Sunday, March 31, 2013

Kayaking in NE Florida

String lilies are common in Florida's wetlands.

Several kayaking field trips are offered as part of the program for the FNPS conference in May in Jacksonville. This one, about the Kayak Amelia Island, could apply to most of the others. Space is limited for the field trips so register sooner, rather than later, to reserve your spot.

By Kat McConnel

Northeast Florida has its share of valuable and beautiful tidal marshes; there are numerous meadows of brackish and freshwater marsh vegetation. As marshes are best observed from the water, paddling provides the best opportunity to access this overlooked aquatic natural community.

Spartina grasses intercept the waves at the shoreline.
Between high and low marsh, inches, not feet, cause a dramatic difference in vegetation community composition. Low salt marshes are regularly flooded on each high tide typically dominated by salt marsh cordgrass, (Spartina alterniflora). Other salt marsh plant species, such as needlerush (Juncus romerianus) cannot tolerate as wet a habitat, so they grow in slightly higher elevations along the fringe of waterways. Although salt marsh cordgrass is the dominant species found in low tidal saltwater marshes, other species share this habitat. Within slight depressions, a perennial herb called sea lavender, or marsh rosemary (Limonium carolinianum), grows along the upper edges of low marshes. It is a small to medium-size plant that grows up to 3-ft and is characterized by a basal rosette of leathery, fleshy leaves between 2 to 10 inches long. The tiny (1/8 inch wide) bluish flowers bloom from midsummer through early autumn. Dense populations of blooming sea lavender plants produce a hazy, almost ethereal mist of lavender. Saltmarsh morning glory (Ipomoea sagittata) is a low-growing twining vine confined to maritime marshes and interdunal swales. The leaves are alternate, 1 ¼ -in to 4 in long, narrowly 3-lobed, and well-spaced along the stem. The funnel-shaped flowers are 2 ½ -in to 4 in long and pink to rose-purple with a darkened center and flaring apex.

An egret behind a fringe of rushes.
Tidal freshwater marshes grow inland from the sea and up coastal streams, including Simpson Creek, where the waters grade from slightly brackish to mostly fresh. As salinity decreases, plant and animal diversity increases; many more species of plants and animals are found in tidal freshwater marshes than in saltwater marshes. Upper reaches of tidal influenced rivers are lined with narrow fringes of marsh containing many plant species. Color abounds with the blooms of blue flag iris (Iris virginica) growing in the shallows along the shore. Spatterdocks (Nuphar lutea) bear bright yellow globular flowers on large green leaves that float on the surface of the water. The white, fragrant water-lily, Nymphea odorata, also with large floating rounded leaves, is a plant of slow-flowing tidal freshwater ponds and shallow lakes. Golden nutlets of sedges (Cyperus spp) and the brown, sausage-like heads of cattails (Typha spp) contrast with the dazzling white of swamp lily (Crinum americanum) and bull-tongue (Sagittaria lanceolata) along with the vibrant purple of pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata).

With such a high quality of habitat comes a rich diversity of animals: small fishes come into the marsh streams on a flood tide, hiding and feeding on insects and other small invertebrates in the vegetation along the edges. Marsh rabbits feed on the rushes and, in turn, become food for raptors, alligators and snakes. Great blue herons, roseate spoonbills, various egrets, and ibis regularly comb the grasses and rushes. Tidal estuaries provide abundant opportunity to observe wildlife within a diverse plant community.

If you'd like to register for the conference and for one of our kayaking field trips got to www.fnps.org/conference. Thanks.

Join your FNPS friends-old and new-on a kayaking field trip in May.

Thanks Kat for this highlight of the NE Florida waterways.
Posted by and photos by Ginny Stibolt.


2 comments:

antigonum cajan said...

Excellent post...one of me favorite subjects...

NotaClueGal said...

Beautiful mix of kayaking and native plants - Thanks for Posting!