Since I last blogged, I spent a lot of time finishing up the research and manuscript to my latest book, Exploring Florida’s Botanical Wonders (University Press of Florida). It won’t be out in bookstores for another year. Today, I completed my quest for the ghost orchid thanks to Mike Owen, keeper of all botanical knowledge and swamp walker supreme at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. After 13 years of studying the ghost orchid, he’s probably the most knowledgable source on the planet about this rare and unique epiphyte. Less than 500 exist worldwide, the majority of them in South Florida and some in Cuba. Only 21 or so bloom each year in tough-to-get-to places within the state park. Here’s one of the blooms I was privileged to see.
I enjoyed a great whirlwind tour of Chattahoochee’s botanical wonders on Sunday thanks to Leigh Brooks, who worked for The Nature Conservancy for many years and is extremely knowledgeable about the unique botany along the Apalachicola River. The first thing she did was took me to see Angus Gholson, the man who has spent a lifetime learning and sharing all there is to know about the region’s flora. After a visit to his herbarium and a chance to admire the Ashe magnolia blooms, we headed down to the nature park named in his honor and poked around for rare wildflowers in bloom, and we were not disappointed. In one tract near the park, Leigh introduced me to croomia, a plant I’d learned about but never had seen before.
A driving loop down along the Apalachicola River and past the dam yielded more showy botanical treasures, including oakleaf hydrangea in bloom. We finished up with a visit to a natural area hidden behind the state prison, where the trail has been let go but the shores of Cypress Cove are as pretty as can be. I’ve had the chance to write these places up for the new book, which is now consuming all of my “spare” time. Thanks, Leigh, for treating me to a side of Chattahoochee I didn’t know was there!
We spent today on a whirlwind trip through Polk County, researching for my latest book project, Exploring Florida’s Botanical Wonders. I wish we’d had the time to enjoy Bok Tower Sanctuary at a snail’s pace instead of a hurry-up-and-stroll, but that didn’t detract from the awe of standing atop Iron Mountain and enjoying the view.
On to Winter Haven, where it was tragic to discover that Slocum Water Gardens, circa 1938, is no more … despite an active website showing off their wares. After searching for – and not finding – a park that might fit the rationale behind Bartow’s motto (”City of Oaks and Azaleas”), the whirlwind crash-landed at Hollis Garden on Lake Mirror in Lakeland, where we slipped from room to room in the formal gardens and explored the new family park adjacent. I understood the giant panther and gator to play on, but a loon? Talk about left field! Supposedly we have them in Florida, but I’m still waiting to find out where.
To wrap up a hard day’s work, lunch/dinner meant a pile of barbecue at Jimbos on US 92. I remembered the bowls of hot cherry peppers on every table, but had forgotten about the barrel pickle slices that also rated their own bowl on every table. Yum, yum, yum.