By Laurie Sheldon
I’m a firm believer in themes - both as literary devices and design tools. Themes provide one’s ideas with structure and organization, and assist in the creation of meaning, whether expressed linguistically or artistically. That said, when I realized that this blog was to be posted on Thanksgiving, I felt the need to write something relative to the holiday - a thematic piece. Naturally, I put way too much time into finding a topic that could be both compelling and informative.
First I considered exploring the connection between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans as a means of transitioning into some deeper statement about natives in general. A day of research later and I tossed that idea out the window. Truth be known, the REAL Thanksgiving story isn’t half as lighthearted as the one we’re taught in grade school, and, quite frankly, I’d rather not be “Debbie Downer” on a national holiday.
The advice I was given as a design student - “K.I.S.S.” (keep it simple, stupid) - kept coming to mind. I stepped back and thought about Thanksgiving and native plants in terms of symbols, hoping to find an overlap for critical examination. A nightlight-sized bulb flashed on in my head, and the next thing I knew I was driving, camera on the passenger seat, in search of Quercus laevis - the turkey oak.
The Turkey Hunt
My first (and only) stop was the Jacksonville Arboretum. I’d only been there once before, and admittedly, I wasn’t paying much attention to the plant communities on the property. In fact, the only things I was sure of were that I had a better shot of finding turkey oak there than where I live, because the site’s elevation is higher than that of my beachside neighborhood, and it is miles from the salt spray that the tree is intolerant of. Nonetheless, I was on a mission, and time was quickly fleeting. I planned to leave the next morning to be with my own family for the holiday, and I knew that I would neither be up to writing a blog after driving 300+ miles in high volume traffic, nor would I have the opportunity to write on Thanksgiving Day because I already had a full schedule of family activities.
|Lake Ray, dotted in Nuphar advena,|
the native spatterdock
"Back to business," I thought to myself, and returned to the Lake Loop Trail. Not ten seconds later I was sidetracked by what looked like a gopher tortoise burrow, then again by a tree with ties to Christmas - the native chestnut or chinquapin, Castanea pumila.
|Gopher Tortoises are a "keystone species" in dry upland habitats. Their burrows (above left) are|
used by many other animals. Castanea pumila (above right), a native member of the chestnut family.
|Above left: the live oak trail. Above right: Lichen-covered bark made tree trunks look pink. I believe this lichen|
is Herpothallon rubrocinctum, sometimes called the Christmas lichen because of its vivid colored edges.
|A field of reindeer moss|
|Ceratiola ericoides, Florida rosemary|
I decided I should probably start making my way to the car, and (sigh) come up with a different subject for this blog. On my way out of the arboretum, I stopped for a moment to look back at Lake Ray, and came across a familiar, prickly vine: Mimosa quadrivalvis, or sensitive brier. It brought back memories of my childhood summer camp, where I was first introduced to touch-me-nots, and subsequently felt the need to find and touch as many as possible. I reached out and touched the sensitive brier, watched its leaves slowly fold up, and realized what I needed to write about. It wasn't a plant profile or a political statement. It was about being thankful for this state's extraordinary natural areas, for the mild winters that invite outdoor exploration, for the sense of wonder that wells up inside of me when I find a plant whose identity eludes me, and for the members of this organization who've familiarized the unfamiliar and helped me chip away at the unknown.
|Sensitive brier, Mimosa quadrivalvis var. angustata|
Going to the 2013 FNPS Conference in Jacksonville? The Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens is one of the sites we'll be stopping at on Thursday, May 16. Check out Field Trip E for details.