My Morning Commute at Ordway-Swisher Biological Station in North Central Florida is amazing. Officially it is a combination of the Swisher and Ordway family estates but unofficially it is a patchwork of collected estates and undeveloped properties. Running over 9ooo acres it has many lakes, swamps and eco-systems. Part of the land was held by the Nature Conservancy and now falls under the jurisdiction of the University of Florida in Gainesville.
I am a part of the Conservation Campers of which there are three slated for each season. I am here till the end of April. My day starts at 7:30 am when Bob picks me up in the old 4-wheel drive Dodge. Who knew that driving an RV would help me navigate some of the very narrow roads on this Station. This is our campground:
We drive to the Conservation Building, lovingly referred to as the Conversation Barn where we get our projects for the day. This is some of my morning commute, the ‘street signs’ tell me where I am on this seventy-five acres of roads that all look the same to me.
I got here at the end of January, the peak of a great orange season and we have a tree we get to harvest. Orange trees grace everyone’s backyards and people are always sharing their citrus. The oranges are large, peel like a tangerine and are very, very sweet; so sweet that my dog ‘girls’ like to eat them.
The vegetation is fascinating and very different then what I am used to from thirty years in arid Texas. Though it is colder here than I expected, spring is in the air and everything is blooming.
Coontie (Zamia pumila) is an odd plant that looks ancient to my eyes. They have the most interesting reproductive system I have ever seen. The seeds are encased in these mushroom-like projectiles that burst open and lay on the ground like orange candy corn. If you zoom in on the first picture, to the center, you can see the mushroom-like male and female flowers that erupt from the ground.
The rains and spring have brought the ferns out in all of their lovely shapes.
One our regular jobs here is to eradicate invasive species and Ardisia has ‘gone native’ here. The process of eradicating a species is multi-leveled and labor intensive; the berries need to be picked/harvested and the plants pulled from their roots. With time and perseverance they may be eradicated but it will take many years and many, many hands. There is a lot of it in the marshes and there are marshes everywhere. Read more here: http://blogs.tallahassee.com/community/2013/09/13/seek-and-destroy-ardisia-and-other-invasive-exotic-plants/
Can you see the edge at the feet of the palmetto with grass clump growing in the middle? A cavity forms as the sinking occurs. The Palmettos form a jungle like thickness on the edge. Sinkholes are strange things and not at all what you see on the TV news happening in suburban areas, they are as naturally occurring as earthquakes. On our (Bob is in red and the other fellow is our ‘boss’, Andy) walk back I found that lovely piece of flint, that I of course left behind.
The molds, Funguses and Lichens are in full bloom here even though the temps are dipping into the 30’s at night and I have yet to see 70 with a humidity between 35 to 80%.
Lichens have totally captivated me having been lucky enough to catch them in bloom. They look to be a life form that belongs in the ocean and an ancient one at that. Here are a few of them and a little of what I am learning about them. Lichens are a successful alliance between a fungus and an algae. Only certain algae and certain fungi can get together to form a lichen. Most lichen live on trees, hanging from them, or growing on the bark while others grow out of the ground.
There are a lot of things happening here, we work hard, laugh hard and my fellow campers lovingly take me to town for food so I do not have to unplug the RV and button everything down. The girls and I play ball daily and walk up to the Woody house on our days off.
I have seen many wild turkeys, deer, a few hawks, sand hill crane flocks and one eagle but the vegetation, as always, captures my attention.