May 2nd, 2017
For the past several years Virginia and I have had marsh rabbits living in our 'front yard'. I was surprised to learn that they will inhabit the beach dunes since I had usually seen them in proximity to the intercoastal waterway.
Marsh rabbits can be found near freshwater marshes and estuarine areas throughout much of Florida with the range extending from the panhandle up the coastal plain into Virginia. Primarily nocturnal, they can often be seen foraging in the morning or early evening. The tails are smaller than cottontails and dark on the bottom. Also the ears are shorter and rounder on marsh rabbits.
Just the other day I discovered that they apparently like seaside goldenrod sprouts, as one of the patches in the yard was neatly trimmed at about two inches tall. A few days after hurricane Matthew passed by, we were pleased to see bunny tracks on the now flattened dune area proving that the marsh rabbits had survived the storm surge that had inundated the area were they are usually seen.
Spring has brought a resurgence on the dunes, which through the winter mostly only had vegetation that I planted since the hurricane. The searocket has sprouted in dense patches from seeds buried in the sand or caught in the storm wrack that I had placed on the beach to catch the blowing sand in an attempt at beach rebuilding. The seaweed in the wrack also makes an excellent fertilizer for the searocket, a plant uniquely adapted to living in a dynamic environment.
The name refers to the rocket-shaped fruits on this plant of beaches and dunes with various species found throughout the world. These rockets are two staged, each containing at least one seed. The lower stage remains on the plant to repopulate the same area, while the upper stage breaks off to be dispersed, often by water, to seed new areas. The name might also refer to this being a coastal member of the mustard family - Brassicaceae - that includes arugula or roquette.
Searocket has small four-petaled white to lavender flowers. The plants are typically sprawling, with fleshy leaves that may be wavy edged or deeply lobed. There are two species in Florida, Cakile lanceolata occurring on both coasts, and Cakile edentula subspecies harperi on the east coast and up to the outer banks of North Carolina.
Another plant of beach dunes and coastal thickets is Sea Rosemary, Heliotropium gnaphalodes. It is also known as Sea Lavender, a name it shares with a completely different plant, Limonium carolinianum of brackish marshes, salt flats, mangrove swamps and coastal strands.
I purchased this sea rosemary at a native plant sale a week after hurricane Matthew and it is growing nicely.
It is a Florida endangered plant that naturally occurs just south of Volusia County, from Brevard County down into the keys. The genus name refers to the form of the flowers that grow in an arc and appear to be arching towards the sun, like its relatives including scorpionstail.
April 30, 2017
March 13th, 2017
One of the many cool things about living in Florida is experiencing Sandhill cranes. We have two distinct populations of these majestic birds in the Sunshine State. About five thousand Florida sandhill cranes live here year-round and are considered a separate subspecies from the more numerous greater sandhill cranes that only winter here. The migratory cranes breed in the Great Lakes region of North America and arrive in large flocks during November and December. This increases the crane population of the state about six-fold until they depart, typically March and April.
Sometimes huge numbers of cranes gather at Paynes Prairie, or other prairies near Gainesville. I keep missing this event despite numerous visits to likely spots during different winters. This January I was at Sweetwater Wetlands Park next to Paynes Prairie thrilled at all of the limpkins and black-bellied whistling-ducks I was seeing. After spending the morning photographing those and many other birds, I stopped by Paynes Prairie State Park to drop off some ice where my wife was having a women's camping weekend with friends. After that, I was almost home from the over 2 hour drive when Virginia texted that they were on LaChua Trail and there were hundreds of sandhill cranes on the prairie! I might have missed that, but the next month I was back at Sweetwater Wetlands Park co-leading a Birds of a Feather Fest field trip with Greg Miller of The Big Year, where we saw hundreds of sandhill cranes flying overhead.
The Florida sandhill cranes are mostly seen in pairs or small groups, sometimes along the side of the road or even strolling through neighborhoods. They are monogamous, breeding in late winter and spring and usually laying two eggs on a mat of vegetation in shallow water.
For many years, usually first thing in the morning while camping, I would often have a "what on earth is that?" moment when I heard sandhill cranes honking in the distance. I would take a few moments to figure out what I was hearing, and now most of the time immediately realize the source of the distinctive call.
Cranes go back 2-1/2 million years with the oldest known crane fossils discovered in a shell pit near Sarasota, Florida. Up until recently sandhill cranes were considered the same genus as whooping cranes, but in 2016 Grus canadensis was moved to the genus Antigone joining species from Asia and Australia. Antigone is the name of Oedipus's daughter/half-sister in Greek mythology.
More photos and information about sandhill cranes can be found on my Wild Florida Photo website
March 13, 2017
December 7th, 2016
Clasping Warea is a rare Florida endemic wildflower that occurs only in central Florida. The ideal habitat for this endangered plant is longleaf pine sandhill.
Sandhill is a high and dry pine forest with an open savanna-like understory that is typically made up mostly of wiregrass with scatterings of herbaceous wildflowers. Longleaf pines predominate, often augmented with turkey oaks, both having root systems that allow them to obtain the necessary water in this habitat. The soil is deep sand and the savanna is maintained with frequent small wildfires, naturally ignited by lightning. This periodic clearing of the undergrowth allows the wildflowers to grow without competition from shrubby plants that are not adapted to the frequent fires. Fire is also a critical component in the reproductive cycle of both wiregrass and longleaf pines. Sandhill was part of the great longleaf pine forest of the southeastern coastal plain that once extended from Virginia into Texas.
Warea amplexifolia is a member of the pinelandcress genus which was named for Nathaniel A. Ware (1789-1853), a teacher, lawyer and land speculator who traveled extensively and lived in various parts of the United States. Ware was a member of the American Philosophical Society, pursuing the natural sciences, including botany and geology, and collecting many plants during his travels. He apparently saw and described or collected a specimen of clasping warea in 'east Florida' in the early 1800s.
Of the four Warea species in Florida, W. amplexifolia is the only one with heart-shaped leaves in which the base surrounds (clasps) the stem. Clasping warea blooms form in terminal crowded clusters, maturing from the bottom up and somewhat globular shaped. The individual flowers are about a half-inch wide with four paddle-shaped whitish to rose-purple petals and six long stamens. The fruit is a long thin pod called a silique that is about three inches long, and hangs down in a curving arc. Warea is in the mustard family (Brassicaeae).
Clasping Warea is one of the subjects in the Only in Florida exhibit that has been showing at the Lyonia Gallery in Deltona. That exhibit ends February 1, 2017 with the next showing at the Kimbell Center Art Gallery at Jonathan Dickinson State Park Feb. 13 through March 4. There will also be three presentations of the Only in Florida program in the central Florida area in January and at the Kimbell Center in February. For exhibit and presentation schedules see www.wildflphoto.com/events.html.
Dec. 7, 2016
September 29th, 2016
William Bartram was born in 1738 in the family home (pictured here at the end of March) overlooking the Schuylkill River near Philadelphia. His father was John Bartram, widely considered the Father of American Botany and co-founder with Benjamin Franklin and others of the Philadelphia Philosophical Society. When William was 27 he accompanied his father on his first expedition into Georgia and Florida. The purpose of this trip was to provide a report and collection of plants to King George III on the area recently acquired by England from Spain.
After that expedition, William returned to the southeastern colonies on behalf of private English benefactors who in return received much of what he collected. He also attempted at one point to start a plantation in Florida along the St. Johns River, an endeavor that did not last long. After returning to Pennsylvania, he wrote and eventually published his famous and popular book “Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida”. In it he described the plants and creatures that he encountered in this strange wild land, including the natives, with which he had many interactions. The chief of the Alachua tribe called William 'puc-puggy', which was 'flower hunter' in their language.
As a result of the botanical knowledge that he brought back to scientists with his drawings and collections, a number of species bear the Bartram name in William's honor (and also a few for his father). The images here include several that I have photographed, one of these is Bartram's Ixia, a small wildflower that is only found in northeastern Florida, mostly in the area surrounding Bartram's failed plantation. Calydorea caelestina blooms in the late spring and into the summer. Each of the violet-blue flowers open only once early in the day, start closing during mid-morning, and are usually gone by noon. When not in bloom, the plant is nondescript, appearing as though it was some kind of grass. Travels included a drawing of this Ixea.
Here is a sample from Travels where William is returning down the St. Johns river in his small boat and has spent a pleasant night camped in an orange grove along the river. After arising and attending to his vessel, he ventures into a field beyond the grove: “What a beautiful display of vegetation is here before me! Seemingly unlimited in extent and variety: how the dew-drops twinkle and play upon the sight, trembling on the tips of the lucid, green savanna, sparkling as the gem that flames on the turban of the eastern prince. See the pearly tears rolling off the buds of the expanding Granadilla:* behold the azure fields of cerulean Ixia!”
*Granadilla = Passiflora incarnata – purple passionflower, maypop
Another interesting plant named for William is Bartram's airplant – Tillandsia bartramii. This epiphytic plant anchors itself on tree branches and trunks and derives sustenance by absorbing nutrients from the rain, dew, dust, decaying leaves and insect matter. Bartram's airplant can be found in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Tamaulipas, Mexico. In the image here, a tubular violet flower can be seen emerging from rose-red bracts. The plant forms a globular cluster of needle-like leaves.
A documentary titled Cultivating the Wild: William Bartram's Travels is in the works centered around William Bartram and the nature that he explored. A sample of this project can be seen at https://vimeo.com/148183049.
When Travels was first published, many readers were skeptical about some of his descriptions, such as the size, ferocity and number of alligators that he encountered, and of the civilized nature of the native tribes, which many people at the time considered savages. As time passed and more people ventured into the same areas, they discovered that his fantastical descriptions did have a basis in fact.
As I venture into the wild natural areas of Florida while hiking, canoeing or kayaking, I sometimes try to imagine what this must have seemed like to a young man from Pennsylvania over two hundred years ago.
Spet. 29, 2016
August 15th, 2016
Along with pines, oaks and tupelo one of the typically 'Florida' trees is the cypress. Florida has two species, the bald cypress and the pond cypress.
Pond cypress is limited to the Southeastern coastal plain from Louisiana to Virginia, plus Delaware. Bald cypress has a wider range, found west into Texas and Oklahoma and north into Illinois through New York state. Pond cypress is also found in fewer habitats, mostly flatwoods ponds and along the edges of lakes, while bald cypress is frequently found in swamps, floodplains and along streams. Pond cypress - Taxodium ascendens - has small leaves that are held tight against the branchlets that usually grow upward. Bald cypress - Taxodium distichum - leaves are spreading with two opposite rows of needle-like leaflets.
When certain conditions exist, pond cypress sometimes can grow very old but remain fairly small for its age. There are two main areas that are known for their large strands of dwarf cypress. One is in the Picayune Strand State Forest in southwest Florida. Another is located in the Florida panhandle in Tate's Hell State Forest.
I almost made it to see the dwarf cypress in Picayune Strand several years ago when I was in the area to attend a Florida Native Plant Society conference, but was driven off the trail by thunderstorms and did not have a chance to go back while I was there.
This spring, after severe weather curtailed what was supposed to be a long camping weekend at Three Rivers State Park, Virginia & I stopped by and checked out the dwarf cypress strand in Tate's Hell.
At this time, the spring greening was just getting started and the strand was full of water from the recent heavy rains, as can barely be seen in the image above. Most of these cypress trees are less than fifteen feet tall, even though they may be hundreds of years old. These dwarf cypress are often called 'hatrack cypress', a term that seems fitting when looking at the tree in the image below.
I was back in the area Memorial Day weekend and headed out to Tate's Hell on a whitetop pitcherplant search (see the previous blog post 'Pitcherplants in May') when I again stopped by the dwarf cypress strand. The cypress were greener and the water was lower, and I also found some interesting scenes along the edge of the strand where American white waterlilies were growing in the roadside ditches.
For more information and to see more photos of both pond and bald cypress trees, visit the Taxodium page at Wild Florida Photo.
August 14, 2016
June 11th, 2016
The Sarraceniaceae is a family of carnivorous plants known as the pitcher-plants. Members of this plant family have modified leaves that form a pitcher of various shapes and colors that traps and digests insects. This allows these plants to thrive in low-nutrient soils as is found in some bogs and other usually wet locations. Unlike the better-known venus fly-trap – the pitcher-plants catch their prey without any moving parts, using the shape of the pitcher, hairs and/or chemicals instead to capture their meals.
Other than the California pitcherplant - Darlingtonia californica – on the west coast, all of the North American species of the pitcher-plant family are in the genus Sarracenia. A number of these can be found in the southeastern states, with one – Sarracenia purpurea – also occurring across the colder regions of the continent.
In Florida the most widespread of these is the hooded pitcherplant. Sarracenia minor is the only species found in the Florida peninsula., occurring from just north of Lake Okeechobee, west into the central panhandle and into Georgia and the Carolinas. While I see these fairly frequently, they are seldom as nice looking and not obscured by other plants as they were early this May in Tiger Bay State Forest.
All of the other pitcherplants are absent from the Florida peninsula, occurring mostly in the panhandle and various southeastern states. I have seen several of these during Florida Native Plant Society conference field trips in the Apalachicola National Forest. During these and other visits in the forest, I have seen many color variations of Sarracenia flava, yellow pitcherplants. At one of the locations visited, I went back after the field trip and made the image that I call O'Sarracenia.
This memorial day weekend I visited Tate's Hell State Forest, stopping at an area that was recently burned to check out a big patch of Oceola's Plume. Here I also discovered fresh leaves of parrot pitcherplants. In this species, the hood resembles a parrot head and obscures the small opening that allows insects into the trap.
There are many variations on the details of how the area got its name, but all revolve around Cebe Tate, a farmer who in 1875 went hunting a panther that was killing his livestock and had a lengthly and harrowing experience in the wild. It was said when he emerged from the swampland that ...”I just came from Hell”. After which the area came to be known as Tate's Hell. Now a state forest , it is popular with hunters, paddlers enjoying the New River, birders seeking red-cockaded woodpeckers, migrating warblers and more, plus other nature lovers.
My primary objective this day was to find whitetop pitcherplants, a species that I possibly seen before late in the year. They were dried, brown and mostly toppled pitchers along the Florida Trail in Blackwater River State Forest and could have been either yellow (S. flava) or whitetop (S. leucophylla) pitcherplants. After scouting around in Tate's Hell, stopping here and there to photograph various subjects, I finally found some Sarracenia leucophylla and was able to make some photographs before a thunderstorm moved in and sent me on my way.
While May is not the only time you can see pitcherplants, it does happen that all of the images seen here were taken in May of various years. Most of these species would probably have prettier flowers earlier in the season, before the drooping petals fall off.
June 6, 2016
May 4th, 2016
Rodman Reservoir was created by damming a section of the Ocklawaha River as part of the abandoned cross-Florida barge canal project. Even though the canal project was cancelled before completion, and the path of the canal is now the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway, this reservoir remains. About every three years, the water level is lowered primarily to control invasive aquatic vegetation. These drawdowns allow muck from decaying vegetation a chance to consolidate and oxidize, reducing the thickness of the muck and providing a firmer lake bottom, more suitable for fish and wildlife.
This winter while the lake level was down I kayaked on two different days, once near the dam, and the second paddle near Eureka. It was a cool, gray January morning when I arrived at the temporary Kenwood Landing boat ramp. Several dozen vehicles with trailers filled about half of the parking area and the ramp was busy with more arrivals so I parked at the far end and launched from the bank. As I paddled down the canal between the now exposed spoil banks, tree swallows swooped and soared around me and I soon saw the first bald eagle of the day. I know there were at least two eagles, but I am not sure if there were more or I just kept seeing those same birds all day.
On the north side of the canal was shallow water with many slanting tree trunks where the crusher was used to clear the forest in preparation for the reservoir. With the water lowered, these provided many perches for the eagles, osprey, gulls, cormorants and herons.
On the south side of the canal mostly tall thin stumps are exposed that apparently were trees still standing when the area was originally flooded. Slowly gliding my kayak between these tall trunks imparted a feeling of crossing the river Styx. A number of massive cypress stumps were also present.
A sign marks the point where the historic Ocklawaha River channel diverges from the canal (photo at beginning of this post). The channel is a clear path that winds through the forest of stumps outlining where the original riverbanks were. I paddled up the original river imagining what it might have been like when these trees were alive and provided a canopy of green. Was it like the river below the dam to the St. Johns, or more like the still-natural upstream section of river from the Silver River to Eureka?
I continued my paddle looking for some of the springs that are covered by the reservoir most of the time but exposed during the drawdowns. The only one that was noticeable was the small flow of Sims Spring. I continued until the original river channel again joined the canal, then turned around and headed back to the boat ramp. My search for springs will continue on another day.
By contrast it was a beautiful, sunny day in early March when I launched my kayak from the ramp near the 316 bridge at Eureka. A group of teens in an 'Outward Bound' type expedition paddled up in canoes as I was putting my boat in the water. They were near the end of a week-long canoe-camping trip on the Ocklawaha. As I passed the Ocklawaha Canoe Outpost, more kayakers were starting their Sunday afternoon paddles. I would see all these people again before the day was over.
To answer a common question I get when out in a kayak or canoe, yes I did see alligators. Several were lazily sunning themselves on the banks as I headed downstream. Several times a river otter appeared ahead of me, but I was unable to get any photos other than its back barely breaking the surface. While I was stopped to take pictures, one of the kayakers I had passed previously caught up with me. As we paddled along together for a while I mentioned that I was looking for Cannon Springs, and he told me what to look for to know where to turn. This kayaker turned out to be Mark Chiappini, owner of the famous general store & gas station in Melrose.
I did find Cannon Springs, and managed to make some photographs before the crowds arrived. By the time I left, everyone that I had seen on the river that day was there to see the spring before the lake covers it up again. In one of the photographs the light on the clear water of the spring made for an impressionist, sort of pointillist style, image, as can be seen below.
Unlike everyone else there who were continuing downstream, either for another night camping or to take out at Orange Springs where they had shuttled their vehicles earlier, I headed back upstream towards Eureka. This was a strenuous paddle as the current was noticeable, possibly the flow from Moss Bluff Dam had been increased to start refilling Rodman Reservoir as the drawdown was coming to an end. I did pause to photograph a limpkin wading through the spatterdock in the river.
My last stop was at the eerily out of place Eureka Lock. Rising up out of a side pool of the river and the woods. Constructed for passage from the Rodman pool to the Eureka pool, then abandoned in place when the project was cancelled. Fortunately the Eureka pool was never created, as that would have destroyed what is probably the most scenic and wild section of the Ocklawaha River, from the Silver River to Eureka.
In case you missed it, you can read more about the Ocklawaha River and the Cross Florida Barge Canal in last year's Ocklawaha River post. To learn more about the springs under the Rodman Reservoir, visit Ocklawahaman's Springs of the Ocklawaha River.
For those interested in restoration of the Ockalwaha River check out Florida Defenders of the Environment.
April 29, 2016
March 20th, 2016
This is the first in a series of posts that will focus on images in the Only in Florida exhibit, now on display in the Lyonia Gallery in Deltona.
Bigflower Pawpaw, photographed in the Lyonia Preserve, Deltona, Florida.
In 1774 while traveling in present day Putnam county from Spaldings lower store at Stokes Landing to Halfway pond (now known as Cowpen Lake) William Bartram saw many new shrubs, “particularly a species of annona...”. Bartram went on to describe what is now known as Asimina obovata in his Travels through North & South Carolina, Georgia, East & West Florida, a book that was not published until 1791. Imagine how difficult it was to get a book published in the 18th century, even if your dad (John Bartram) started a really cool club (the American Philosophical Society) with one of the area's most famous printers (Benjamin Franklin), who was known to come over and hang out at the house for chats (Bartram's Gardens).
The home of John & William Bartram at Bartram Gardens, Philadelphia.
In the meantime André Michaux was exploring Florida for France in 1787. Michaux also noticed this plant near the Indian River in present day Brevard County where he “collected two Annonas, one of which was a new species with very large white flowers...”
Both of these early botanical explorers were describing an endemic Florida species – Asimina obovata - or bigflower pawpaw. This plant is only found in the Florida peninsula from just south of Jacksonville to Lake Okeechobee.
Bigflower Pawpaw grows in a variety of habitats, but tends towards scrubby, sandy areas. Most frequently a shrub it can become treelike and reach up to 15 feet tall. The large white to greenish-white flowers can be seen from March through May after the current season's new leaves have emerged. The flowers form at the ends of short lateral shoots. The tips of these shoots and the veins on the undersides of the leaves are red-pubescent(fuzzy), one of the distinguishing marks that help identify this species. Another is the maroon corrugated area on the inside base of the inner petals.
Showing the maroon base on the inside of the petals.
For more information and photos of Bigflower Pawpaw visit the Wild Florida Photo Asimina obovata page.
March 20, 2016
February 23rd, 2016
Florida ranks as the fourth highest state in the number of endemics, species that are limited to a particular geographic area. Only California, Hawaii and Texas have more unique species than The Sunshine State. Early botanists exploring Florida such as Alvan Wentworth Chapman(1809-1899) and John Kunkel Small(1869-1938) noted the high number of endemic species in the state. The geographic isolation of the Florida peninsula, climate and soil variations contribute to this unique biodiversity. Isolation during previous interglacial periods when higher sea levels created islands in the higher areas is also a likely factor that contributed to the high number of endemics.
Scrubland Goldenaster, a species discovered in Highlands County by John Kunkel Small in 1924.
During my years of exploring and capturing images of nature, I have had a particular interest in finding and photographing the rare species, many of which are threatened or endangered. As I learned more about these subjects, I realized that many of them are endemic to Florida. About five years ago I decided to work on a photography project focusing on Florida endemics, which I call Only in Florida.
Applecactus Flower, photographed at night along the Mosquito Lagoon near the northern limit of this species' range.
Twenty-one of my photographs of plants and animals unique to Florida are now on display through next February in a solo exhibition at the Lyonia Gallery titled Only in Florida. Other photographers with previous exhibits in the Lyonia Gallery include Lee Dunkel, Eric Breitenbach, Rick Lang, Beate Bass, Eric Dusenbery and more.
Bigflower Pawpaw, photographed in the Lyonia Preserve, Deltona.
The Lyonia Gallery is part of the Lyonia Environmental Center(LEC). Originated as a joint venture with The Southeast Museum of Photography at Daytona State College, the gallery is now operated by the LEC. The Lyonia Environmental Center is located next to the Deltona Public Library and at the entrance to the Lyonia Preserve, a 360 acre Volusia County property managed to restore and maintain the natural scrub habitat. Lyonia Preserve is home to a population of Florida's only endemic bird, the Florida Scrub Jay.
Florida Scrub Jay in an area of Lyonia Preserve undergoing restoration.
In association with the Only in Florida exhibit, I have developed a program of the same name that will show the photographs from the exhibit and more. I will talk about each image, with information both about the subjects and how I made some of the photographs. This program will be presented at the Florida Wildflower Festival April 2 in Deltona, the Florida Native Plant Society state conference May 21 in Daytona Beach and on August 18 at the first Lunch 'n Learn at Ormond Beach's new Environmental Discovery Center in Central Park.
Bartram's Ixia, discovered by and named for William Bartram.
For an online preview of the exhibit and to learn more about the endemic subjects, visit the Only in Florida exhibit page at Wild Florida Photo.
To purchase any of the photographs in the exhibit and other images of Florida endemics, visit the Only in Florida online sales gallery
February 22, 2016
January 26th, 2016
Now that winter has actually arrived, both here in Florida and in points north, I want to look back at just last month when much of the eastern United States was experiencing temperatures that could be used as a textbook example of 'unseasonable'.
Unless you have been living in a remote cave I am sure you have heard the reports that 2015 was the warmest year on record. In fact December was globally the warmest calendar month in 136 years of weather history. For anyone who wants to read more on this, Jeff Master's blog at Weather Underground is an excellent summary.
In Florida the weather was only marginally cool enough to camp a few days in November and December when it is usually ideal weather to sit around a campfire and sleep in a tent.
In mid-December I had heard that the water level was high enough to allow easy paddling up to Lake Norris. This had long been on my kayaking to-do list, so I enjoyed a beautiful Sunday on the water paddling upstream on Blackwater Creek, winding through the cypress swamp then all the way around Lake Norris and back. This scenic water body in Lake County is similar in appearance to Lake Disston in Flagler Co (see my October post) and Blue Cypress Lake in Indian River County.
I was surprised to come across several scarlet hibiscus flowers along the edge of Lake Norris. It is not that this is an unusual place to see them because it is not. In fact, the best way to see this magnificent native wildflower is by boat, as it favors the wet edges of streams and ponds. But it is a summer or early fall bloomer, with flowers most often seen in July and August in this area.
During the Christmas bird count, our team noticed a few anomalies with the types and numbers of birds seen, including a low count of robins, which in a more typical year would have been driven here in large numbers by cold weather. While out canvasing birds we saw several out-of season flowers. The azaleas might not be that unusual, as they do tend to flower sporadically during even slightly mild winters earlier than their more typical late February blooms. But the big surprise were the southern magnolia flowers, which would normally be seen from late spring into early summer.
These untimely floral phenomena might be just a observational curiosity. It is unlikely - as can often happen farther north when plants bud and flower too early – that freezes will significantly harm the coming year's normal plant cycles. But as a fellow naturalist pointed out the other day, the last time there was a winter similar to this was 1997-1998. That was during an El Niño event, one that up until then was the strongest in history but surpassed by the current cycle. The warm and wet winter promoted a lot of unseasonable growth. Followed by a shift to a La Niña weather pattern that brought a dry spring and summer, making all that extra growth prime fuel for the most devastating wildfire season Florida had ever experienced. Each El Niño and La Niña period do not necessarily duplicate the resulting weather of previous events, but many of the factors that influence the weather in various areas can tend to be similar. Hopefully weather history will not repeat itself and that the increase in prescribed burns in the intervening years has helped lower the fuel load in many of Florida's natural areas and therefore make any wildfires that do occur more manageable.
January 26, 2016