Friday, December 21, 2012

Spring Peepers

Last night a cold front was approaching, and we heard peepers calling in the back yard. They begin calling in December in most years, and 2012 will be no exception. 

The photo was taken near our home in Gainesville on September 4, 2012.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sand Pine in Blossom 12/15/12

Sand pines (Pinus clausa) in blossom, near our house in Cedar Key, December 15, 2012.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Fall Grapevines

Florida Grapes - this vine is growing on our fence in Cedar Key

Muscadines - this vine is growing less than a meter from the Florida grapes shown above.

Grapevines love it here in the scrub. Both species are vigorous growers, and it is difficult to say definitively which one is dominant. Perhaps muscadines grow better in moist woods.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Fall in Florida

Heavy frost yesterday morning and again overnight. 

And the hollies are dressing up the season. Yaupon above and dahoon below.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fall Color, Florida Style

Bald Cypress


Winged Sumac


Black Gum


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

We Are in Star Lake

Spaghetti and key lime pie with neighbors for our first night at the Lake. Can't beat that!

Windows open. Breeze blowing in for sleeping.

Sunshine and 70 degrees for our walk around the lake this morning. 4 miles and some hills.

Very nice start to our stay with one big negative...poor Jake seems to be having trouble recovering the strength in his back legs after such a long ride on the car.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) plants seem to be flowering abundantly this year, although until this one, I've had trouble getting a good photo of one.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Lots of Deer This Year

This photo, taken through the screen on our back porch, shows a doe and what appear to be twin fawns. At least one other doe, this with a single fawn, shows up with them sometimes. For the most part they are quite tame. Our dog pays them little heed, and they aren't intimidated by him. One possible reason they have been hanging out in our lawns is to get out of the woods and away from the mosquitoes, which have been very bad since Tropical Storm Debby.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Florida Maple

Florida Maple is one of our more interesting plants here in the north central part of the state. Some botanists consider it a subspecies or variety of the sugar maple (Acer saccharum...variety floridanum), while others consider it a separate species (Acer barbatum or Acer floridanum, the two names only adding to the confusion).

Whether or not it is truly distinct from the sugar maple, the two appear to be very close relatives.

A reminder: sugar maple is the source of that stylized red leaf adorning the national flag of Canada. 

So what are trees so dominating much of Canada that they are considered the symbol of the nation doing in Florida? One thing they are doing differently here is generally growing in the understory, rather than as the dominant tree in the upper canopy, as in much of the north. We've seen fairly large specimens in San Felasco Hammock State Preserve, but never so tall that they over-top other species.

One possible answer may lie in their ecological specialization. The one thing these trees do better than almost any other is tolerate shade. For this they pay a price, because nearly all the adaptations for tolerating shade tend to make trees poorer at conserving water. In the north (in the Adirondacks and much of northeastern and north central U.S., as well as in Canada) where it is cool and moist they can use their shade tolerance, enabling them to shade out competitors and dominate the forest canopy. Here in the Florida peninsula, however, they require the shade, humidity, and soil moisture retention of rich woods where other tree species help them avoid excessive moisture loss.

Any other suggested answers will be welcome.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Showy Native Plants

Two plants in our backyard are natives that are showy and good for landscaping.

Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) is a vine with red flowers that are especially attractive to hummingbirds. It is difficult to imagine flowers better adapted to the long beaks and narrow tongues of nectar-seeking hummingbirds. New plants spring up frequently in other parts of the yard, and it seems likely that the hummers are responsible for dispersal of seeds.

Beautyberry (Calicarpa americana) also shows up frequently as a volunteer, as is the case of this one. The lavender flowers are small and relatively inconspicuous, but they are replaced later in the season by vivid purple-red berries. For this plant, it is probably berry-eating birds that are responsible for dispersal.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Plants Rule!

They won't let me out unless I promise to provide more generous rations of MiracleGro.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Needle Palms and Other Palms

On Monday's walk in the San Felasco Hammock State Preserve, we spotted along the Creek Sink Trail what is almost certainly a needle palm. In the photos above you see a plant without the upright or prostrate stem, evident most other (but not all) local palms, and shiny dark green leaves not seen in saw palmettos. It has true palmate fronds, unlike cabbage palms. We also saw what we believe are dwarf palmettos. We'll have to investigate further, but believe they differ in subtle ways from the scrub palmettos that grow all around our house. We would appreciate any comments or corrections from those who know their palms better than we do.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Skink

Here's a small skink seen on our deck this afternoon. S(h)e was pretty, colorful, and remarkably tame.

Interestingly, this individual may represent one of three remarkably similar species--so called sibling species. This one could conceivably be the eastern five-lined skink (Eumeces fasciatus), the broad-headed skink (Eumeces laticeps), or the southeastern five-lined skink (Eumeces inexpectatus). The last was named by taxonomist E. H. Taylor, who never expected until his technical investigations discovered it that another species was lurking in this complex of similar-looking lizards.

We suspect that this one is laticeps, based not on counting scale rows or similar taxonomic indicators, but rather on the other lizards we see around us.

Thirty years ago, a colleague and I challenged the conventional wisdom on the function of the blue tail-coloration, which is seen mostly in young animals. Contrary to prevailing thought (to trick predators into aiming for the detachable tail), we proposed that its true function was to identify young lizards to older individuals and to prevent attacks on their own young by the large and voracious adult males. No one seems to have have taken up the challenge, so our ideas seem to have carried the day (or to have been completely ignored).

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Termite Hatch

Our next door neighbor here in Cedar Key has a rather tall stump of a sand pine in his front yard, near our fence. As we walked by today we noticed a cloud of insects that we first thought were tiny moths. When we got to the stump, it was discharging a huge cloud of the little insects, clearly flying termites. Take a look at the hatch in this video.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Snakes Alive!

We seldom see snakes on our walks around Gainesville, although at widely spaced intervals in the past those we have seen have included potentially dangerous cottonmouths and coral snakes--not always welcome sightings close to home.

On our walk today we were fortunate to see two different kinds of snakes of the non-venomous variety.

This one, a black racer Coluber constrictor priapus, is quite common. We see them occasionally in the yard, although they usually flee quickly when you approach them. We had one chance to photograph this one before he slithered off in great haste.

This one, also common, is either the bluestripe garter snake, Thamnophis sirtalis similis, or the eastern garter snake, Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis. The bluestripe occurs in Florida's Big Bend region, and ours in Gainesville are probably a blend of the more common and Big Bend varieties. Unlike the racer, this snake seemed willing to pose all day for us, and we got several good photos.

Interestingly, a close relative of the garter snake, the wide-ranging ribbon snake (Thamnophis sauritus) also has a bluestripe variety, Thamnophis sauritus nitae, that like its relative is limited to the Big Bend area. What is it about being blue that seems to work for these snakes?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fall and Spring in Florida

Two images of the same tree, a red maple in our yard in Cedar Key on January 24, 2012. The upper shows its fall colors and the lower its spring flowers. Winter is short in Florida!

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Packbasket Adventures Lodge in Wanakena, NY
Yesterday we received an e-mail message from Rick and Angie Kovacs announcing that they are about to lose the Packbasket Lodge in Wanakena to foreclosure. We've stayed there, enjoyed their hospitality, and we hope some way will be found for it to keep operating. Perhaps someone with deep pockets will keep it going for the sake of the community.

The failure of the enterprise raises questions about the future of Wanakena as a resort destination. Surely the public agencies that helped get start-up funding envisioned the lodge as the core of a revitalized community. However, one lodging doesn't a vacation community make, and to our knowledge there has been no movement toward developing other visitor-friendly amenities, let alone lodging options.

The evolution of Wanakena has taken it first from a company town developed for logging, to a resort enjoying a brief heyday, to a bedroom community providing needed housing for the nearby iron mine and paper mill, to a quiet backwater. Perhaps its best and highest future is to remain a quiet backwater.