Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God: But only he who sees takes off his shoes. —
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
In honor of the Victorian poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, who met after a long correspondence on May 20, 1845…and began one of the most celebrated love affairs in history. After much wooing, Browning finally convinced a shy and skeptical Barrett that he loved her “for naught except for love’s sake only.”
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I readily admit that my sense of direction is horrible. Which makes wanting to explore the more off-beaten trails a bit…difficult, to my family’s tremendous concern. There’s a lot of backtracking! But in visiting these places, a vision of natural Florida is allowed — and it’s divine.
Outside of the *ridiculous* number of gargantuan mosquitoes that swarmed as I carefully crept into this lovely swamp, it was a treat. I only hope that any human male who shows an interest in me in the future, will also understand my occasional mosquito attacks (not pretty). And the spider bites. And occasional wasp stings. I should seriously consider paramedics or forest rangers as potential dating material.
A still-dry cypress swamp in the Cypress Creek Natural Area
I recently hiked through one of my favorite habitats, a hardwood swamp. Various hardwood trees and a mixture of hardwoods and Cypress can be found here, including Water hickory, Holly, Maples, Oaks, Cabbage palms and Bay trees, accompanied by a dense understory of vines, ferns and herbaceous plants. Hardwood swamps occur on floodplains or upland areas that are lower than the surrounding area. And it’s home to so much life — the sounds coming from the trees were just lovely.
Looking up into the canopy of the hardwood swamp
Yet another breathtakingly beautiful Florida habitat to witness and love — and above all else, protect and preserve.
On the heels of Earth Day, I wanted to share an *internal* vision of one of the few remaining cypress swamps lining the Everglades…. It’s part of the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, and I spend much time there — and you can probably see why. It’s utterly beautiful. Just magnificent. We’re tentatively leaving the dry season here in South Florida (our daily afternoon rains haven’t quite started — that will be May), but the swamp is slowly coming into its glory, thanks to some plentiful April rainfall.
Cypress Swamp, Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
Like most of Florida’s cypress, this area was thoroughly logged in the ’40s — so while the trees aren’t first-generation cypress, they’re beautiful nonetheless — and thankfully, they’re now protected by various federal and state agencies! In this swamp, among the bald and pond cypress there are also pond apple trees, as well as different species of ferns, some twice as large as I stand. It’s just magical. I always picture this land covered by such a vista…. Which, in the human timeline, wasn’t that long ago.
A dense vista
This wetland habitat supports an incredible amount of life, although much less than it did in years past. Butterflies, alligator, snakes, frogs, bobcats, otter, birds of every variety, and raptors make their homes here. Larger predators, including panther and bear, would have freely roamed. And it’s fantastic: You may HEAR the Great-horned owl, but try finding him. If you’re not quiet and gentle out there — and observant — you’ll miss everything.
Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius)
A Southern leopard frog just missed his meal ticket of a dragonfly, but hasn’t given up… Using his PERFECT camouflage
A Red-bellied Cooter sunning on a fallen log in the swamp = JOY!
A well-hidden and quite harmless Black racer tries to sleep
Looking up into the beautiful young cypress trees of the swamp
Often on hikes through the South Florida pine flatwoods, you’ll stumble across other ecosytems. The flatwood environment itself is layered, with high canopies of pines, a lower shrubby layer, and an herbaceous layer — but it’s dotted with cypress domes (a cypress swamp in the shape of a dome), prairies, marshes, and other habitats. Truly a fascinating ecosystem.
Unfortunately, developers continue to find flatwoods attractive for development: the vast expanses of flat land are too tempting, as is the ease in cutting and clearing its enormous swaths. But it’s critical to remember all the life this land supports — as well as the various other habitats that are intricately woven together here.
Pine flatwoods vista
Slash Pine: Ready for my close-up
Heading from the flatwoods into the swamp, along the Florida Trail
Ever-lovely cypress of the swamp
From flatwood, to prairie, to….
And an extra for Tree Tuesday — I can’t get enough of this cartoon….
A snapshot of cypress trees lining a beautiful marsh along the Owahee Trail of Grassy Waters Preserve.
Now protected by various federal and state agencies, these amazing trees were completely logged out in the 1930s and ’40s in Florida — only a scant few original trees survived the logging operations of this time. Most seen today are 7th- or 8th-generation cypress. But if untouched, they could live to 500 years.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed a few naturalist / photographer bloggers in this amazing community posting on Tree Tuesday. How could I, tree-hugger fanatic that I am, have missed this? I’m running incredibly behind on all of the wonderful places I’ve hiked and visited over the last few months, so while I play catch-up, at least I can post some of the magnificent TREES that I’ve spied.
Florida has an incredible assortment of flora — not just the palm trees that many developers like to plop down, after ripping up our beautiful natives. And they’re enormous. If you’re lucky enough to stumble upon sections of pristine land, areas that weren’t cruelly and completely logged out in the 1930s and ’40s, you’re in for a real treat…. But sadly, few massive trees survived the logging operations of this time. While these trees are old, they’re probably 7th- or 8th-generation cypress. The loggers really did a number on Florida’s cypress populations. But if untouched, they could live to 500 years. The good news is, they’re now protected by various federal and state agencies!
In honor of our wonderful cypress swamps, some of the loveliest and most unique vistas to behold, here’s a shot of some cypress trees in a swamp, in the Big Cypress National Preserve (bordering the Everglades National Park) during the dry winter months.
Cypress Trees in the Big Cypress National Preserve