel in Tallahassee, where I snaffled a sneaky bagel for lunch, I planned my route for the days pitcher plant hunting in the Appalachicola National Forest in Florida's Panhandle. First I decided to head to the Home Depot to see if they had any wellies as I had come with minimal baggage from Birmingham. The Home Depot was B&Q, its amazing how universal brands are even under different names. Sadly they didn't have any wellies so I sallied forth with just my trainers. Actually I wasn't sure if the guys I asked knew what I was talking about. Back in my car I began pottering out of town , passing dozens of churches but very few houses - they must be hidden in the trees. Once I reached Hosford I turned south into the forest. Very soon I saw my first pitcher plant standing tall and very green in the boggy area off the edge of the road. Further on I spotted more by their flowers this time. They were smaller ground hugging ones with beautiful pink flowers above. They were marked with pink ribbons on sticks, making it easy to see them, may be so that they don't get lawn mowered away. When I searched about around them I also found cobra headed ones, their flowers still tight balls, and sundews - two types: those with little hands and tall pale green upright ones. Further on there were green flowering pitcher plants rising up out of the dead grass beneath the pine trees. The flowers were like lime green handkerchiefs hanging down. Unfortunately there was a small stream between me and them, but I waded across, thinking how useful wellies would have been. There were plenty of little flies and mozzies too - there will be bugs where the carnivorous plants live!
The next tiny place on the map was Sumatra - how apt! - and shortly after this I turned up the track to the Wright Lake area. There were lots of red cardinals where I parked, and an alligator and bear warning. So with trepidation I set off into the woods. The ground was sandy, strewn with leaves and pine needles. The shade was pleasant beneath the pine trees and the screwpine type plants under storey plants were a surprise. As I walked I was accompanied by swallowtail butterflies, chattering birds and the drum of a drilling woodpecker. The loop took me out to Owl River where the trees changed to swamp/mangrove species. It looked like good alligator country so I made sure I was noisy, stepping on twigs and leaves. But nothing stirred in the water. I wandered on enjoying the scent of the pines, wondering if I had come to the right trail to see any pitcher plants. And then I saw a tiny sundew in the sandy path, shortly after I saw more of the green hanky flowers near the edge of the forest. Through the long grass I carefully stepped, hoping there weren't any snakes and crept close to the pitchers and found more excitement! Tall green leaves sundews, purple orchids, butteworts, cobra headed pitchers! Every few steps something else would catch my eye! Again I was pestered by little flies so that spurred me to move on. It was incredibly beautiful and tranquil following the blue markers through the forest, occasionally crossing sandy roads and passing boggy depressions filled with mangrove trees again. Eventually I came to a bench in the middle of the forest and sat down to devour my illicit bagel. It wasn't far from there back to the car but as I rounded a corner I startled something big. I had put thoughts of alligators and bears out of my mind with excitement over the plantlife, so I don't know who was more startled me or the large deer that bounded off into the forest. Back at the start I watched the birds some more and then turned my car south again to the beautiful 'forgotten coast' past Carrabelle and up through Leon county to Tallahassee. I called in at the Leon Sinks Geological area, hoping I might see more pitchers but it wasn't to be, I was out of their zone.
The following morning I snaffled another bagel from breakfast and drove our to Telogia again taking side road 103 into the forest. I saw lots of sundews and pitchers right by the side of the road and a squashed armadillo in the middle. The track rejoined the 105, all on sandy roads, with the car not handling it well. With heavy rain forecast for the afternoon I didn't really want to get stuck later. The forest changed as I headed west from mostly pine to small lime leaved American oaks. I pulled into Camel Lake and headed off down the Florida Trail. At the start was a sign saying 'foot travel' and then a large pond with a log across it - very discouraging for vehicles I'm sure. There was a short interpretive trail that told me there were three types of oaks, one being the turkey oak, which I suppose is what they are hunting around there. The screwpine things are called Palmetto and the pines are native long needle pines. It was a bit boggy underfoot and soon I found some sundews. There were plenty of mozzies too. The path wove in and out of the trees and shrubs getting boggier all the time. Then I came across a solitary pitcher plant, one with the green floppy hanky like flowers. Pretty soon after the path became a stream, I battled around it for a little while but soon decided to call it a day. I came across a clump of coarse black hair on the return - from a bear? Back at the top of the trail were lots of butterflies - yellow swallowtails and smaller blue ones too. At the lake I sat listening to the starling like birds calling to one another like so many unoiled rusty gates. Leaving Camel Lake I joined the paved road again - the Appalachicola Savannah Scenic Byway. There were still trees but generally the landscape was much more open, with lots of knee high grass. I saw more green hanky flowers and stopped on the edge of the road just as the rain started. They were on the otherside of a small stream so I stepped through - lovely wet shoes again. But it was worth it - lots of pitchers, of various shapes and sizes - trumpets, cobra heads and even some small red sundews. Further along I found a field of the green upright sundews - magnificent! I could hear thunder gathering but thankfully the rain had gone. Rounding one corner I saw a lake filled with white pompoms. Hoping they were lilies and not rubbish I pottered through the low scrub - water lilies they were and around the edge of the lake were beautiful tall trumpet pitchers with red throats and myriad cobra pithers. Wow! What a display! I also found lots of frogs, hopefully meaning there weren't any alligators but i kept my eyes peeled. Only just around the corner from the lake I came across a whole field of pitchers. It was a little way off the road so I started wading through the grass, hoping there weren't any snakes. The guide book had warned there were some nasty sounding ones. The pitchers were magnificent - so densely populated and there were some red trumpets too. The thunder was rumbling again and I dragged myself back to the car. I pushed on, seeing some fox squirrels, with their bandit eye patches, by the side of the road. I drove south through Sumatra and down the the coast, going east this time. At Eastpoint I took the arched bridge across to St Georges Island. If only it had been a nice day. I walked down to the Pacific and dipped my fingers in. Driving back across the bridge I saw pelicans, black headed gulls and little tiny terns floating on the wind. On the electricity pylons hundreds of cormorants were eying up the waves. I stopped in Appalachicola itself - very pretty with lots of antiques shops. I was going to drive back via Blountstown but the radio said they were having the worst of the weather, so I retraced my steps via Carrabelle and along past Ochlockonee Bay, past Panacea and Snails Pace Lane