Sunday, December 17, 2006

Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris)

A lonely road in Pine Log State Forest

I recently received a request, from a friend in California, to send a supply of pine straw from the longleaf pines which grow abundantly here in northern Florida. This person weaves things out of the sturdy dried needles and had been ordering her stock from a catalog. It has prompted Connie and I to explore our magnificent local state forests, where large open stands of this beautiful tree can be easily found.

According to the book Forest Trees of Florida (published by the Florida Division of Forestry): "The young longleaf pine forms one of the most striking features of southern forests. When five to ten years of age the single upright stem with its long, dark shiny needles forms a handsome plume of sparkling green; while in later youth the stalwart, sparingly branched sapling, with its heavy twigs and gray bark attracts immediate attention. The older trees have tall straight trunks, mostly one to two feet in diameter, and open, irregular crowns, one-third to one-half the length of the tree."

Baby longleaf pine

Young stand in Point Washington State Forest

"Longleaf pine is found throughout the state, except for the southern tip of the peninsula. Longleaf pine stands today reflect a history of extensive naval stores operations, logging and burning following logging. As a result many longleaf pine forests have been replaced by other species."

Close-up of a teenager

The search for needles has also resulted in our enrollment in the Florida State Forests Trailwalkers Program. It has three levels: Trailwalker, Trailblazer and then finally the pinnacle of acheivement------a Trailmaster! As the brochure explaining the program states "The benefits are many when you participate in the program. You get to improve your level of physical fitness at your own rate without the pressure of competition. Your only competitor is yourself." Now that's for me!!

Dutch Tieman Trail in Pine Log State Forest

The state forests of Florida are a hidden natural treasure that don't get a lot of publicity but offer solitude, quiet and a wide range of opportunities for the hiker and nature enthusiast. You'd hardly ever know that you are in the 4th most populous state in the nation when wandering the endless miles of forest that cover wide expanses of the Sunshine State. Y'all get out there and enjoy 'em now.

Palmetto understory in Pine Log State Forest

At the Eastern Lake trailhead

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Rocky Bayou State Park

Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park is named for the Air Force colonel who was responsible for restoring this area into a nature preserve from its former role as a WW2 military bombing range. This 357-acre park is loctated along the brackish shores of Rocky Bayou in the southeastern corner of Okaloosa County, and sits directly across Choctawhatchee Bay from the urban bustle of U.S. 98 with its strip malls and throngs of beach bound tourists. Once you are deep within the quiet woods of this lovely park you'd hardly ever know you were so close to the pressing mass of the multitudes.

Rocky Bayou

Quiet solitude of the Rocky Bayou Trail

The park is a great place to see one of the best remaining examples of coastal scrub forest in the western panhandle of Florida. This particular forest contains many fine specimens of old-growth long leaf pine, some of which are over three-hundred years old, that once covered much of Florida before large scale logging in the last century removed them. Some of the other trees found here include the sourwood, chinquapin, live oak, Alabama oak, sand pine, magnolia and cypress.

The most scenic loop trail in the park.

There are three principal nature trails in the park: the Red Cedar, Rocky Bayou and the Sand Pine Trail which hugs the shores of pristine Puddin' Head Lake. According to the book Exploring Wild Northwest Florida, "One of the most interesting aspects of these trails is the conglomeration of trees and shrubs that occurs here. Though none of these plants are outside of a habitat that might be expected for the species, the diverse assortment of species and sheer number of individuals make this an excellent place for botanizing."

The rare trumpter swan can be found here as well as bald eagles, osprey and a wide assortment of reptiles and mammals.

Puddin' Head Lake

This park has a large picnic area, boat ramp and 45 full-service campsites. It is open year-round and is conveniently located near stores and a wide array of services on nearby Florida Hwy. 20.

The author taking a break on the Sand Pine Trail.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Another beautiful sunset in Seagrove Beach

I am truly blessed to live in such a beautiful place. Tonight the sunset over the dunes behind our home in Seagrove Beach was especially spectacular. I hope you all enjoy it too.