A POSTCARD FROM WAKULLA SPRINGS, FLORIDA

Wish you were here!  You could see the Manatees!  So close you can see their whiskers as they look up at you.  Park officials actually have to tell you to not try to pet them.

You would love the Bald Cypress trees.

Wakulla Springs, Florida
Wakulla Springs, Florida

There are magnificent specimens on the Wakulla River- we saw one that was 500 years young. So young that it could be expected to live another 500+ years in optimal conditions.  It is called a Bald Cypress because it is a conifer that sheds its needles in the winter.  The tree needs moving water to survive.  In areas of stagnant water, a tree called the Pond Cypress grows.  There is a debate in the scientific community on whether the Pond Cypress is a separate species from Bald Cypress or just a sub-species.  One day, the Sanguine Root hopes to find a Pond Cypress in the great woods of the American South.

Outside of its natural range, the Bald Cypress, when cultivated will survive, but not be able to reproduce.  The Bald Cypress has become fashionable as an urban street tree as well as a garden specimen.  In fact, just footsteps from the Sanguine Root’s Parkside office in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is a Bald Cypress!  This specimen was most likely planted, being that the utmost northern edge of its natural range is in southern Delaware, about 100 miles south.    If you live in Philadelphia, or are visiting and want to see, it is located on the south shore of Centennial Lake near Belmont Avenue.

Ancient remnants of them have been pulled out of swamps in New Jersey.

 

Wakulla Springs, Florida
Wakulla Springs, Florida

(Anhinga anhinga)

You would love to see the Anhinga bird, but here it is pictured for you. This bird loves to hunt for amphibians below the surface of the water and it will dive down to get them, moving through the water with ease, with just its head sticking out of the surface. It is able to do this because its feathers do not shed water easily, which allows it to sink in easily and stay down so it can hunt.  A duck’s feathers shed water so easily that they cannot sink into the water and hunt as easily, because they are so lightweight and their bouyancy keeps them afloat.  Birds are so light that it is difficult to be submerged in water at all. A duck is so light it is unlikely to go completely underwater to fetch a fish!

The Anhinga, however, are able to soak up enough water in their feathers that they can sink down and hunt for the fish and amphibians below the surface. But then again, nothing comes easy.  The bird has to address the issue of waterlogged wings, hopefully after its meal has been achieved. Meal or not, the Anhinga has to get up in the last bits of sun  and sit still with its wings spread all the way out so they can dry. The wet wings if not dried out could lead to a whole host of problems, most likely beginning with mold and moving on from there. The picture above is a classic Anhinga pose- drying out its wings.

Wakulla Springs, Florida
Wakulla Springs, Florida

You would love to have seen the picture above in person, but here it is.  If you like Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura), this is the place. A tree full of them is a breathtaking sight. In Wakulla Springs, they often share a tree with the Anhinga.

In the above picture, along the water level, you will see some protrusions circling the Bald Cypress the Turkey Vultures are perched upon. You may notice in this particular picture how clearly these protrusions seem equally spaced in a circular fashion about the tree.  These are indeed a part of the Bald Cypress tree. These protrusions, two to three feet above the water are called knees, and are a unique and distinguishing aspect of the Bald Cypress tree, aside from its buttressed trunks and seasonal defoliation of it needles.

The Knees are growing out of the shallow root systems of the Bald Cypress. From the above photograph, it can be easily ascertained that these knees are performing some vital function to the tree- like with the water-penetrating feathers of the Anhinga or the water-resisting feathers of the duck.  Exactly what this function is, is still a matter of debate.

The conventional wisdom is that the knees provide much needed oxygen to the tree during times of flood. Scientists have chopped off all of the knees of trees and watched them survive through floods, thus creating a challenge to this ongoing theory. Now there is alot of talk about how the knees are actually a structural supporting system, especially for hurricanes, which the Bald Cypress has a strong track record of surviving. Looking at the picture above, from a structural point of view, this new theory has some weight. Just look at how this structure encircles the tree, with the vertical members providing a stiffness to the tree that conventional roots could not- a stiffening that could perhaps survive  powerful and unrelenting hurricane winds.  With all of this in mind, perhaps the oxygen theory also is true-the survival strategy of any species is multi-faceted.  Trees can die from having their roots covered and choked off from the air.

You would love this debate that is going on down here.  Can we solve once and for all the question of the Bald Cypress Knees?  Come on down to Wakulla Springs and lets think about it!

 

Wakulla Springs, Florida
Wakulla Springs, Florida

Saving the most unique and precious for last, you would love to see the Manatees!  They were the reason we came down here. Here we have a species of mammals that at last count is numbered in the thousands- around 4000 specimens minimum. That would be every member of this species existing on our planet. To be able to see the actual specimens in their ecosystem is a special occasion.

Thanks to Cathy Smith, a Tallahassee  Florida schoolteacher who educates her students on the manatees that live just miles from her student’s homes, this experience was made possible.  Cathy’s familiarity with Wakulla Springs and the many species of birds and plants  that inhabit the area was also a great help in getting oriented to this fantastic environment.

Wakulla Springs, Florida
Wakulla Springs, Florida

Above, a Manatee is outfitted with an antenna and gps (global positioning system).  This is a serious matter when this device is employed for scientific purposes.  This is a species that is facing extinction.

The white markings seen just above the device’s strap are scars, most likely from contact with a watercraft.  Many of the Manatees we saw had these scars.  This is a common cause of injury and death for them.

The gps device has been tested and purportedly does not interfere with the ongoing daily activities of the Manatee. Since this device has been installed, the Manatees have been traced to go all the way to Massachusetts in the summer. The whole lives of Manatees can be monitored in a way never done before.  With a species at the edge of survival, this intervention is necessary and can help us humans guide the path of action for the next decades. Our species has very possibly the means to allow the species of Manatees to survive.

Counting the Manatees is an important ongoing effort to gauge their population stability. We have no idea how many Manatees existed 50 years ago, because they were not counted.

Wakulla Springs, Florida
Wakulla Springs, Florida

The picture above was a unique moment for Sanguine Root staff photographer Sean Solomon. All of our discussions and explorations of plants and the botanical world ultimately are about diverse and sustainable ecosystems. An ecosystem that can sustain a magnificent wild creature such as the Manatee is supported by a multitude of native lifeforms- ultimately by a few key plants such as certain native seagrasses that require very specific environments to survive. Sustaining our beloved native animals and birds are the native plants they have evolved to depend on. Thinking about how we impact the habitats of these plants is a great way to approach our strategy to save the animals and birds.  If we can sustain the native plants of an indigenous ecosystem, then we are well on our way to maintaining the more complex fauna that we value in our environment.  This approach is one easier to comprehend and implement. If what we are doing is killing the plants, then the animals and birds are going to die too.

The number one human activity that is causing the threat of extinction to the Manatee is the loss of habitat.  This is from overdevelopment that is killing off the habitats of the native seagrasses the Manatees depend on for food.

Wakulla Springs, Florida
Wakulla Springs, Florida

This next picture was taken just moments from the previous one of the full Manatee. Here we see the trees- The bald cypress, the ferns, a shrub layer and the water.

Reflecting upon all of this is an ecosystem that has existed for millennia, with a fossil record to back up this fact. Here it is, a part of the continuum, perhaps a vestige, but we still have it in our world, right here in our Florida.

Wakulla Springs, Florida
Wakulla Springs, Florida

In the two pictures above, there can bee seen a mass of green in the water.  Much of this is an invasive plant called Hydrilla, which is a huge problem in Florida waters.  It originated as an aquarium plant that escaped, most likely from aquariums being dumped into the water. The Park Ranger explained to us how these grasses have taken over and have crowded out much of the native plant life in the Wakulla River. In an interesting twist of events, the herbivorous Manatees are eating the Hydrilla! It would be interesting to find out if they really like it, whether it provides them enough nutrition, or if they have no choice but to eat it for survival, since it has replaced the native grasses.

Wakulla Springs, Florida
Wakulla Springs, Florida

In Wakulla Springs you can see a tree full of Turkey vultures and waters teeming with Manatees-Mammals ten feet in length that spend most of their time eating, resting and traveling!

Wakulla Springs, Florida
Wakulla Springs, Florida

It takes alot of ecosystem to support complex and large beings, like this Alligator.

Wakulla Springs, Florida
Wakulla Springs, Florida

And here we have an Anhinga that has dried out its wings and is just satisfied relaxing on this old tree branch.

Wakulla Springs, Florida
Wakulla Springs, Florida

You can write back on this postcard!  Let us know your thoughts on our comment box!

Wakulla Springs, Florida
Wakulla Springs, Florida

GARDENING WITH THE SANGUINE ROOT

Sanguinaria canadensis

Gardening season has begun! The last leaves of bloodroot  turning yellow and wilting in late Fall signals the beginning of gardening season for the Sanguine Root horticultural staff. We begin by ceremoniously digging up a bloodroot root and breaking it into pieces. The new root segments are then replanted in new suitable locations on the grounds.

 

Bloodroot,  Garden of the Sanguine Root, Morris Park Road, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Bloodroot, Garden of the Sanguine Root, Morris Park Road, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

A bloodroot leaf still holds on to the root mass.  Each white bud will send up a leaf and a flower in March 2012.  The embryonic form of the leaf and flower are waiting inside the structure of the bud.

Bloodroot,  Garden of the Sanguine Root, Morris Park Road, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Bloodroot, Garden of the Sanguine Root, Morris Park Road, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Above is the root, below is the Flower.

Bloodroot,  Garden of the Sanguine Root, Morris Park Road, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Bloodroot, Garden of the Sanguine Root, Morris Park Road, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The gardening fun in November gets better. Time to thin the Mayapple Patch.  Mayapple is a beautiful plant that makes a great garden addition.  This year we had so many flowers they were  crowding each other out.  We found a new spot to create a Mayapple patch in the backyard. This spot was nothing but a mess of weeds, notably Japanese stiltgrass, a noxious invasive exotic.

Podophyllum peltatum

Mayapple,  Garden of the Sanguine Root, Morris Park Road, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Mayapple, Garden of the Sanguine Root, Morris Park Road, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Gardening in the fall has few risks and is less labor-intensive.  It is also better for learning about the basics of each plant gardened.  The root of the matter, so to speak.    Dig it up, wash it, check it out and learn about the amazing beauty of roots.  Share it with a neighbor and let them experience the joy of root gardening. The washed root will insure that your neighbor will not get your weeds.  Don’t have to worry about your transplant wilting and dying!  It has all winter to adjust to its new digs.  In fact the root mass will grab onto the soil and settle in. By January it will be connected into the new earth, ready to roll for Spring.

Mayapple,  Garden of the Sanguine Root, Morris Park Road, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Mayapple, Garden of the Sanguine Root, Morris Park Road, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

This Mayapple Patch, above, was planted from bare root a few seasons before.   Below is Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum commutatum), another woodland perennial that likes to be dug up, broken into pieces and replanted.  It’s as if these plants are designed for gardeners to fuss over!  This specimen still has its leaves.

Polygonatum commutatum

Solomon's Seal,  Garden of the Sanguine Root, Morris Park Road, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Solomon's Seal, Garden of the Sanguine Root, Morris Park Road, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Those healthy white buds are a reminder of the vitality of this plant. It must have had a good season in our yard. We did find some Bloodroot that had a bit of rot around the edges of its roots this year.  Bloodroot is not tolerant of poorly drained soils, and we have had a lot of rain this year.

Below is the Solomon’s Seal broken up into healthy segments ready to take over a patch of Japanese stiltgrass and to help provide some shade to its new Bloodroot neighbor. (Bloodroot does not like too much sun either.)

Solomon's Seal,  Garden of the Sanguine Root, Morris Park Road, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Solomon's Seal, Garden of the Sanguine Root, Morris Park Road, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Below is the Solomon’s Seal plant in its full flowering glory.  This plant was also planted from a root mass that was cut apart with a shovel, divided by breaking apart by hand and plopped into the tilled dirt in the Fall.

Solomon's Seal,  Garden of the Sanguine Root, Morris Park Road, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Solomon's Seal, Garden of the Sanguine Root, Morris Park Road, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Gardening in the Fall makes sense yet it is also unconventional. You must have a vision and be able to wait a few months for the results.  Its not as glamorous as gardening in the spring, but it eliminates the risk of losing plants to the hot sun and the time spent on watering and worrying about your new transplants.  A rugged root will be a delicate flower next Spring.  Stick the root in the ground and wait, and all of a sudden, there will be a beautiful flower!  Good things come to those who can wait, as the saying goes.  Gardening in the Fall  is like building the foundation of a house.  It’s in the dirt, and its a rocky start. The beautiful white gables, dormers and porch balustrades come only after the stones have been set into the earth.

Gardening in the fall has one more important component: Leaf mulch creation.  This is the time to grind up your leaves with a leaf blower/composter available at the garden center and/or the lawnmower.  Rather than bagging them up and worrying if the city or township will take them or not, how about making them work for you?  Ground up they make an attractive mulch and by next spring they will be compost, all for free.  The native perennial flowers love leaf mulch more than any other, perhaps because they have spent the past millions of years growing under and within leaf mulch.

Coral honeysuckle,  Garden of the Sanguine Root, Morris Park Road, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Coral honeysuckle, Garden of the Sanguine Root, Morris Park Road, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Lonicera sempervirens

Above is our native honeysuckle, blooming away.  The hummingbirds would not leave this vine alone and hummed along all summer providing the Sanguine Root with hours of entertainment.  The Hummingbirds have all migrated south, thanks in part to our providing them with the native plants required for their nourishment. Now, as of November 28th, the vine is still blooming.

 

Coral honeysuckle,  Garden of the Sanguine Root, Morris Park Road, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Coral honeysuckle, Garden of the Sanguine Root, Morris Park Road, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

It is neat to think that this vine has provided a food source for a family of  birds that were able to fly over 1000 miles when the time required!  The rewards of native plant gardening!

FALL COLORS IN MORRIS PARK

So many memories of falls past with their deep blue skies and fluorescent trees illuminated by a sun that hugs the deepened horizon.

Fall in Morris Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Fall in Morris Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The forest before our eyes is changing rapidly. Just six years past this rotting log was a grand old oak tree.  Isabelle heard the crashing down during a May thunderstorm.  Other grand trees are dying off. Many young trees are now growing, however this time they are not alone.  The scene above is not a natural one.  It is a scene of a forest being protected from invasive vines that threaten the young trees.  Human intervention. Notice how there are few mid-sized trees.  This urban Philadelphia forest has been under stress and its future is uncertain.  What is new is the awareness and willingness to take action and remove the invasives. Just two years ago these young trees were cracking under the weight of invasive vines that have since been removed. Now, the picture above is the new natural.

Humans are also capable of reversing the damage made from the disturbances created from our own botanical history.

Fall in Morris Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Fall in Morris Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Fall is about our memories.  The pleasant sweet aroma of freshly fallen leaves, the sounds of leaves beneath our feet, and our visual landscape of vibrant colors has us enchanted.  We feel the moment of fall, the season, it is crisp and sound.  We remember the forest.

Fall in Morris Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Fall in Morris Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

This is our favorite spot in Morris Park. Just Follow the Morris Park Road path until it ends and there you are at the most spectacular upland forest location in Philadelphia.  At peak foliage in early November it is a spectacular sight.

Fall in Morris Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Fall in Morris Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Illumination abounds. Every leaf a lamp, many are floating lamps that descend to the earth in such an elegant and dignified manner destined to be forest mulch.

Fall in Morris Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Fall in Morris Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Someday to be a leaf again.

Fall is a time to think about the big stuff- our memories have recorded the important things and the crisp air makes them come to the surface. Its so beautiful and we know its so fleeting.  The cycles of nature are astounding- we are humbled by the rhythms of the seasons and their extremes. The seasons are impressed into our memories. When fall is at its most beautiful moments this is the best time to think about these concerns.

Where do we as humans fit in to these cycles of nature?  Our society is so separated from nature from agriculture to entertainment, we live in a world still bent on dominating it. If we ignore nature, there it is in our face, full of trees, foxes and raccoons before we know it.   We have Owls here in Morris Park, Philadelphia.

Nature is now ours to lose.

Fall in Morris Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Fall in Morris Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Now, just a few days later, after a rainstorm, the peak foliage of mid-fall has morphed into late fall in Morris Park. The change is dramatic and it is difficult to adjust to.  It is still just as beautiful but it requires a degree of reflection and thought to appreciate this beauty.  We really must use our memories and reflections to love late November.  Late November is for rememberers.

Fall in Morris Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Fall in Morris Park, Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaFall in Morris Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Late Fall is not as exuberant as fall was a week ago. Lofty thoughts are paused as the weather gets cold and the landscape becomes increasingly stark.

However, a memory reinvigorated with deep blue skies of the past and the raining of yellow and red leaves covering the whole landscape, has us thinking…

…Nature is ours to become. Now at this point in our botanical history, we must do everything we can to protect what is the most least disturbed- like Morris Park, Philadelphia. If Aliens were to show up in a shiny spaceship and they politely asked us to show them  our last 5 million years of  evolution, they would be very interested in our remnant forests.

Where else would we show our galactic guests?

 

Fall in Morris Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Fall in Morris Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania