Susan Vaughan here. I know, my title’s a bad takeoff on Field & Stream. My post today is a nature travelogue of my recent week in southwest Florida. With my husband and other family members, I visited two nature conservancy centers that were reminders both of human’s adverse effects on the environment and of the human efforts to save it. Attacks on the environment, whether purposeful or inadvertent, happen everywhere, but these tours also nudged me to compare Maine and Florida.
In Maine, we’re concerned about our old growth forests. In Florida, cypress trees are endangered. The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples was established to protect the largest remaining stand of bald cypress left in North America.
When acquired in 1954, in cooperation with the Audubon Society, the swamp was isolated and almost impossible to access. Today the sanctuary preserves native plants, native animals, and the cypress. We walked the boardwalk that winds its way through and around the swamp. Bald cypress once dominated the deep swamps of Florida and the Southeastern U.S. They lose their needles during the winter, hence the name “bald.” Scientists used to think that cypress “knees,” the knobby growth in the water, both stabilizes and feeds the parent tree, but they have since learned the knees are only for stabilization.
Some of the cypress are hundreds of years old. I have to rely on memory, but I believe the oldest is the Muir Tree, over 500 years old and too large for a photo to do justice. There are twelve species of air plants in the swamp. Related to the pineapple, they’re not parasites, but take their nutrients from the rainfall and falling organic debris.
Water fern floats and can cover large expanses of the water’s surface. Blue flag irises are found in Maine, and we found many in the sunnier parts of the swamp. Some creatures there also live in Maine, a pileated woodpecker and a raccoon. Not so the snowy egret happily munching greens as we passed by. We were told that people occasionally spot alligators and Florida panthers.
Florida panthers are tawny like cougars, but smaller. No panther for us, but the next day, a woman from Wisconsin videoed a panther running along the boardwalk. I’d have been so shocked, I couldn’t have held the camera, but she didn’t even shake the camera. You can see the news coverage here. Instead, here’s the alligator we saw.
Our other nature tour was to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center, also in Naples. Their motto could apply to Maine as well: “Our Water, Land, Wildlife, Future.” Their work and fundraising protects and educates about all of those areas. We toured the nature center and then boarded their electric tour boat for a ride through the lagoon and on the small Gordon River.
In this location, the endangered trees were mangroves. Our guide wasn’t as specific as the NOAA website, which tells me that mangrove trees grow in tropical and sub-tropical areas with low-oxygen soil, where slow-moving waters allow fine sediments to accumulate.
Their dense “prop” roots make the trees appear to be standing on stilts above the water. This tangle allows the trees to handle the daily rise and fall of tides. They stabilize shorelines, whether on the coast or here on this river, maintain water quality and clarity, and filter pollutants and sediments.
Mangroves are homes to shrimp, crustaceans, mollusks, and fish. They also support nesting birds and larger animals like alligators and turtles. Along the river, our guide pointed out a pair of nesting yellow-crowned night herons, but the boat passed too quickly for me to snap their picture. You’ll have to look it up in your birding book.
And big doings coming next week. April 10-16, National Library Week, the Maine Crime Writers are planning some special fun. And at the end of the month, one lucky commenter will win a gift basket with Maine treats and Maine reads.
What a great venture. The Everglades is but a shell of it’s former self and even though they have started to try to repair the damage done by humans, it will take many, many years/decades? to return to normal. It is so sad. Maybe it was this that woke up the rest of the state and helped to start the places you saw.
Gram, I think you’re right about the Everglades reclaiming waking up other areas of the state. Back in the 20’s all they thought about was taming the waterways with no thought to the damage they were doing. Thanks for commenting.
Sounds like an interesting and informative trip to my home state. Glad you were able to enjoy some of “wild” Florida. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for the comment. It means a lot coming from a Floridian!
Loved this post, Susan. I’m a marine ecologist and call my books environmental mysteries. Mangroves are fantastic trees – how they’ve adapted to living in salty mud plus all the critters that grow on them, hide among them, swim under them. Of course there’s no mangroves here in Maine, but we do have salt marshes here and there.
Charlene, thanks so much for commenting. I’m so impressed that you appreciated my post.
Thanks for the trip. I love Florida swamps (have Seminole ancestry on my mother’s side) and have had some beautiful experiences exploring them. This was a great way to revisit the place.
Amber, I’m so pleased you enjoyed my little trip. Thanks for the comment.
Great post. Mangroves are the coolest trees. Very spooky. I’ll have to remember that for a dream sequence 😉
Ooh, yes, very eerie. A dream sequence in a swamp. I can see it now. Thanks for visiting.
Excellent post! I will have to live vicariously through you… I’m far too chicken to go anywhere near a swamp in Florida. Thank you for a fun and educational read!
Thanks, Teri. The swamp was not scary, and the boardwalk was up high enough to stop any adventurous alligator. Um, apparently not enough of a barrier to a Florida panther though.
What a fun trip, Susan. Thanks for sharing here. I’m not a fan of Florida–too hot and muggy–but it is beautiful. We lived in Tampa when I was in 3rd grade. I had really bad allergies the whole time. Not good memories.
Good to know what other conservationists are doing. Hope you have a great conference.