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  #1  
Old 04-30-2007, 10:01 PM
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Mahon Mahon is offline
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Default The Fakahatchee Strand

On Saturday, April 28th, I traveled down to Naples to see the Fakahatchee Strand; a unique ecosystem which has the highest density of orchid and bromeliad species in the US. The Fakahatchee Strand is located within The Everglades, and is primarily accessed by turning down S.R. 29 off of Alligator Alley (I-75). On S.R. 29, many bromeliads can be seen growing upon Cypress trees on the east side of the road along a ditch. On the west side is a great expanse of prairies and marsh. I spotted a Spiranthes sp. in the middle of the prairie, and I have a feeling it is a new species. The plant, from a distance, looked like Spiranthes torta (which is native to northern Florida, and starts to bloom next month). After 15 miles, S.R. 29 leads you to a long dirt (well, it's limestone) road named Janes Memorial Scenic Road. This road starts with prairies and meadows, then continues in the dense forest and swamps of the Fakahatchee for about 14 miles. In these swamps are some of the rarest and most attractive orchids of the state. Unfortunately, it is not peak blooming season, so I did not expect to find much. What I was primarily looking for was Polyradicion lindenii and Cyrtopodium punctatum in bloom.

April is the driest month for The Everglades, and a person can easily travel among the swamp beds to see things that are practically unreachable at other times of the year. To see the unique stumps covered in epiphytes was amazing. Certain areas had certain "highlights". One stump may yield many plants of Birds Nest Fern, others may hold plants of various Tillandsia species. Very few stumps had orchids growing upon them; perhaps a Bletia purpurea here and there. While wandering further into the swamp beds, I saw many orchids growing upon the live trees. Plants like Epidendrum nocturnum were slowly dying on the dead branches, but plants of the same species just feet away from it were thriving in the same conditions on a live branch. Closely looking at the dead branches, I could see small seedlings that were dead and withered away. Old orchid roots were a tell-tale sign that one flourished in this spot on the branch. I found many Encyclia tampensis that were mere brown bulbs. I am not sure the reasoning of the plants dying on dead branches, but there seems to be a reason.

While traveling by car along this road, I would see many plants of Bletia purpurea on the roadside which dwarfed my plants of this species! One inflorescence was over 4ft. tall, and clumping to about 2ft. wide! The many species of Tillandsia bromeliads were in full bloom. My favorite is Tillandsia fasciculata, a fairly large and color-variable species that has long lasting inflorescences. There were many color forms of this species, and the most colorful were plants perhaps 30ft. or more upon the trees. One inflorescence was pure yellow; another plant was purple and red. Most are shades of red, and sometimes two-tone with pink. Other species of Bromeliads I saw include Tillandsia utriculata (Giant Bromeliad), Tillandsia paucifolia, Tillandsia balbisiana, Tillandsia bartramii, and Tillandsia recurvata (Ball Moss) and Tillandsia usenoides (Spanish Moss).

I made a stop at one of the drainage pipes, which have a wider opening into the dense swamp. There wasn't any water around, so I wasn't concerned about gators. I spotted a nice plant of Encyclia tampensis atop a thin Cypress tree. It's leaves were purple and thriving in the full sun. As I was walking over to see it, I was also searching the ground for the many terrestrial species native to the Fakahatchee. I heard some monkey-like noises coming deep within the swamps, and I wanted to see what birds were making that noise. I spotted a golf ball to throw... wait, a golf ball? In the middle of nowhere? I walked over to it, perhaps 2ft. from it. I bent down to pick it up; my hand about 1ft. away from grabbing it. I suddenly realized that there was no golf ball. Instead, it was a giant Water Moccasin snake with his mouth wide open ready to strike at me. My reaction came quicker than the media to Anna Nichole's death. I jumped backwards some distance and screamed like a little girl. This scream made the birds deep within the swamp that I wanted to see, fly away. Perhaps they migrated to a different part of the world. This snake wasn't the wimpy little 2ft. or 3ft. Water Moccasin (Cotton Mouth), it was a monstrous 5ft.+ snake that was perhaps 6 inches wide! So, the golf ball didn't exist; it was instead the Cotton Mouth of a deadly venomous monster snake that only Samuel Jackson himself could slay. This generous warning made me realize I needed to be on the watch for these snakes, even though there isn't a drop of water to be found. After my glass shattering scream, I had ran back up to the road. These snakes are notorious for being aggressive and chasing people, so I could not stop running. Even sitting in the car seat, I think I was still running. It was truly a terrifying experience.

We traveled about 500ft. farther down the road to what I thought would be a good habitat for orchids. Inside the swamp, I could spot Pond Apple trees, which is the preferred tree for Polyradicion lindenii (Ghost Orchid). Not a plant of it to be found, but I did find a single seedling of Encyclia tampensis and a few plants of Vanilla phaeantha. There wasn't a pod to be found on the zig-zag vines. I looked up and around, and spotted a few orchids out of reach, perhaps 15ft. to 20ft. high. The height that the orchids were at, I could only photograph straight up into the air, with the sun for a background. The pictures didn't come out to well. I could identify the orchids as Epidendrum nocturnum with a dangling pod, and Epidendrum amphistomum, with a couple seed pods.

We traveled even further down the seemingly endless road. As far as you can see, the road does NOT end. I would get out in random areas in which I thought there would be orchids to photograph and see. Very few were strung out along the road. At that time, I didn't have the correct provisions and equipment to venture far from the road and deeper into the swamps. To prevent getting lost, I had to keep the road in clear view. In certain places, I would find a few plants of Vanilla phaeantha that traveled the entire height of the tree, and arched downwards. The funny part of it was, these trees were no higher than 8 feet tall. It is said that this species flowers on the highest parts of the vine. Every inflorescence I found was near the very base of the vine, no higher than 4 feet.

We continued this stopping and exploring certain areas for plants for a couple hours. Finally, I decided that the road-side habitat of the Fakahatchee is basically the same for the majority of Janes Memorial Scenic Road. We continued for a few more miles until we hit the first turn in the road. As soon as I started seeing the native Royal Palms, I knew that I would find many orchids nearby. The palms along the road yielded only bromeliads. I ventured a little further in the swamps and found Royal Palms over 100ft. tall. On the sides of the trunk were various species of mosses and bromeliads, and one orchid I was looking to photograph: Campylocentrum pachrrizhum. I only found seedlings that either had dried up seedling-stage leaves, or slightly mature leafless seedlings. I couldn't find any large plants on the Royal Palms nearby or any of the trees. Unfortunately, the pictures of them did not turn out as expected, and I doubt at that time of day it would have turned out at all. We went another mile or so, and I saw many groupings of Royal Palms sticking above the trees. I decided to go in a little deeper in the swamp this time. In luck, I found a great spot full of orchid life. Plants of Epidendrum amphistomum were arching down above my head with swollen seed pods. I also found plants of Epidendrum floridense, which was thought to be extinct in the wild up until about 1993. I only found two plants of the rambling Epidendrum rigidum, both plants with forming pods. Only a single plant of Anacheilium cochleata var. triandra, and I found a few seedlings among nearby trees. Possibly the most spectacular find was Epidendrum strobiliferum. I didn't realize I found it until I reviewed the pictures when I got home. It is a small little rambler, second rarest species of Epidendrum in Florida. The rarest is Epidendrum acunae. Unfortunately, like most of the pictures I took, it didn't turn out to well. It was only curiosity that sparked my interest in zooming in on the branches when reviewing pics, and I saw the characteristic growths of the rare species. Fortunately, I know where I found these plants, so I can go and check up on them this coming weekend when I visit the Fakahatchee again (this time with equipment and snake-proof EVERYTHING!).

It was a fun day trip, and I saw quite a bit in there. Next weekend will be a little more serious, as we will be taking advantage of the dried up swamp beds to venture further into the Fakahatchee. At almost any other time of the year, one would have to wear waders to get to the areas where I was exploring, and have the dangers of Alligators and Water Moccasin snakes to worry about.

Here are some of the pictures of the trip:

I-75 just before hitting Alligator Alley


The entrance to the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park


The never-ending Janes Memorial Scenic Highway


The first orchid spotted; Bletia purpurea


A Red Tailed Hawk who came to greet me


Vanilla phaeantha climbing up a tree, with Tillandsia fasciculata


Another Vanilla phaeantha covering a small tree


Vanilla phaeantha vine close-up


A typical swamp bed, drained and not a drop of water


A typical Cypress tree, ages old


Royal Palms, a beautiful sight in the middle of the forests


The very rare Epidendrum floridense. There were a few seedlings nearby, so this species is coming back from near extinction!


A very interesting "island" of many tree species. Among them, Oak, Pond Apple, and Royal Palm are growing in the same area. In other months, this would be an "island of opportunity".


Epidendrum amphistomum; during the taking of this picture, I fell backwards onto the swamp bed. When I got up, I took another picture of the same plants. Strangely enough, the first time came out better while I was falling! There are some small seedlings in the lower right of the pic, and just above them is a small seedling of Encyclia tampensis


Small seedlings of Anacheilium cochleatum var. triandra


A small plant of Epidendrum rigidum, along with many species of Tillandsia


The Florida Leather Fern, Acrostichum danaeifolium. This is only a small plant. Mature plants can have fronds 12ft. or more!


Taken while leaving the Fakahatchee and starting to leave The Everglades. These were more recent areas that were on fire possibly by lightning. It's a mass area of dead, charred Sabel palmetto (Cabbage Palm), but in a matter of years, the area will regenerate with vigor. Plants of Calopogon tuberosus (Pine Pink Orchid) and other species may generate in the rich sand.


Another picture showing one of the endless maintenance roads that pass through the charred areas.


Here is a short clip that I took to see all the damage the fire did to that portion of The Everglades. I decided to start filming miles into the burn. It was incredible:



-Pat

Last edited by Mahon; 04-30-2007 at 10:22 PM..
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  #2  
Old 04-30-2007, 10:15 PM
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cb977 cb977 is offline
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Pat, thanks for sharing your adventure with us!

Loved the pictures and the descriptions you gave...especially the part about screaming like a little girl My husband came in to see what I was laughing at
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  #3  
Old 04-30-2007, 10:16 PM
Frdemetr Frdemetr is offline
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Pat, thank you for the article and the pics (the movie is not available yet). I think you could post this 'thread' as an article, what in fact it really is! Congrats!
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Old 04-30-2007, 10:51 PM
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Lagoon Lagoon is offline
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FABULOUS thread!! Thanks so much for sharing
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'A day without laughter is a day wasted'
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  #5  
Old 05-01-2007, 11:18 AM
dennis dennis is offline
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thanks pat
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  #6  
Old 05-01-2007, 03:48 PM
Ross Ross is offline
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Thanks Pat but video no longer available.
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Old 05-01-2007, 04:32 PM
Lin Lin is offline
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What a phenomenal article.

Looking forward to the next installment.
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  #8  
Old 05-14-2007, 09:37 PM
flhiker flhiker is offline
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Great read, I love going to the Fakahatchee strand, I was there Saturday May 12 checking on a spiking Ghost orchid. I found it in the beginning of April and it has grown about 1 inch in a month and a half but still no flower. And have located a very small one the same day. I highly suggest snake proof gaiters if you plan on hiking in deeper I almost stepped on a four foot cottonmouth about 5 weeks ago. (cottonmouths don't scare easily. Also gloves, walking stick to move thing and a GPS its easy to get turned around in there. Here are a couple of pic from Saturday

Last edited by flhiker; 03-10-2008 at 12:54 AM..
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  #9  
Old 05-14-2007, 09:57 PM
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Mahon Mahon is offline
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Dave,

Thanks! Yes, I will be a little more prepared next time... I wasn't planning on going too far into the woods this time, just trying to track and make waypoints as markers of orchids...

Them cottonmouths are some scary snakes. They just don't move, which is annoying. I think being near a rattlesnake is A LOT more safer then being by one of these.

Also, Dave, check your e-mail... I will be sending you a message shortly...

-Pat
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  #10  
Old 07-20-2007, 02:30 AM
thakshila smith thakshila smith is offline
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Pat you gone...............What happened to pigeons.
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