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S. leucophylla Baldwin Co, AL. DIVERSITY!
meizwang posted a topic in Carnivorous Plants in HabitatI remember being in college and having a conversation with a fellow CP expert. He saw how "addicted" I was to Sarracenias, and he said that eventually, I'll probably get bored of them, and then move on and focus on something else. As the years went by, I always reflected on that conversation and thought, how can you get bored of Sarracenias? Within one species, there's as much diversity out there as you can imagine (sadly, there used to be even more than that until most of it was destroyed in the wild). The photos below really demonstrate why many of us will be hooked on pitcher plants till the day we die. There isn't just one S. leucophylla alba out there, but there are hundreds of thousands of individuals, and just like humans, each individual is special and unique. Even regular leucophyllas out there are bright white. Let's say that theoretically, one becomes bored because they've seen and grown 1000's of different clones of every species and variety. Well, then there's the path to hybridization,which probably takes at least 2-3 lifetimes to really explore the endless possibilities. In other words, a lifetime isn't enough time to really experience Sarracenias! all photos below were taken 9/10/13 in northern Baldwin Co, AL: S. leucophylla var. alba-check out how white the interior of the trap is: Another S. leucophylla var. alba, this time with nice red "netting" on the outside: A regular S. leucophylla with heavy "veining." S. leucophylla var. ornata? Shhhh, don't tell Stewart McPherson, hehe Just kidding: Love how the petiole or trap is skiny on the bottom and fat/symmetical at the top: Same clone, but view of the back. Look at how white this clone is! S. leucophylla var. (maybe alba?): A standard looking clump: Mildly pink lip-this clone will probably turn darker pink in the next few months: S. leucophylla var. alba-can you see how no one "var. alba" looks exactly the same? A shapely reddish-pink clone. These red and pink pigments probably come from historic interbreeding with S. rosea and/or S. "alabamensis" ssp. wherryi: Lots of white on this clone, with a beautiful contrasting red at the bottom. Nature is a work of art: Same clone, slightly different angle:
Way high up in the mountains, far away from civilization, Rob Co of the Pitcher Plant Project and I decided to go on a crazy hike in what seemed like an endless mountain range. Reaching the site requires an hour and a half drive from the closest town and a 2 mile hike in some challenging steep terrain. On the way to the site, if you drive too fast or lose control, you'll fall off a sheer cliff, so there's no room for error out there. The roads aren't labeled out here, and getting there requires a little bit of trial and error plus some luck. Before I continue this story, let me add that hiking out in these mountain ranges require being in decent physical shape...this is no roadside botanizing! For the record, I look slightly fat but am buff underneath that, LOL Rob is quite physically fit (I'd hire him as a security guard any day), and he had a hard time going up and down these mountains (although to give him credit, he was slightly sick, so that's probably what slowed him down). Because of the high elevation (this was probably around 6,000 feet (1,830 meters) above sea level, the air is slightly thinner, which makes breathing more challenging. The dangers are also a lot higher than your average roadside site. For one, if you have an emergency, it's an hour and a half drive to the nearest form of civilization. Another challenge is the seep is about 2 miles away from where you can park the car. When we packed our backpacks, we had enough food and water to last around 4-5 days just in case. We also brought basic materials for survival (waterproof clothes, warm jackets, lighters, knives, bear spray, etc). Lastly, everything out there looks the same. When you try to find your way back to the car, it's extremely confusing and disorienting. Be sure to bring someone with a very good sense of direction if you decide to hike out in the wilderness like this. While there are trails out in this breath-taking scenery, the actual seep doesn't have any official trail to it. You essentially have to climb up a mountain top, look in the distance, and try to figure out how to get there without falling off the cliff. Here's Rob Co on the way to the site: The trails out here are extremely confusing because they aren't maintained whatsoever: Some of the trails are overgrown to the point that it's hard to tell it's still there: The scenery out there is absolutely breath-taking! Notice how many of the trees are pretty much dead-this was caused by a massive fire many years ago: Everywhere you look, there's jaw-dropping views like this. Interesting how some of the most beautiful places on this planet are quite hostile: What you can't tell is how steep this mountain is. It was very difficult figuring out how to get down to the fen, which is in the distance: Can you see the cobra pitchers in the distance? Probably not possible from this photo, but you could see it in person: We caught the last flush of some azaleas in bloom. The fragrance was sweet like candy-it smelled better than it looks! But who cares about all that, here's what we came to see, Darlingtonia by the thousands! This field was quite massive and absolutely impressive: In this photo, I'm standing uphill, and water is percolating downhill. The bogs were mainly composed of decomposing tree trunks, grasses, sticks, and a peat-like substance. It sort of bounced a bit when you walked on it: There were a few ponds at this site: And the Darlingtonia grew on the edges of these ponds. Keep in mind, water was constantly moving here: Just loved this unique habitat. Notice how there appears to be oil in the water: these are natural organic oils produced from decaying plant matter(probably from tree sap if I had to guess): Some of the plants are literally growing submerged. Slightly off topic, there were deep potholes at this site, and I fell into one because it was covered by the grass. I was up to my waist in water. At the bottom was thick mud that was hard to get out of, but I clearly survived: There were mainly "regular" color variants here, but check out the shape and dark red tongues on these traps: Hard to tell from this photo, but some were gigantic: My hand for scale: But there were also some amazing color variants here as well, like this copper topped one: Extensive windows and nice colors: Outstanding color variants. Notice the top of the head on the trap in the background is brown-this is from sun burn (heat stress):
There are perhaps only a handful or two of large populations of S. leucophylla left in the wild. The majority that still remain are either relic patches of a once giant field of plants, or volunteers in modified habitats (ie. man made drainage ditches). Many of the historically giant populations are now either destroyed, or if they haven't been touched whatsoever, they are now etiolated plants growing in thick, dense forests. Before people dominated the landscape and plowed or altered every square acre of land, fires would come in and burn up the forest, creating new habitats for Sarracenias to colonize. Today, those forest are mainly homes, structures, and farms where fire isn't permitted since it would damage people's property. It's surprising how short lived many of these sites are, especially during the more recent times. On the other hand, they're still there, and they've struggled to survive the face of human negligence. This site below only exists because a power company consistently clears the grasses every year or so to protect their electrical equipment. On the side of the road nearby, I had already seen signs of round-up (herbicide) use, and it's only a matter of time when they spray this field. One application of herbicide can ruin centuries of growth. If I had to bet, this site will be sprayed in the next few years once they realize the cost savings. As pessimistic as it may seem, this is the reality for many of these sites. We visited many historic sites that didn't have a single plant left due to annual herbicide applications. However, there are some remote sites like the one below that still exist today, so maybe...just maybe a few will stand the test of time. Enough doom and gloom talk, let's check out these beautiful fields! Here are some S. leucophylla in Washington Co, AL, photos taken 9/11/13. First couple of photos focus on the field itself-there were 3 large patches at this site: Plants here were as healthy as can be! There's nothing like a huge field of leucophyllas: There were also S. rubra wherryi and S. psittacina (and some giant psitts!) at this site as well, but the grass was really tall, and you could only see the leucos. Still very inspiring to see a patch this size, which is still relatively small compared to what used to exist: thousands of plants everywhere: Tons and tons of plants: Poor Axel Bostrom of California Carnivores stepped on a fire ant hill at this site, and the pain was so extreme, he had to go wait in the car. These hills were hidden deep in the grass, and were EVERYWHERE: More photos of individual plants coming soon. This site had some amazing diversity which we will explore in a little bit, so stay tuned!
The parrot pitcher plant grows in a lot of places, and their frequency in Sarracenia habitats are relatively high. With such high population numbers comes great genetic diversity, and in Washington Co, AL, there are certainly some unique and amazing looking individuals. This is the samne area where the giant "golfbalensis" parrot pitcher plant comes from, and no doubt, many of these were pretty big. Unfortunately, it seems like I didn't take too many photos of these awesome plants, probably because most of them were so hidden in the tall grasses (hindsight is 20/20!). Almost everywhere in these habitats, if you were to dig into the thick, tall grass, you'd surely find a few parrot pitcher plants in there. We probably didn't see even a fraction of what was out there, as they were hard to find. However, there were a few that were exposed in full sun. S. psittacina in situ, Washington Co, AL. Check out the dark red colors on this plant! These were growing in a "wash" where a stream or temporary flood cleared away shrubs and brush. Notice how the substrate is mainly this powdery, white sand with a little bit of organic matter: This isn't an example of thick grass...this is considered an "exposed" plant easily visible as you walk by: Plants in this area had dark red colors: My attempt to photograph a plant-these were definitely tough to capture: Check out the beautiful the white and red veins on this trap: This one was really neat-it was growing in some thick shrubs that probably used to be an open field many years ago: Same clone-the white on this one was intense! One last shot:
My friends Damon and Axel of California Carnivores and I had the opportunity to check out the "flava atropurpurea" site in Okaloosa Co, FL, and while most eyes are on the flavas, my eyes were on the leucos! Not much is heard about, spoken of, or known about gigantic leucophyllas out there, and two years back, we discovered a gigantic plant in Baldwin Co, AL. This year, after seeing 100's of 1000's of S. leucophylla plants in the wild, we happen to stumble upon one gigantic plant! It's tough to see just how big they are in the photographs, but I did my best to give you a sense of just how big these monsters get. One interesting detail about this site is that it's located in the hills. Who would have thought that sarracenia bogs were found in the middle of a hilly forest?! More details on that in future posts. While the photographs we took depict a beautiful, tranquil scene, I assure you this is an incredibly hostile environment! Temperatures were near the 100's that day, and we constantly had to go back to the car, turn on the AC, and recover every 2 hours or so. In a lot of places, the grass is so tall you can't see you feet. This habitat is perfect for many deadly and venomous snakes! Every step you take could be your last one, as their teeth are sharp enough to go through hiking shoes and rubber boots. HEat exhaustion is no joke, and we were constantly drenched in sweat. Hiking under such conditions can be dangerous if you don't pay attention to staying hydrated. It's nice to look back at the photographs in the safetly of your home! For your viewing pleasure, below are photos of S. leucophylla growing in the wild in Okaloosa Co, FL. Photos were taken 9/7/13 and 9/8/13: The giant S. leucophylla! Lynx spider and some love bugs on the giant pitcher: Another shot of the giant trap: Close up: Lynx spider with prey on the gigantic trap: Damon Collinsworth in situ with the gigantic plant: one of the rare circumstances where he isn't ruining the photo: Mike Wang in situ with the same gigantic plant: And now for some other clones at this site-many plants were very white: large clumps of the same clone were fairly common here, indicating a happy environment for these plants: