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Growing Mushrooms and Cleaning the Forest at Lake Seminole

Mushrooms are one of the few foods we eat that are neither plant or animal. We trek to Lake Seminole Farm, where two men took a chance and have started a mushroom growing operation. In looking at how mushrooms grow, we get an unexpected lesson in forest ecology.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV
Lake Seminole Farm grows shiitake mushrooms (pictured in the banner image above) and pink oyster mushrooms.

Lake Seminole farm grows shiitake mushrooms (pictured in the banner image above) and pink oyster mushrooms.

Mushrooms are a food with a mystique about them.  They’re like oysters or sushi.  There are serious enthusiasts willing to spend good money on certain varieties; others are repulsed at the thought of them.  Think of the possible outcomes of trying a random mushroom found in the woods.  You discover amazing flavor.  You become sick.  You die.  You take an unexpected mystic voyage into the depths of your psyche.  This is not a food that is like the other food you eat, and so it makes sense that a mushroom farm doesn’t exactly look like most other farms.

Lake Seminole Farm grows shiitake and oyster mushrooms (I love the symmetry of the Apalachicola River- the body of water to its south has oysters, the body of water to its north has oyster mushrooms).  David Krause studied fungi at FSU and USF, part of a career path that led to his being Florida’s state toxicologist from 2008 through 2011.  In 2011, he took a chance and decided to put his land to work.  Living on Lake Seminole, his property has the dense tangle of hardwoods that you find on a floodplain.  Those oak and gum trees are perfect for growing shiitake mushrooms.  But the farm doesn’t exclusively use logs gathered on the property.

Rather than deforest the hillside sloping into the Flint River side of the lake, he and Lake Seminole Farm co-owner Breck Dalton remove hardwoods from where they are least welcome.  In a longleaf pine forest, hardwoods should burn down before growing to the size that David and Breck need.  Tall Timbers’ Jim Cox, who took us into the Big Woods for EcoShakespeare, showed us last summer what a longleaf forest looks like when burned at one, two, and three year intervals.  As he and fellow Tall Timbers biologist Kim Sash showed the WFSU/ Mag Lab SciGirls, too many years without burning can crowd the understory with hardwood trees.  There’s a point where the trees get too big to be burned down; David and Breck offer a service to their neighbors while benefitting their farm.  It’s an elegant solution.

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Jonathan (L) fills holes with shiitake spawn sawdust while Breck preps another log for drilling. After the holes are filled, they are sealed with wax to keep the sawdust moist.

Once the logs are cut, they sit for thirty days while their immune systems die.  Then, they enter the work shed, where holes are drilled in them and filled with oyster-spawn-innoculated sawdust.  To speed production, the logs are force flushed- dunked in ice water, essentially.  The emptied bags of ice are then filled with inoculated straw and seeded with oyster mushroom spawn.

I knew that when I decided to feature a mushroom farm, I would see a different type of agriculture.  I didn’t expect it to be such a lesson in the ways a forest creates space.  Mushrooms feed on and break down logs.  Fire clears out hardwoods (and when it doesn’t, someone might have a use for them somewhere else).  Animals graze on the understory.  Nature knows how to take care of itself, and humans figure out how to manipulate nature to maintain the land and grow our food.

Foraging for Mushrooms

Mushrooms come in many shapes, sizes, and colors.  Many are toxic.  Approach mushroom foraging with caution.

Mushrooms come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. Many are toxic. Approach mushroom foraging with caution.

David says that there are edible mushrooms growing naturally on the property, notably orange chanterelles (shiitakes and oyster mushrooms are not native fungi).  He enjoys foraging for mushrooms on he and his and neighbors’ properties.  Foraging for mushrooms is dangerous, however, if you don’t have the right knowledge.  He encourages people interested in foraging for mushrooms to find an experienced mentor or foraging club.

Trying a variety of Google searches, all I have found are that a lot of people are interested in finding a club locally, but with no luck (maybe I should go through all of those forums and find a way to connect all those people with each other).  There is an online community of sorts in the following of the Crawfordville based Florida Fungi Facebook page.  The page is maintained by Bill Petty, a UF IFAS certified master gardener and one-time president of the Sarracenia chapter (Wakulla County) of the Florida Native Plant Society.  People routinely post pictures of mushrooms they find for identification help.

Odds and Ends

  • David has Tennessee fainting goats eating the brush on his property.  If you can’t get enough fainting goat footage, check out our visit to Golden Acres Ranch last fall.
  • Lake Seminole is a reservoir lake created by the Jim Woodruff Dam at the confluence of the Flint and Chattahoochee rivers.  From the dam flows the Apalachicola River.  The river and the amount of water flowing from that dam are frequent topics on this blog.
  • Wet conditions are favorable for mushroom spawning, but they won’t sprout until after it stops raining.  I’m starting to see quite a few in my yard from the relative break in rain we’ve had this week.
  • The hunt leases and timber plots where they gather logs have been certified USDA organic, and so are the mushrooms produced at the farm.
  • Tall Timbers Research Station’s fire ecologist, Dr. Kevin Robertson, makes a brief appearance in the video above to explain the importance of burning longleaf habitat and why hardwoods need to be burned out of it.  The shots I use to illustrate the biodiversity of which he speaks come from the aforementioned Big Woods.  The Big Woods is an old growth forest, of which only 8,000 acres remain from the historic 90,000,000 acre coastal plain forest (there are 3,000,000 acres of longleaf habitat left in the country, but most has been cut and replanted).  If you want to see what the habitat should look like, watch that EcoShakespeare segment.  I cannot overstate what a priveledge it was to get footage of those ancient woods.
Biodiversity in the understory of the Big Woods.

Biodiversity in the understory of the Big Woods.

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Jim McClellan’s “Life Along the Apalachicola River”

Video: We accompany Jim McClellan, author of Life Along the Apalachicola River, as he scouts turkey hunting locations and fishes in Iamonia Lake, an oxbow of the Apalachicola.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

We met Jim McClellan at 5:00 am in the parking lot of a Blountstown McDonalds.  He took us to the Iamonia Lake Hunting and Fishing Club, from where we departed for Iamonia Island (surrounded by Iamonia Lake on one side and the Apalachicola River on the other).  We sat in the darkness, backs against a tree, unseen mosquitos conducting a blood drive from any skin we left exposed.  Turkey season began the following day; on this day we sat and listened, communicating by whisper.  I wondered, would Jim’s potential prey see the little red light on the side of my camera battery?

This is how Jim McClellan grew up.  This is the kind of thing Jim writes about in his book, Life Along the Apalachicola River.  His family has lived in Calhoun county for seven generations; Jim himself is fifth generation.  Sitting here with his back to a tree in the forested flood plain of the Apalachicola River, he is continuing a familial relationship with this land and water that goes back over 150 years.  Within Jim’s own lifetime, however, he has seen Iamonia Lake change.

This row of willows took root in Iamonia Lake during a low water event.  Now firmly established in the channel, the trees are accumulating silt.  The Apalachicola River system relies upon its many sloughs and streams. During high water, the banks of these waterways provide important foraging grounds for the rivers fish.  Channels like this provide nutrients to the Apalachicola Bay estuary.  What happens when the channels become altered?

This row of willows took root in Iamonia Lake during a low water event. Now firmly established in the channel, the trees are accumulating silt. The Apalachicola River system relies upon its many sloughs and streams. The banks of these waterways provide important foraging grounds for the river’s fish. Channels like this provide nutrients to the Apalachicola Bay estuary. What happens when the channels are narrowed or become blocked?

“I’ve talked to people in their sixties, people in their seventies, people in their eighties,” Jim said as he guided us to the main river channel later in the morning.  “The periods of low water that we’re seeing now are things that those folks haven’t seen in their life.”

We slowed down now and then to squeeze between willow trees that took root in Iamonia Lake’s stream bed when water was low.  “In my lifetime, this has been an easily navigable waterway from where we are now all the way out to the river.”  In his lifetime, he has seen Iamonia Lake, an oxbow which had once been part of the main Apalachicola River channel, cut off from the river on both ends.  This was just a couple of years ago, he said; I imagine this was during the record low flows of 2012.  That year, fish didn’t bite and he couldn’t find frogs.

As we returned from the fogged out Apalachicola, he set bush hooks on low branches.  I’ve been seeing those since I started paddling out here in 2012.  These fishing hooks are baited and hung to be retrieved later in the day or early the next.  They are usually marked by bright tape- all except the one that caught my shirt on the last day of RiverTrek 2012.  On that trip, I saw plenty of the river, but only superficially experienced the river culture Jim writes about in his book.  I saw bush hooks.  On the Estiffanulga sand bar, I awoke to the sounds of barking dogs and boats departing the ramp across the river in the early morning.  I saw hunting dogs in a  floating kennel south of Wewahitchka.  Through Jim’s book, I get a better sense of that world.

  • Jim didn’t catch any turkeys that weekend.  We went out with him on a Friday; Turkey season started that Saturday.  He did hear some turkeys on Sunday, and caught “a boatload of fish.”
  • This is Jim’s first book, but he is a writer by trade.  He was a speechwriter for Governor Lawton Chiles, Press Secretary for Lt. Governor Buddy MacKay, and Communications Director for the Florida Department of Commerce.  He currently does marketing for an e-mail and web security firm in Pensacola.
  • Jim gave us more stories than we could fit into a single video.  You can watch those, which paraphrase stories in his book, here.
Jim calls a turkey.  As he explains in the video, turkey hunters go against nature by doing this.  Males are the ones that are hunted, but they are also the ones who call females to them.  Jim is imitating a female calling a male.

Jim calls a turkey. As he explains in the video, turkey hunters go against nature by doing this. Males are the ones that are hunted, but they are also the ones who call females to them. Jim is imitating a female calling a male.

Hunting Along the Apalachicola River

P1080444-smallJim and his family hunt on private land.  But, as we’ve covered in the past, there is plenty of public land along the Apalachicola River.  If you’re  interested in hunting along the river, check out the Apalachicola National Forest, Tate’s Hell State Forest, and The Apalachicola Wildlife and Environmental Area.  The Northwest Florida Water Management District manages two sites where you can hunt along the river: Florida River Island and Beaverdam.  The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a hunting page on their website that’s full of resources and information.

What will the Apalachicola River look like in seven generations?

I was sitting here, editing this video, when I heard Jim say that his family had been in Calhoun County for seven generations.  It reminded me of something in the EcoShakespeare show, which I had finished days earlier.  Towards the end of that program, Madeleine Carr says that, in caring for Wakulla Springs, we must think seven generations ahead.  She is invoking the Great Law of Peace, the constitution of the five nations of the Iroquois.  Of the leaders of the five nations, referred to as mentors, it says “The thickness of their skin shall be seven spans — which is to say that they shall be proof against anger, offensive actions and criticism.”  As it is often interpreted, the Great Law is asking that we think beyond whatever conflicts and pettiness would distract us in the moment, to think of future generations.  You don’t have to squint too hard to see in it a message for the mentors of Florida, Alabama, and Georgia.  To Madeleine, and many other environmentalists, it’s a message for all of us.

When we got to the Apalachicola River, it was covered in thick fog.  With so many forces tugging at it, the different interests and concerns vying for its water, and so many possible outcomes, the river's future resembles this image.

The Apalachicola River.

It’s interesting to think of seven generations of environmental stewardship when, for so many Floridians, our families have only been in the state for one or two “spans”.  Our last EcoAdventure subject, Susan Cerulean (born in New Jersey), wrote about this in her 2005 book, Tracking Desire.  In the chapter called Restorying, she laments not only our population’s lack of roots in our natural landscape, but the lack of old stories to connect us to the land.  She had been looking for stories of swallow-tailed kites from Florida’s original inhabitants, but realized that any that might have existed were likely lost when the state’s native peoples were driven out or killed by Europeans.  “With the genocide of the original peoples, we lost a profound opportunity to understand the landscape.”

Jim McCellan wrote his book in part to preserve a culture nourished by the Apalachicola River.  It may not represent thousands of years of native wisdom, but it’s as deep as Florida roots go.  Susan’s stories, on the other hand, combine research and personal stories.  Research and experience; people differ on which carries more weight.  Research can teach us quite a lot about the natural world; it’s what this blog was originally founded on.  But there’s something to be said about the experience of Jim and his family, who can look back at this land for as many generations as the Great Law requires we look forward.

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Seasons Out of Order | EcoShakespeare

Watch EcoShakespeare – the Complete Adventure NOW!

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

In the end, it worked out that we had to shoot the show out of season.

“And thorough this distemperature we see

The seasons alter…”

titania-headHere, Titania laments the damage done to the Earth’s climate cycles by her quarrel with Oberon, her husband and king of the fairies.  She may also have been looking at our production schedule for EcoShakespeare.  In October, we got our grant.  The product was to be (mostly) finished by the end of January.  The play we would be highlighting?  A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  It’s a summer where everyone is wearing jackets.  We tag a bird- a Henslow’s sparrow- that migrates to our area in late fall.  We forage for food that comes into season well after summer.  And that’s perfect.  How better to drive home the damage done by these nature deities’ marital discord?  As Titania said, the seasons alter…

EcoShakespeare is one of the oddest programs I’ve ever worked on.  In some regards I upped the oddness for the final, thirty minute program.  If you’ve been following the blog at all this year, you’ve seen segments covering each of our three adventures.  In the longer format, we can expand on some ideas, give Colbert Sturgeon a chance to get a couple more nature musings in.   And we had some more fun with the quirkiness of the premise.  And now that it’s all over, EcoShakespeare can say adieu.  It’s been fun.

As we wrap it up, I thought I’d share some of my favorite tidbits that didn’t make it into the show.  There are so many great facts and stories on these shoots that just don’t make it in when the story is finding its path.

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Adventure 1: A Quarrel in the Big Woods of Thomasville

We visit the Big Woods, an old growth longleaf forest.  This tract is part of an 8,000 acre remnant of the original 90,000,000 acre coastal plain forest that stretched from South Carolina to Texas.  Many of the trees here are hundreds of years old in a habitat where mature trees benefit many endangered and threatened species.  Jim Cox, with Tall Timbers Research Station, bands a rare Henslow's sparrow.
  • A little bit about bird banding.  Jim Cox affixes a band to a Henslow’s sparrow’s leg. The band was numbered.  In the video, he references that he has to register the information he gathers about the bird (time caught, weight, wingspan, etc.).  The Bird Banding Program is overseen by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Canadian Wildlife Service; Jim has to get federal authorization both to band birds and to use a mist net.  The information he registered is made available to other researchers.  If the bird is recaptured, they will see that, indeed, it had a role in a Shakespearean production.
  • The bird’s wing length helps Jim locate its point of origin.  Henslow’s from out west tend to have longer wings than their eastern counterparts.

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    Toothache grass.

  • The bird usually forages for grass seeds on the forest floor.  One type of grass we saw in the Big Woods is “toothache grass.”  The roots of the plant are known to have an anesthetic property.  I couldn’t get it to numb my gums.  Maybe I had to chew on it some more.
  • Henslow’s sparrows keep their weight down before migration.  This keeps them from using too much energy during long flights.  When they first arrive at their destination, Jim says, they are emaciated.  The one in the video had been in the Big Woods for a little while, though.
  • In our original segment we didn’t mention red cockaded woodpeckers; in the full program we have Jim talk about their relationship to old growth longleaf pine trees.

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Adventure 2: Puck’s Mission on Lake Iamonia

Colbert Sturgeon leads us on a mission to forage ingredients for a medicinal tea on the shores of Lake Iamonia, on the Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy campus.
  • P1070759-smallWe shot the only purple flower growing on Tall Timbers in November and had it pose as love in idleness.  Love in idleness is in fact a type of pansy which grows both white and purple.  Shakespeare’s reference to Cupid’s arrow changing the color of the flower is drawn from Roman mythology.  I’m not sure what the flower we shot is called.
  • Someone asked Colbert what his favorite type of natural space is.  He said “In between.”  The fringes between ecosystems are known as ecotones.  The example I keep using for this is the bogs where carnivorous plants grow.  They grow between pine flat woods and forested wetland areas.  Many kinds of interesting things grow “in between.”

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Adventure 3: A Fairy Song of Protection for Wakulla Springs

We follow the path of water from Tallahassee to Wakulla Springs, getting a full sense of how pollution contaminates groundwater and of the sensitivity of the aquifer in Wakulla County.
  • As Jim Stevenson talked to us at Lake Munson, a boat backed into the lake.  Perhaps some people were going out on the lake to catch fish.  Jim pointed out that there were no signs warning that the lake contained PCB- Polychlorinated biphenyl.  This chemical compound is associated with endocrine disruption and nuerotoxicity.  Leon County does regularly check the overall health of its lakes and streams, and publishes their findings.  But there no signs are placed by lakes with Toxic Algae blooms or PCB.

    Lake Munson, Tallahassee's most polluted lake.

    Lake Munson, Tallahassee’s most polluted lake.

  • Where did the PCB come from?  The old electrical building at Cascades Park (soon to be the Edison).  When electrical transformers would stop working, they’d dump them in the lake.
  • We interviewed Madeleine Carr, President of the Friends of Wakulla Springs State Park, at Cherokee Sink.  Cherokee Sink used to be quite the party spot, and in the course of that partying, quite a lot of trash ended up in it.  The Friends of Wakulla Springs raised money to purchase it for the state park; it’s across the street from the old entrance.  Once in possession of that land, they hired a crane to pull garbage out.  According to Madeleine, they removed 70,000 tons of trash, including a car.
  • We shot her interview on Halloween.  That day, the mile-plus hike to the spring was littered with crabapples.  If you’re visiting in the fall, bring a basket and have a picnic on the scenic overlook.
  • Madeleine’s interview was shot on October 31, our trip with Jim was on November 1.  On November 4, Wakulla voters rejected an ordinance intended to protect the county’s wetlands, an amendment that both ardently supported.  Madeleine and Jim talked off camera about being called marsh marxists.  A week earlier, Jack Rudloe brought the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab’s Seamobile to a screening of our Oyster Doctors film at Tall Timbers.  He had just replaced its tires after they were slashed.  He suspected this was a result of his own outspoken support of Amendment A (and some problems with “No on A” proponents a couple of days earlier at the St. Marks Stone Crab Festival).  Wakulla County is an ecologically sensitive place.  Water passes freely into the limestone aquifer; it lacks the red clay protection of the area to its north.  It has miles and miles of undeveloped coast, a lot of it on the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.  It seems like a difficult place to live without making an ecological impact.  It makes for an interesting case study on how we live with nature.  We always feature passionate advocates for the environment.  But what price is the average citizen willing to pay for pristine ecosystems?  What level of impact are most people comfortable with?
  • The fairy song in this video was arranged by Southern Shakespeare Festival Music Director Stephen Hodges.  Years ago, before I called them EcoAdventures, we interviewed Stephen on Leon County’s greenway system.  At the time, I had no idea he was such an accomplished musician.  That piece also featured some great local music.  Our latest EcoAdventure, with Susan Cerulean, also benefitted greatly from the inclusion of local music.  I have to say it adds quite a lot to the feel of these videos to have that kind of a score. Any musicians out there want to have their music set to nature? Contact me!
  • Stephen joined SSF’s Artistic Director, Lanny Thomas, on WFSQ-FM for the radio part of our collaboration.  Dan MacDonald explored the musical history of a Midsummer Night’s Dream, from the accompaniment used during Shakespeare’s day, to the compositions created by Felix Mendelssohn starting when he was 17 (in the early 1800s), to the 1960s music that will accompany next week’s performances in Cascades Park, which Stephen selected.

We get back to conventional EcoAdventures next week.  Tune in to Dimensions on Wednesday, April 15 at 7:30 pm ET, as we head back to the Apalachicola River with Jim McClellan, author of Life Along the Apalachicola River.  We go looking for turkeys, hang a few bush hooks, and hear some tales about life in Calhoun County.

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Special thanks to WFSU’s partners on EcoShakespeare, The Southern Shakespeare Festival, Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy, Palmetto Expeditions, and the Friends of Wakulla Springs State Park. EcoShakespeare is funded by a grant from WNET’s Shakespeare Uncovered. For more information on Shakespeare Uncovered and WFSU’s associated TV and Radio projects, visit our Shakespeare Uncovered web site.
Shakespeare Uncovered is made possible by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Major funding is also provided by The Joseph & Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, Dana and Virginia Randt, the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, the Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, The Polonsky Foundation, Rosalind P. Walter, Jody and John Arnhold, the Corinthian International Foundation, and PBS.
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Bird Watching & Nature Writing: Susan Cerulean at Bald Point

Video: bird watching, nature writing, and possibly the best sunrise spot on the Forgotten Coast. Author Susan Cerulean joins us at Bald Point State Park.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

Susan Cerulean and I are watching a bufflehead duck dive for food by an oyster reef.  We’re at Bald Point State Park, and Susan is putting me in tune with nature’s cycles.  “You can’t know when that last one’s left,” she says of the duck, which should soon be departing for the north.  This is the seasonal cycle, warming and cooling that spurs many of the birds we’re seeing to start continental and intercontinental flights.

We’re here to see as many shorebirds as possible, so we arrive at low tide.  Today, that happens to coincide with sunrise.  Lunar and solar cycles.  In fact, the full moon has exposed quite the sand flat, an epic low tide that we enjoy throughout the morning, as do foraging dunlin and ruddy turnstones.  Further off, pelicans and least terns sit at the water’s edge.  Through the simple act of scheduling our shoot when we did, I’ve already gotten quite a lesson in the cycles of the natural world.

sunriseBald Point provides a sunrise vista that’s uncommon on our Forgotten Coast.  Here, the coast faces straight east into Apalachee Bay, meaning you get to see the sun rise out of the water.  While the park doesn’t open until 8 am, there is sunrise beach access along Bald Point Road (Consult this brochure for a map).  It’s an hour away from Tallahassee, but I need to come out and start my day here more often.

Once you do get past that gate, you can walk on the beach or up onto observation platforms at the mouth of the Ochlockonee River.  Today, the extra-low tide exposes something of an oyster reef maze.  I should have guessed from where I was going that there would be reefs; instead I’m kicking myself for not bringing my “oyster shoes.”  That’s my nickname for the old shoes I would save from the trash for my shoots with David Kimbro and Randall Hughes.  Many of those took place on the other side of this park in the oyster reefs of Alligator Harbor, where I started following their research for the In the Grass, On the Reef project.  Oysters are sharp and are unkind to feet and footwear; it’s best not to bring your favorite pair of shoes.  Oyster reefs are a great place to see birds, as they shelter so many invertebrates.  Walking on a reef, if you really look, you’ll see stone crabs, mud crabs, and various predatory snails.  Birds love to eat these and the many small fish and shrimp that hide in the crags of submerged oyster clumps.  It was no surprise to see, as you may have noted in the video above, fishermen and shrimp boats reaping the bounty of the estuary systems at the mouth of the river.

Oyster reefs also line the edges of Chaires Creek, a couple of miles of winding marshy stream leading to Lake Tucker.  I’ve not paddled it, but I have accompanied fishermen retrieving traps full of blue crabs here.  There is a boat launch at Lake Tucker, so you can put in kayaks or a boat and maybe go after some of the big fish that forage in intertidal systems.

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Oyster reefs will cut up your shoes. They can have a strong smell. And the mud around them can be treacherous. I will always love walking on and around them.

Coming To Pass

Susan Cerulean's newest book, Coming to Pass.  Cover art by David Moynahan.

Susan Cerulean’s newest book, Coming to Pass. Cover art by David Moynahan.

Bald Point nicely encapsulates much of what we love about the Forgotten Coast.  Susan has spent the last eight years writing a book that captures the very heart of this region; appreciating what we have while we still have it.  “Like those buffleheads- you can’t know when the last one’s left,” She says.  “And that’s sort of how I feel about our coast.”

Specifically, she’s writing about the barrier islands of the Forgotten Coast: Dog Island, St. George Island, and St. Vincent Island.  These islands were created by sediments carried from the Appalachian Mountains via the Apalachicola River.  They physically contain the river’s fresh water, creating what had been, until a couple of years ago, one of the nation’s most productive estuaries.  We often think of the peril faced by that estuary as it struggles to receive freshwater in the quantity and with the consistency that it needs.  However, the islands themselves are in trouble, being slowly swallowed by the Gulf of Mexico.

Coming to Pass is the result of a journey that started with Susan interviewing her husband, FSU oceanographer Dr. Jeff Chanton.  Over eight years, she researched, she visited the people who live and make their living from the coast, she walked from one end of St. Vincent Island to the other.  The book is about more than sea level rise.  But that is the focus.

In the linked pdf produced by Gulf of Mexico Coastal Training, you can see that it projects to be a slow process.  In the 2100 map, St. George looks to lose a little bit of coastline but St. Vincent looks like it’s falling apart.  Aside from helping to create the estuary, the islands are a key stop for already diminishing flocks of migratory birds.

Susan Cerulean at Bald Point State Park.

Susan Cerulean at Bald Point State Park.

Over decades of shorebird counts, Susan has seen big declines in the abundances of each species.  “We’re not really set up to see these changes with eyes and senses so much.”  She still sees all of the types of birds, but the quantities of each have been shrinking.  During those decades, more and more coastline has been developed and habitat lost.  Sea level rise threatens to claim more of that habitat.

Luckily, that process is slow.  For Susan, it means that we can still do something about it.  “I’m grounded in knowing what’s at stake and what’s been lost” Susan says. “But I feel if you only go that far, it’s a dead end.  ‘Well, okay then, let’s just have a party.’  But where does that leave the children?”  Judging by the passages she read in the video (and the one we didn’t use), this is not a depressing book about our destruction of the planet.  It’s as much about the islands themselves, and the bay, and all those things we love.  In a way, it feels like a wake up call.  Here’s the thing we love; now please don’t let it go away.

Word of South

Susan’s friend, Velma Frye, provided us with two tracks to use in the video.  The two of them will be collaborating for a performance piece in the upcoming Word of South Festival that’s hitting Tallahassee’s Cascades Park on April 11 and 12 (it says rain or shine, which is brave for a location that’s designed to flood).  They’re still working on the specifics of combining Susan’s words with Velma’s music, but Velma described it to me like this: “I’ll begin an instrumental introduction to deepen the response as Sue is still reading and later she will resume reading after I have finished singing the song and am playing a long coda, like wind and water interacting.”

Two of Word of South’s organizers, Mark Mustian and Mandy Stringer, joined Julz Graham on Dimensions this week.  Watch the interview to learn more about the festival.

There are Other Nature Blogs on the Internet

Yes, it’s true, this isn’t the only one.  I normally try to shelter readers from this fact, but I would like to mention that Susan Cerulean has a blog that she started after completing Coming to Pass.  I had been reading it, and throughly enjoying it, when one day I thought to myself “I bet a day with Susan on the coast would make a good video.” I’ll leave that for you to decide; regardless, I enjoyed the process.

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Volunteers’ Labor of Love: The Wolf Creek Trout Lily Preserve

Video: The dimpled trout lily isn’t a rare plant, but it is rare to see them as far south as Grady, County Georgia. There, volunteers from the Magnolia chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society set up a preserve for an unusually large concentration of the bright yellow winter flower. We visit the preserve and talk to members of the Magnolia chapter about the plants in our biodiverse region.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

Tiny little flowers; big vistas seen from an airplane.  You’re not going to see our forests’  unique flowers from a plane or in a satellite image, not without serious advances in telescopy that would include the ability to see through tree cover.  But there is a lot to be learned about what makes these flowers thrive by taking a look at a larger picture.  In the video above, Wilson Baker presents a theory that attributes a concentration of dimpled trout lilies to the geology of the Red Hills region.  In the interview that followed that segment in tonight’s Dimensions broadcast, Amy Jenkins explains how she uses aerial photographs to better understand fire dependent habitats in the Apalachicola National Forest.  That includes flowers like the highly endangered Harper’s beauty and the diversity of carnivorous plants that call the forest home.

The Dimpled Trout Lily

Wilson Baker is considered one of our area's foremost naturalists.  Formerly a biologist with Tall Timbers Research Station, Wilson's curiosity led him into the woods around Wolf Creek.  There, he found acres of trout lily in a bright yellow carpet.

Wilson Baker is considered one of our area’s foremost naturalists. Formerly a biologist with Tall Timbers Research Station, Wilson’s curiosity led him into the woods around Wolf Creek. There, he found acres of trout lilies in a bright yellow carpet.

Ten years ago, Wilson went exploring what was then a private timber operation in Grady County, Georgia when he came upon a vast yellow carpet of dimpled trout lilies.  The flowers are common in the Appalachian Mountains, but not in the large concentrations he was seeing here at the extreme southern edge of their range.  This out of place “floral display,” as Wilson calls it, inspired the Magnolia Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society and the Georgia Botanical Society to raise money to buy the land for Grady County.  Since Grady County didn’t have funds to staff it, volunteers maintain the Wolf Creek Trout Lily Preserve and lead tours during peak flower seasons.

Wilson wondered why this spot was blessed with such an unusual biological gift.  The theory he offers in the video is that the red clay under the flowers keeps the ground moister than another kind of soil might.  That heaviness of the clay gives the Red Hills region a special relationship with water.  As we outlined in our recent EcoShakespeare post on Wakulla Springs, that part of Georgia is the streams region of the Wakulla Springshed.  The clay is so thick that most rain rolls off of it and into streams such as the eponymous Wolf Creek (which itself feeds the Ochlockonee River).  Only one inch of rain per year fills the Floridan Aquifer in this region, but that water is slowly filtered by clay and is considered exceptionally clean.  I hadn’t given much thought to what water was doing to the surface above the clay.  The trout lilies on the preserve lie on a long slope down to the creek, facing the east.  It might just be a rare combination of a specific exposure to sun and a certain amount of wetness has given us, for just a few short weeks every year, a splash of color in an otherwise grayish winter.

Rare Plants of the Apalachicola National Forest

Harperocallis flava, also known as Harper's beauty.  Like many of the most striking flowers in the Apalachicola National Forest, this endangered plant is dependent on fire.

Harperocallis flava, also known as Harper’s beauty. Like many of the most striking flowers in the Apalachicola National Forest, this endangered plant is dependent on fire.  Photo by Amy Miller Jenkins.

Like the trout lily, many of the unique flowers in the Apalachicola National Forest prefer moist areas, but with a twist.  Where trout lilies are located in hardwood forests where the ground is relatively wet, flowers such as Harper’s beauty live between wetter hardwood and dryer pine flat wood habitats.  That means Harperocallis and its carnivorous plant neighbors are on moist ground, but are also exposed to fire.  Evidence of fire- or lack thereof- is what Florida Natural Areas Inventory‘s Amy Jenkins is looking for in historic aerial photographs.

If you watched our SciGirls EcoAdventure at Tall Timbers last summer, you might be able to figure out what Amy is looking for when she compares historical and current aerial photos.  In that video, we made a triple split screen showing plots of land burned at one, two, and three year intervals.  Fire kills hardwoods and shrubs, so more frequently burned land (like the one-year plot) has more open space between fire resistant longleaf pine trees than infrequently burned land (like the three year burn plot).  When Amy compares the two sets of photos, she’s looking for shrubs.  If a modern pic has shrubs where they hadn’t been before, it may be that fire is being excluded where it shouldn’t.  With this knowledge, the US Forest Service can resume burning those locations and possibly create more habitat for endangered flowers like Harper’s beauty.

Look at the open areas within the yellow circled area...

Look at the open areas within the yellow circled area…

... Decades later, they are filled with woody shrubs.  This may be evidence that where fire once eliminated hardwoods, it has more recently been excluded.

… Decades later, they are filled with woody shrubs. This may be evidence that where fire once eliminated hardwoods, it has more recently been excluded.  Aerial photos provided by Amy Miller Jenkins.

It’s heartening to meet people who are passionate about preserving rare and unique ecosystems.  It’s hard to place a value on keeping these habitats intact – or as close to it as we can achieve.  Nature lovers will of course travel to see a plant that’s endemic within a limited area, and there’s economic value to that.  But we can value things for more than just their ability to fill wallets, and it’s comforting to know that people can work to keep from losing even just a small flower here or a hillside full of them there.

  • In setting up the studio interview, I’m learning now for the first time about the Florida Natural Areas Inventory.  They’re a nonprofit administered by Florida State University that inventories and monitors rare species, studies historic natural communities, and offers conservation planning assistance.  Their web site has some interesting tools, like an interactive map of conservation lands and an extensive list (with downloadable pdfs) of invasive species found in Florida.
  • In case you read this but didn’t watch the video, Amy will be speaking to the Magnolia Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society Thursday, March 5 at 7 pm in room 1024 of the King Building on FSU’s campus.  This is a free event.  For a list of all Florida Native Plant Society events, click here.
In a couple of weeks, we go from Wolf Creek, a Georgia tributary of the Ochlockonee River, to Bald Point State Park at the mouth of the river on the Florida Gulf coast (yes, I have fun following how water moves).  We meet up with author Susan Cerulean to talk about her blog and her upcoming book, "Coming to Pass."

In a couple of weeks, we go from Wolf Creek, a Georgia tributary of the Ochlockonee River, to Bald Point State Park at the mouth of the river on the Florida Gulf coast (yes, I have fun following how water moves). We meet up with author Susan Cerulean to talk about her blog and upcoming book, “Coming to Pass.”