Wednesday, December 9, 2015


  Residents and longtime visitors to Cedar Key are aware that much of the land- and seascape in the area has changed in recent years. With the help of global warming, black mangrove (Avicenna germinans) trees have invaded salt marsh, become established along shorelines, and have grown up on low islands and oyster bars. Sensitive to cold, these mostly tropical trees are "pruned" when upper branches suffer from frostbite, or are even killed outright by freezing temperatures. Lacking serious freezes for a number of years the trees have grown both in size and coverage locally.

Black mangroves dominate scenes in Cedar Key's backwater areas.

Mangroves reproduce prodigiously, and over time tend to form dense canopies that shade out salt marsh plants and other shoreline vegetation.

Reproduction of black mangroves under the Cemetery Point boardwalk. Young plants with leaves, interspersed in this image with the leafless pneumatophorees extending from the roots of larger trees.
Red mangroves (Riphora mangle) are even less tolerant of cold than the unrelated black mangroves, and in the past they have been relatively rare in the Cedar Key area. They seem to be increasing, however, and can be seen at a number of places around the islands. Several small plants can be seen from the boardwalk and observation deck in Cemetery Point Park.

Red mangrove seen from the observation deck at Cemetery Point.

Small red mangrove seen from the Cemetery Point boardwalk.

Red mangroves can be distinguished from black mangroves by four different characteristics. The most striking difference is in their distinctive prop roots, which row out from their trunks and curve down into the moist soil. Their leaves are broader than black mangrove leaves, and they are a more vibrant green than the grayish green leaves of black mangroves. Finally, they tend to have trunks that grow straight upward, rather than branching near the base, as in black mangroves.

A single hard freeze could kill most of our red mangroves, but even then a few are likely to persist. And, if our climate continues to warm as is predicted, our wetlands are in for continued change.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Fee-fi-fo-fum: Chiggers in the Adirondacks

I remember as a child sometime back in the early 1950s coming back from an outing at Lake Bonaparte covered with mysterious bites. I was miserable, and my mother and the neighbors had no idea what had afflicted me. The best they could come up with was "it must be sand-fleas."

Flash ahead to 1962, and I'm in graduate school in Kansas. I've been hired by my major professor to help him by catching glass lizards, a species he has been studying. I'm a miserable failure because at the end of the day my body is covered with welts. I couldn't sleep for the itching. Poison ivy, I guessed, but when I went to the campus medical center, they immediately diagnosed my problem as aggravated chigger bites.

Flash ahead again to 2006, and we're staying in Wanakena. I spent several hours walking along the "back" road from the Oswegatchie River bridge toward the junction of County Route 61, photographing wildflowers and butterflies along the roadside. Later I was covered with chigger bites and, having encountered the critters throughout the midwest and south, I had no doubts what they were. 

I recalled my late father-in-law telling me there indeed are chiggers in the Adirondacks, but until my own experience, I had remained skeptical.

Adirondack chiggers may be less hungry or, more likely restricted to a brief limited feeding cycle in the northern part of their range, but I've become a believer.

Interestingly, only "yankees" seem to be susceptible to chiggers. Maybe having lived in the south for so long, I've developed a sort of immunity. 

Any other experiences with chiggers in the North Country?


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Wood is Good

If it weren't for The Summer of a Thousand Cheeses, I might not know how important this issue is to the American artisan cheese world. Wish I could be in Vermont for the "Wood Is Good" meeting tomorrow afternoon.

Here are a couple of links to catch you up on the story if you haven't been following it.


Monday, January 27, 2014

A Striped Mud Turtle

A striped mud turtle (Kinosternon baurii), pictured above, seen crossing through our back yard this afternoon. This species, restricted to the southeast, wanders farther from water than most mud turtles. By the way, our back yard is muddy after heavy rains, but is normally quite dry, as it was today. Temperatures were in the seventies, but may get near freezing overnight tomorrow.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Palm Tree

I've been watching what I believed was a dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) that came in as a volunteer near the corner of our house. It seemed to be getting larger and larger, and for a while I wondered whether it might be a real palm tree--a cabbage palm (Sabal palmetto). Then I thought it was probably just a large specimen of the dwarf species, and dismissed the idea that it might be a cabbage palm--until a few days ago. We're planning some major re-landscaping in the front yard, and the landscaper suggested that he plant native needle palms (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) in this area. "Why not leave the dwarf palmetto where it is, and surround it with needle palms?" I said."That's no dwarf palmetto," he said, "it's a cabbage palm."

"Then we should probably transplant it," I said. "No," he replied (and here's a factoid!). "Palms don't transplant when they're small. That's why you see large trees planted, often propped up with boards; they need to have enough stored energy in their trunks to replace the roots damaged in transplanting."

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A New Oak

The vegetation of Cedar Key and nearby areas that were once sand dunes is called "scrub," with scrubby oaks and occasional pines being the most common kinds of trees. Sand live oak and myrtle oak are the two most frequent species, but a third one, Chapman's oak, is said to be commonly present also. For the past few years I've been trying to learn this one, but haven't been able to convince myself that I had seen one.

In the past couple of days it appeared that I might have to lead a nature walk in the Cedar Key Scrub state reserve as part of the Nature Coast Paddling Festival (the nature walk won't be happening, at least not soon). Looking at a species list, Chapman's oak is reported to be present on the property. I decided to look up photos, so I would know one if I encountered it. When I saw the photos, the plants looked very familiar--so familiar, in fact, that I realized one is growing right here in our one-tenth acre lot.
Chapman's Oak (Quercus chapmanii)

Why had this one given me so much trouble? Part of the problem had to do with myrtle oak (Quercus myrtifolia), and the variations it shows in leaf form.

Myrtle oak leaves on mature branches

Myrtle oak leaves as they often appear on sprouts

I had been thinking that the leaves of what turned out to be Chapman's oak were a third, possibly stressed, form of myrtle oak. Also, this unimposing and apparently obscure tree wasn't recognized as a separate species until A.W. Chapman, M.D. first described it in 1860.  

Now I know the third member of the trio, and have the further satisfaction of having all three kinds of scrub oaks right here in our yard.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Youngest Dryas?

Recently, in my readings about geological--and particularly glacial--history, I came across the term Younger Dryas. This curious name, I learned, applies to a period about 11,000 years ago when glaciers were melting, the climate was warming, and conditions we returning to those we now would consider normal. A relatively brief return to cold conditions at that time was apparently caused by huge amounts of glacial melt water entering the North Atlantic, and blocking warm equatorial waters from reaching Europe. The name Younger Dryas refers to this brief backsliding. The resulting cool temperatures promoted an outbreak in southern Europe of a cold-loving arctic/alpine plant in the genus Dryas. The "younger" name relates to the fact that there were earlier "older" cooling periods in which the little plants expanded their range southward. The combination of names was lent to the later of the unexpected cool periods, and the little Dryas octopetala plant achieved geological fame.

Scanning my photos from last May, I came across the image of the little flower shown above, made somewhere after Acebo and before Molinaseca. Could this be the legendary Dryas, I wondered. Alas, a bit of research indicated that it almost certainly is not. The Dryas of geological fame appears to be Dryas octopetala, and the little flower I photographed obviously has five, rather than eight petals. Also, It appears that the current range of the genus Dryas does not include Spain.

Does anyone know the identity of the plant I photographed? Surely not Dryas octopetala, it appears that it too could be a relative of Dryas, and a member of the Rosaceae--the rose family.