Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Hiking in Southern Florida

Lee County, in which we reside, has 43 conservation lands, or preserves.  We hiked through several of them this past week and this posting will feature some of our experiences in those parks.
Caloosahatchee Creeks Preserve is a moist lowland, and I was immediately impressed by the presence of many ferns.  The landscape reminded me of the Washington's Olympic National Park.  Of course, in a place of high moisture there will be mosquitoes!  Every time I stopped to take a picture I could see them on my camera lens, this is one place where we had to keep up a fast pace or we would get attacked.  Soon after we had started out on the trail we saw a gopher tortoise, he went quite rapidly into his home the minute he saw us!  Fortunately many of the trees of this preserve are labeled and we soon discovered that that the primary trees here are slash pine, sweet bay magnolia and saw palmetto.
Last Saturday John and I joined a group hiking with a naturalist in Prairie Pines Preserve, which helped us to identify local plants and trees.  I did not have a camera with me that morning, but yesterday while hiking in Yellow Fever Creek, we saw the same plants.  Pictured above is the wax myrtle.  It has shiny green leaves and black berries on the branches.  Rubbing the leaves between my fingers I recognized the smell of bayberry candles.  The berries are food for a variety of birds, however only a couple of species has a digestive system which will melt the wax of the berry- that is necessary  for the seed to germinate.
The strand of trees pictured above are the malaleuca, an invasive species which was introduced from Australia and New Guinea in the1900s to drain the everglades.  Florida was experiencing a population surge and felt it necessary to get rid of wetlands for land development,  The tree consumes as much as 2,200 gallons of water an hour per acre.  Unfortunately other vegetation around the tree subsequently dies.  Chopping down or burning the tree causes the tree to release seeds.  We have hiked in two different parks since Prairie Pines and have seen the destructive effects of malaleuca.
I can expect to find colorful flowers and birds in the tropics, but how about grasshoppers?  John found this colorful creature while we were hiking in Yellow Fever Creek.  With some species, when they are this colorful,  it is an indication that they can fire out a toxic substance when threatened.  That is true of this eastern lubber grasshopper.  The insect is a slow mover and can only jump short distances.

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