Field trip to Torreya State Park with Gil Nelson: Part 2

This is the second part of a summary of an FNPS field trip with Florida plant guru Gil Nelson.  Click here to read Part 1.

Gil thinks that sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) should be more widely planted. Particularly because of its year round interest including its unusual salmon-y fall color. It's a panhandle plant, but might also do well farther east.

We saw quite a bit of leatherwood (Dirca palustris) which makes quite a show this time of year with its yellow leaves. Gil explains that its common name leatherwood refers to the pliable stems, and that Native Americans used these twigs instead of leather to make ropes or thongs.  It's only found in a few Florida panhandle counties.

We found some partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) groundcover, but very few patches still had their bright red berries. This occurs throughout north and central Florida.

As we came out of the woods, we met up with a troop of boy scouts having lunch at the stone bridge. Some of us chatted with the scout masters, the boys played with Pete's dog, and we paused to catch our breaths and regroup.

The bridge with its beautiful stonework was
built in the 30s to cross a stream in style.

Pete's dog enjoyed all the attention.

We also stopped to admire the extremely yellow fall foliage of the Florida maple (Acer saccharum var. floridanum) growing next to the bridge.  Its trunk is in the foreground of the bridge photo above.

We then headed back to the picnic area parking lot to retrieve our lunches and eat lunch together in one of the pavilions. Some folks headed home after lunch, but those of us who remained were treated to a full afternoon in the woods with Gil.

Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) became more abundant as we got to the lower elevations in the woods. This medium-sized evergreen fern can grow in most of north Florida and Gil recommends it. Not sure why it's called Christmas fern, but here are two theories: 1) each pinna (leaflet) is shaped sorta like a Christmas stocking, or 2) since it's evergreen, it's still obvious in the landscape through the holidays.

The cross vine (Bignonia capreolata) with its unique leafing pattern grows high into trees. It's called cross vine because when it gets woody after decades of growing, the cross section of the wood looks like a cross. It occurs in north and central Florida and is a great hummingbird plant because of its reddish tubular flowers.

The witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
was blooming already. Photo by Pete Johnson


Godrey's swamp privet (Forestiera godfreyi)
Photo by Pete Johnson

The common pawpaw (Asimina triloba) with
yellow leaves here is not so common in Florida.
We have several species of pawpaw which are more widespread in Florida, but the common pawpaw is a more northern species and is found only in a couple of panhandle counties. See our post about pawpaws here.

Ladybird beetales were abundant.

Although we spent most of our time observing
flowering plants, there were some great-looking lichens, too.

In part 1 of this adventure, I talked about some rare and unusual insects, but during the day we ran into several swarms the much more common insect, the ladybird beetles. There were lots of them on the house pillars, but they landed on us as well. I'm sure any aphids in the park were quaking in their boots.

The Florida yew grows as an understory shrub in the beech/oak forest.

Marking the location of a small torreya with a ribbon.

This female yew bore a few fruits.

The Florida yew (Taxus floridana)and the Florida torreya (Torreya taxifolia) are similar species in the yew family (Taxaceae) and both are rare and endemic to this region. Both of them are found in this park.

 The yew is dioecious and the seeds are enclosed in a bright red aril fruit. The branches are alternate and the needle-like leaves are flexible.

The torreya has a greenish aril with purple stripes and its branches grow from the trunk in a whorled pattern. The torreyas have been nearly wiped out by a fungal disease and deer like to eat them, so work is being done to start and protect new plants. As we walked through the wooded areas away from the trails, we saw several toerryas that had been protected from deer with wire fencing. Later we found a young torreya.  Gil tied a flag above it and someone marked its position with a GPS. New plants growing in the wild are important since they may have more resistance to the fungus.  More about Torreya on this US Forestry Service Web page. (Note: this section of the post has been updated.)

Torreya State Park, developed by the Civilian Construction Corps (CCC), opened in 1935 and was named for the Florida yew

The Gregory House (below) was built as a plantation house on the other side of the Apalachicola River in the mid 1800s. The CCC dismantled and reassembled the house on this bluff overlooking the river. House tours are available. More on the park history here.

All in all, a wonderful walk in the park. Thanks to Gil Nelson and all the other plant and insect gurus. It was great fun!

Near Torreya State Park is the Nature Conservancy property: Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve. Ixia Member Pete Johnson visited this property the next day and took this photo for us.

Ginny Stibolt


PeteJohnson said…
Great write-up and photos Ginny! Still working on my plant list from the trip. The hike out to the bluffs at TNC's ABRP was challenging, but worth it. Unfortunately, Flynn (dog) was not allowed on the trail, so we played frisbee in the parking lot.

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