Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV
dimensions, March 21 at 7:30 PM/ ET on WFSU-TV: our latest EcoAdventure explores the Buffer Preserve in search of rare plants and one woman’s quest to learn the fire history of the area.
I want to apologize in advance to anyone who watches tomorrow’s EcoAdventure on dimensions and gets excited about seeing the Chapman’s rhododendron. Aside from naturally occurring in only three North Florida counties, its peek blooming only lasts about two weeks. This peek usually starts at the end of March and goes into April, so we had planned on shooting then. This year’s mild winter changed our plans. A couple of weeks ago, at the beginning of March, Dr. Jean Huffman wrote to tell me that they had exploded. In fact, the first bush we saw once we got out there was already starting to whither. We did find a group of bushes in full bloom, and it was worth the hike. By the time our footage airs, those flowers might very well be gone.
That’s the bad news. The good news is, many of the other rare flowering plants in the Saint Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve will start blooming soon. In a lot of ways, finding and photographing rare plants is as difficult as finding and photographing rare birds. Especially when our seasons go screwy. And unlike the Chapman’s rhododendron, many of the rare plants in the Buffer are hiding in tall grasses. The Buffer is home to 21 rare plant species, and it’s the only place where the Chapman’s rhododendron is protected on public land (Correction: there is a small population at Camp Blanding, north of Gainesville).
I thought I’d share some photos of the plants we saw. If you look at the map above, you can see an approximation of where we saw each of them. You can see in the satellite image that the photos of the rare plants are located where the tree cover is lighter. This goes back to, once again, controlled burning and its role in clearing out woody growth between longleaf pines. When those shrubs get pushed back to where lightning-caused fire had once naturally confined them, grasses and herbaceous plants sprout up (and the animals that eat them return to the flatwoods). If you’re in the Buffer, look for where the trees are spaced apart and grasses fill the ground. It’s in those grasses that you’ll find some interesting characters.
I also included some photos of the bay section of the Preserve. This is how I first encountered the Buffer, shooting salt marsh footage in conjunction with Randall Hughes’ research in SJB (click up in the Salt Marsh menu for more info on that). There are plenty of birds, crabs, and predatory snails to see if you wade out into the sand flats and marshes by the visitor center.
Thanks to my production assistant, Alex Saunders, who brought his nice camera and took the plant photos in the map.