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The Daily Bucket is a place where we post and exchange our observations about what is happening in the natural world in our neighborhood. Bugs, buds, birds - each note is a record that we can refer to in the future as we try to understand the patterns that are quietly unwinding around us.
Cinco de Mayo 2012

This is part 2 of a recent trip, the first covered carnivorous plants.

Today it's Orchids and my favorite, Milkweed - both with intricate flowers and special ways to achieve pollination.

We are in the pine flatwoods of the Apalachicola National Forest in the Florida Panhandle. The main road is SR-65 in Liberty County FL which runs north-south and intersects a series of forest roads. This hike was lead by Dr. Ann Johnson and Scott Davis and sponsored by the Florida Native Plant Society.

Here's a good description of the natural communities from FNAI - Florida Natural Areas Inventory. This is what it looked like.

Turn in any direction and that is all you see for miles. There is the occasional baygall or basin swamp. If you can penetrate one of these thru the brush and vines, inside is always fun. One had huge Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) and sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana); another pond cypress (Taxodium ascendens) and black gum / swamp tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica).

Of the few we entered, this had the biggest puddle, others were dry. As you see from water marks around trees, water is easily down a foot or more. I should be standing in water!

Orchids and Milkweeds coming up below.

Check out the stool I found. The cap was formed by layers of peat building up in high water, now exposed but still supporting plants, moss and lichens.

Green-fly Orchid (Epidendrum conopseum). These were on trees in a small basin just off a dirt road. Scott said it looked like cold-damage, referring to the color purple I guess, instead of green.

In bloom. The white stuff is from aphids we chased off. The plant is listed as commercially exploited according to the native plant spreadsheet I recently updated for a forest service.
 A good explanation of state rank and status.

This is not an orchid but it was in same depression on same trees.
Bartram's Airplant (Tillandsia bartramii)

The blue spike is about halfway emerged from its sheath and ends with a tiny yellow flower at the tip.

and last year's gone to seed.

The next series of orchids are more dependent on fire to keep the pinelands open for them. The season is just starting for these beauties and the recent thunderstorms will pop up more fringed orchids and pinks.

Bearded Grasspink (calopogon barbatus or pallidus or tuberosus)  Big variance in color from white to magenta within each species, but they all look about the same. I usually try to get the leaf structure in the photos to aid in ID but these grasspinks can flower without leaves.

Not having nectar, the beard hairs on the upper side are false stamen to fake an insect into landing but instead it slips thru the beard and falls below to pollinate the orchid.

One more orchid for the ladies - Spiranthes, commonly called Lady's Tresses.
The spiral design is meant to lead a bee upward, picking up fresh pollen from near the top to cross-pollinate the next plant - land, climb, repeat...

On to the Milkweeds!

The first 3 are in the pine flatwoods. These blooms are as intricate and tricky as orchids. Note the 5 cups on top of each bloom, each with a guard across to trap a pollinator's leg, secure the pollen sac to the leg and, hopefully, off the insect goes to drop it on the next bloom. Cross-pollination success!

Asclepias michauxii - Michaux's Milkweed

Asclepias cinerea  - Carolina Milkweed

Asclepias lanceolata - Few-flower Mlikweed  This one stood at eye-level, maybe had a leaf pair every foot, long and very narrow leaves. Seeing this topped off my long day in the bogs and flatwoods.

These last 2 naturally occurring milkweeds are from around my house which is upland hardwood forest.

Asclepias tuberous - Butterfly weed, something you can buy anywhere. The flowers look very much like the Few-flower above. Very excited to see 3 stalks this year respond to favored treatment after only having 1 stalk the previous 2 years.

Asclepias variegata  - Redring or White-flowered Mlikweed. Mine has a red ring around the middle, easily seen from the side. I went with this top view so we can see the big green leaves; bigger leaves for being in wooded areas as opposed to the skinny leaves of the lanceolata growing in full sun. There's a colony of 6-8 just up my trail.

There was one other very small milkweed on the hike I missed photographing. And another in my yard that never came back after getting munched by a caterpillar a couple years ago. Dozens of states have dozens of milkweeds. When I head north soon I'll be happy to see the common milkweed with those big pods us kids had so much fun with - busting them open, swinging them around, gluing each other with milk. Not that I play like that any more...  

How about y'all? Any milkweeds or orchids in your neck of the woods? Been getting a lot of rain here in North Florida this week. I had a 2 inch downpour yesterday. Very good for getting us out of this drought and into the summer pattern of afternoon thunderstorms building up from the Gulf Coast. As we always say - just a hurricane away from normal levels of rainfall.... except the hurricanes have been missing us.

Originally posted to Backyard Science on Wed May 16, 2012 at 08:35 AM PDT.

Also republished by DKOMA.

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