Saturday, January 14, 2017

We Did Not Go To The Beach

Hard to believe, we know.  But we didn't.  The winter winds were still blowing full force down at the beach so instead we went to explore the trails at a local park called Halpatiokee.

One website we looked at stated "This might be the best regional park in South Florida, judging strictly by its natural components." 


Fun Fact:  Halpatiokee is a Seminole word meaning "Alligator water".  We did not see any halpatters (alligators) on this day but we did see the okee (water).  The centerpiece of the park is the South Fork River (photo above).

The landscape along the trails varies from pine flatwoods, oak hammock, scrub and river land.

                  To us, it looked like Florida.

Darlene said that this sign that we saw early in our hike was
a portent of things to come.  Impressive vocabulary = check!

The Crotalaria were blooming in abundance at the beginning
of the trails.

               The often overlooked rear shot.

       A member of the pea family, the plants were loaded up with fresh seed pods.

                    These pods give the plant its nickname of Rattlepod.

  Once they've dried, the seeds rattle inside like the tail of a snake by the same name.

A good portion of the trail that we walked today at Halpatiokee was part of the Florida Trail.

Since we don't tend to read much about where we are going other than how to get there, that was unexpected.  Adding our time in Ocala, we've now probably walked three miles of the 1000 mile path.  Note: We are not much on over-achievement.  Ha Ha

The other day at work, Darlene heard two people say that they found painted rocks in the store.  They were very excited and said they had been looking for them.  We should mention at this point that these rocks were not for sale.  In fact, they are a part of a movement started in our county this past Thanksgiving, by a local family.  Although we thought it neat, we honestly had not given the whole thing another thought until today.

                As we approached the FT sign, we noticed something atop it.

                             It was our first Martin County Rocks rock!

Boy were we excited and suddenly we realized just how excited those people in Target were.

The object of Martin County Rocks is to find one / hide one.  You can find one and hide one of your own for someone to find or you can find one and re-hide it in another location or somewhere else in the same park, etc.  We have yet to paint any of our own but admit that it is quite a catchy little activity.  There are something like 9000 people already involved in it throughout the community.

       It has been a while since Nicole went macro.

                She is definitely out of practice.

Nonetheless, in her attempt to capture the flowering member
of this  microscopic plant, she managed to capture these
submicroscopic bugs.  Cool beans.

One of the first critters we saw was the Longtailed Skipper.  Unfortunately they moved too quickly for us to capture their 'good side'.

So, here's a borrowed photo to show you their uniqueness.

We spotted three different kinds of berries on our journey.

                Wild Coffee - scientific name (get this...) Psychotria nervosa

                                  Beautyberry - scientific name Callicarpa

                                           Black Huckleberry (we think)

                               We also spotted one Caesar Weed flower.

Nearly every inch of the trees in this area were covered in epiphytes.  Good thing they do not harm their host.  The reddish colored ones were new to us and thinner than grass blades. They are called Southern Needleleaf (Tillandsia setacea).

A bit further down the trail we spied something out of place.

   Could it really be?  Our second Martin County Rocks rock.  We weren't even playing!

It was a unique tribute to the Artist formerly known as Prince.

        One of the many bromeliads.  Looks like we just missed the colorful flowers.

                Down the way, we stop to sit on a bench and take in the views.

                  This tree juts out over the water.  Do you see what we see?

     Don't worry if you can't see it.  Darlene is going to bring it down for a closer look.

                                 Who says there is no climbing in Florida?

                                                        Got it!

Our third MCR rock!  Not bad for two girls who were just going for a walk in the woods.

                                  There was a witness to our tomfoolery.

                               Talk about getting it right between the eyes!

We entered what was called the hardwoods section.  Just
look at all of those epiphytes!

                     maple against the palms

Meanwhile, around the bend...

                        Ahem.  Excuse me sir.  Madam.  Did you lose something?

      Did you know that the word armadillo means "little armored one" in Spanish?
         Did you know that it is only the nine-banded variety that carries leprosy?
                        Did you know that this is a nine-banded armadillo?

We were not concerned, however, since we had no plans to handle him or eat him nor did we intend to get close enough for him to spit on us.  Besides, he never did notice us and when he wasn't foraging, this is typically the view we got.

By the way, did you know that armadillos are native to the new world?  This means that the Europeans of the late 15th century gave the armadillo leprosy and not the other way around.

We entered a more wide open section of the trail and there encountered many small birds.

It has been a while since we tried to spot birds in the trees much less photograph them.  How did we ever do it?

Example, there is a warbler in that little twig of a tree.

                                             Yellow-rumped Warbler

Several variations of woodpeckers were around.  We caught
a photo of the Red-bellied Woodpecker.

             There's no bird in that tree.  Nicole just thought it looked neat.

                           Do you see the wooden chickadee in the tree?

                                             Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

                               A black racer snake came out to say hello.

Do you remember that portent from earlier? 

Well, we rounded the corner from bird alley and...

                                 a Gopher Tortoise was waiting to greet us.

Gopher Tortoises are a threatened species on the Endangered Species List.  Like the prairie dog they are a keystone species who shares their burrows with 350 other species.

                  (S)he's had quite the life.  Look at the condition of that shell.

                              Nonetheless, there's still a smile on that face.


                          And that was our time at Halptiokee Regional Park.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Parts of the whole...

As we return to our study of the seabeans / drift seeds that we have been finding we'll address beans / seeds that are only 'part' of the big picture. 

Finding the 'whole' in any of these cases after a long journey at sea is quite rare.  As a matter of fact, they are usually already in parts before they even reach the ocean.

First up is the Screw Pine.  A widespread Polynesian plant of the Pandanus genus it is native to Southern china, tropical Australia and Polynesia.  Pandandus is also common in Hawaii and is second only to the coconut palm in importance in Polynesia and Micronesia.

Just about everything on this plant is unique beginning with
its very obvious "prop roots" which help support the plants in
water-logged soil and strong winds.

Although it is called a "pine", the Screw Pine is actually more closely related to a palm.

pandandus flower
The Screw Pine keeps is male and female flowers separated on
different plants.  The male flowers (like the one pictured above)
are showy and very fragrant.

There is an old Hawaiian tale about lost fishermen adrift at sea who would find their way home via the fragrant flowers of the Hala (Hawaiian name for the Screw Pine).

The fruit, which it appears from our reading is the female flower, is pineapple-like in appearance and also very fragrant.

It is composed of numerous (40-80) single seed segments called "keys".  The keys are wedge shaped and 1 to 2 inches long. 

After several months, the fruit ripens and the keys
fall off exposing the soft edible pulp in the center.

This plant offers much in the way of resourcefulness.  Besides having many edible and medicinal parts, the leaves are used for making baskets, thatching, mats, grass skirts and canoe sails. 

screw pine necklace
In Samoan culture, the keys are used to make a necklace
called Ula Fala which is worn during special occasions.

So far we have found only three of these Screw Pine keys.  Here are some shots of ours.

             The patterns are really quite pretty.  They almost look like fire.

   Only about 60-70 more and we could put them together to replicate the whole fruit.

IMG_7460                                                  Patterns and Designs

                                               Patterns and Designs

Next up.... The Sandbox Tree.

Hura crepitans is a member of the spurge family that is native to tropical regions of North and South America including the Amazon Rainforest.

Hura crepitans grows 90 to 130 feet tall and can easily recognized
by its gray bark covered with cone-shaped spikes.

The tree has distinctly different male and female flowers.

Sandbox Male Flower
                     Sandbox Tree - Male Flower

Sandbox Female Flower
                   Sandbox Tree - Female Flower

As if the female flower isn't unique in its own right, once fertilized, this female flower produces a pumpkin-like seed pod.

      It is this pod which is at the root of Hura crepitans two distinct common names.

The first, Sandbox Tree, comes from the fact that the large seed capsule of this tree was used to hold sand as a blotter before the advent of paper blotters and ball point pins.


The second common name for this tree is the Dynamite Tree and the name is not to be taken in jest.

For the tension created by the varying rates of evaporation as these little pumpkins dry out literally turns them into deadly explosive devices. 

Once ripe, the pods explode with such force that seeds can be launched at speeds of up to 160 mph.  There is apparently also an explosive sound to the event as seeds and parts are sent in all directions up to 100 feet away from the tree.

It is said that this 'shrapnel' can seriously injure a person or animal that may be in its path.

          Shrapnel is what we have found on our beaches.  Three pieces so far.

If you would believe, the Sandbox Tree is considered one of the most dangerous trees in the world.  However, it is not simply due to its explosive personality.  Its reputation is a combination of many things.  The fruit is very poisonous and can induce vomiting, diarrhea and cramps.  The sap, which is very poisonous, as well, will cause an angry red rash that can blind you if it gets in your eyes.  Thus, it is successfully used to make poison darts.

Despite all of this, Hura crepitans has a few good sides.  The wood is used to make furniture, oil extracted from the seeds acts as a laxative, the leaves are said to treat eczema and extracts are reported to treat rheumatism and intestinal worms.

sandbox jewelry
Lastly, the portion of the shrapnel that we find has been found to look similar
to the shape of a dolphin and when worked with can created some neat jewelry.

sandbox jewelry 2

The final drifter in our parts of the whole tale is the Nypa fruticans (also known as the Nipa or Mangrove Palm.  The Nipa is native to South and Southeast Asia, northern Australia and Pacific Islands. It is also common in the estuaries and coasts of Indian and Pacific oceans.

Nipah palm with fruit bunch 2
The most unique thing about this palm is that its trunk
grows beneath the ground.  Only the leaves and flower
stalk grow upwards above the surface.

The leaves can extend up to 30 feet in height.

   The male (left) and female flowers of the Nipa.

Arecaceae; Nypa fruticans
     The fruit ball of the Nypa fruticans is a conglomeration of many seed pods.

Nipa Fruit
          They can grow quite large and are a commodity in their native lands.

Nypa Fruit
             Their soft young seeds are a delicacy in the tropical regions.

Syrups, vinegars and spices are made from this plant.  Medicinal uses include headache, toothache and herpes treatments.  The leaves are used for making thatching, brooms, bowls, mats, hats, bags or even umbrellas.  Nipa sap is being used to create biofuel and is also fed to pigs to make the pork meat taste sweeter.

We have found three of the Nypa fruticans seed pods on our beaches so far.

We are a long ways from having enough to formulate one of those impressive fruit balls.

                Still.... all of these drifters are fun to find and to learn about.