Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘cypress swamp’

Arthur’s Butterflies

A brief hike within Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge — along a secluded section of cypress swamp bordering a sliver of meadow — yielded both heavy blossoms and lots of…BUTTERFLIES! While the human male was busy exploring, I was exceptionally careful not to trip over any large, scaly objects as I thrashed about the bushes at the water’s edge, chasing butterflies. I had nearly crossed paths with one particularly large and silent scaly object — quite unlike a butterfly — in my efforts to photograph these lovelies…. Last picture proof positive to always be aware of one’s surroundings when hiking near water in Florida, and to be fully respectful and knowledgeable of alligators’ behavior. This certainly isn’t the first close encounter with these interesting creatures in our years of Florida hiking, nor will it be the last.

My mother would *not* be happy….

For More Information:

Zebra Longwing Butterfly (Heliconius charitonius)

Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus), Arthur R. Marshall

Zebra Longwing Butterfly (Heliconius charitonius), Arthur R. Marshall

Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus), Arthur R. Marshall

Ruddy Daggerwing Butterfly (Marpesia petreus)? Julia?, Arthur R. Marshall

Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus), Arthur R. Marshall

White Peacock Butterfly (Anartia jatrophae), Arthur R. Marshall

Ruddy Daggerwing Butterfly (Marpesia petreus)? Julia?, Arthur R. Marshall

White Checkered-Skipper (Pyrgus albescens) (?), Arthur R. Marshall

Hullllo, Mr. Alligator. You’re not a butterfly.

Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Jonathan Dickinson State Park offers an ideal exploration of natural Florida, providing a vast ecosystem filled with wildlife in 13 natural communities. Sand pine scrub, pine flatwoods, mangroves, and cypress swamps cover the entirety of the park, nearly 20 percent of which is comprised of coastal sand pine scrub, an environmental community so rare that it’s been designated as “globally imperiled.” The Loxahatchee River — Seminole for “River of Turtles” — was federally designated as Florida’s first “Wild and Scenic River” in 1985, and runs through Jonathan Dickinson, originating in Riverbend Park to the south.

Wildlife thrives at the park, due to a long history of protection. Deer, raccoons, foxes, otters, bobcats, and coyote can be seen if you’re quiet enough. Alligators are common, as are turtles along the river. Threatened and endangered species include Florida scrub-jays, gopher tortoises, manatees, and Eastern indigo snakes. More than 150 species of birds have been identified within the park as well. We’ve (not surprisingly) encountered families of wild pigs, but often on the backroad “trails” within the park. The feral pigs — or wild hogs — have become a destructive and invasive force in the area for some time, and the park does its bit to control their populations.


Jonathan Dickinson’s namesake was a shipwrecked Quaker merchant, who, in 1696 made his way — along with his family and other survivors — up the eastern Florida coast to St. Augustine. Crucial information about early life in Florida is provided within his journals, which describe his encounters with Native Americans and Spanish settlers.

During the 1930s, Trapper Nelson (born Vincent Nostokovich or Natulkiewicz), the Tarzan [or Wildman] of the Loxahatchee, moved to the region and lived off the land as a trapper and fur trader. He eventually grew himself and his home into one of the area’s first tourist attractions after World War II — with “Trapper’s Zoo and Jungle Gardens.” Spending the majority of his profits buying land at tax sales, he amassed nearly 900 acres of the Loxahatchee riverfront, thus sparing it from development. After he died mysteriously in 1968 of a “self-inflicted” shotgun wound to the chest, the state acquired his land, and deeded it to the park. Trapper’s controversial death continues to lend a sense of mystery to the site of his restored camp.

During World War II, the U.S. Army established Camp Murphy, a top-secret radar-training school. In what is now Jonathan Dickinson State Park, there were more than 1,000 buildings, housing more than 6,000 officers and soldiers. While the camp was deactivated after only two years of operation in 1944, many of the buildings’ ghostly foundations remain visible. In 1950, the land was declared a state park.


Hiking: Jonathan Dickinson provides a wealth of activities within its 11,500 acres. We’re avid hikers, and there’s much land to hike at JD. Be sure to pick up a trail map, or download one from the Web (or from one of the sites provided below). We’ve done bits of the four main nature trails — we’ve even tackled an abandoned trail or two. But of late, we’ve been investigating the Florida Trail and the Kitching Creek portions, which can lead you to Riverbend Park and Indiantown Road. You can spend a half-hour on a trail, or an entire day (if you can hike those 12 miles — sometimes in soft sand).

Biking: The bike trails at Jonathan Dickinson are amazing — both paved and off-road bicycle trails are available. The Camp Murphy Off-road Bicycle Trail System is a nine-mile network of mountain bike trails, with loops rated for difficulty, from beginner to “black diamond, experts only.” (Bicycles are available for rental.)

Horseback Riding: Eight miles of multi-use trails are also provided for equestrians wishing to bring their horses, and a full-facility campground is available for those wishing to camp with their horses.

Camping: The park provides an abundance of camping options, from full-facility, to cabins, to primitive (something we’d like to try in this area). Three youth group sites are also present at the park.

Canoeing & Kayaking: The Loxahatchee is famous for its scenic canoeing and kayaking, leading travelers under a canopy of breathtaking centuries-old cypress, or through a gnarled mangrove-lined estuary. I’ve canoed to Trapper Nelson’s site, and it’s especially lovely when it’s not the busy (S)eason. Rentals are offered for canoes, kayaks, and motorboats. Remember to observe the “idle speed” limit on the river within the park for the sake of the wildlife. The 25-passenger Loxahatchee Queen II also takes visitors on a two-hour tour of the river, with a stop at the restored camp of Trapper Nelson.

To learn more, visit the Elsa Kimbell Environmental Education and Research Center, which celebrates the nature and history of the park through exhibits, displays, and other educational offerings.

Address & Directions

16450 S.E. Federal Hwy.
Hobe Sound, 33455
(772) 546-2771 / Reservation: 1-800-326-3521

Hours: 8 a.m. until sundown, year-round

Jonathan Dickinson State Park is located 12 miles south of Stuart on U.S.1. Accessible from I-95 (Exit 87A) or the Florida Turnpike (Exit 116).

For More Information:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Chasing Florida Flutterbys

On our hikes, we often stumble upon areas of flurried butterfly activity, due to Florida’s abundant all-year blooms. The most common encounter is the zebra longwing (Heliconius charitonius), designated as the official state butterfly of Florida in 1996 (something I just learned). No wonder it’s the state butterfly; it’s found throughout Florida in hardwood hammocks, swamps, gardens, and in the Everglades.

It’s tempting to want to cheat and run to Butterfly World to nab some prime shots of our butterflies, but for now I like to rely on the natural environs. We’ve spied some lovelies — swallowtails, sulphurs, whites, milkweeds and longwings — but sometimes, they just don’t want to pose for the camera. Or if they do, and aren’t as shy as the others, they rest in unfortunate spots — I find myself plowing through beastly banana spider webs, or trampling through swamp, to chase butterflies.

For More Information:

Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus), Arthur R. Marshall

Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus)

Ruddy Daggerwing Butterfly (Marpesia petreus)

Ruddy Daggerwing Butterfly (Marpesia petreus)

Ruddy Daggerwing Butterfly (Marpesia petreus)

Zebra Longwing Butterfly (Heliconius charitonius), Arthur R. Marshall

Zebra Longwing Butterfly (Heliconius charitonius), Riverbend Park

Poplar Sphinx Moth or Poplar Hawk Moth Larva, Big Cypress National Preserve

A Picnic at Fern Forest

As is our modus operandi (read: cheap activity these days), we grabbed an insanely delicious LaSpada’s subs, and headed out to Fern Forest in Broward County for a picnic and casual hike. It’s a bit of a haul for us, but we wanted to take advantage of Florida’s overcast weather with Tropical Storm Emily. Although she didn’t quite make it to land, enough of her bands reached us, and we had to make a run for it out of the trails. The flutterbys were active, and I was chasing them like a crazed lunatic with my camera to no avail. And the banana spiders, oh my. Oh my. They’ve obviously been busy, with their gigantic (but non-toxic) selves. I crashed into a few of their expansive webs, chasing butterflies. Dave’s especially enthralled with spiders, consistently offering better leverage for close-ups. Right-o.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Jonathan Dickinson & Riverbend: Natural Florida and an Awe-Inspiring Cypress Swamp

Riverbend Park in Jupiter, Florida, has been by far one of our favorite places to visit. Besides the vastness of the park proper, there’s a great extension of the Florida Trail — accessible through the park (under Indiantown Rd.), or attainable across the street (we jump the fence for more immediate access), near the Loxahatchee River. (The Ocean-to-Lake portion of the Florida Trail also runs behind the park, to the south.) But one of my favorite hikes is along the Old Indiantown Trail, also accessible across the street from Riverbend. It’s absolutely beautiful, replete with a gorgeous watering hole, canopy trees, old Florida growth, prairie, and miles of hiking, that lead into Jonathan Dickinson. Natural Florida at its BEST. It’s rarely traveled — we’ve never encountered another hiker past the watering hole.

During our most recent trip, the gopher tortoises were exceptionally active — we must have seen at least five in their burrows within as many minutes. One of the oldest living species, the burrowing tortoise is found throughout Florida and southern Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, and eastern Louisiana. These tortoises dig and live in long burrows in longleaf pine savannas, thus protected from summer heat, winter cold, fire, and predators. Gopher tortoises are essential to the local ecology — their burrows also provide homes for other animals, including indigo snakes, gopher frogs, mice, foxes, skunks, opossums, rabbits, quail, armadillos, burrowing owls, snakes, lizards, frogs, toads, and other invertebrates. Their burrows — abandoned or shared — may be the homes to more than 300 species of animals at one time or another. Pretty amazing; and it’s easy to see how destroying the habitat of the gopher tortoise alters the already fragile ecosystem. Federally protected as a threatened species EXCEPT in Florida, in which it is “under review,” the tortoise’s main threat remains: Habitat loss and destruction. For instance, it wasn’t until 2007, in Florida, that developers were forced *by law* to relocate burrowing tortoises — until then, development could shockingly occur with no thought to the safety of the animals and the destruction of their habitat.

But by far my favorite part of this particular hike was our segue from the trail, into an untouched cypress swamp. The trees were so enormous, that I’d like to think they were saved from the mass logging of so many of Florida’s virgin trees, during the 1920s and ’30s. The swamp was vast, secluded, and amazingly peaceful — it was hard to leave. Finding the not-so-small shedded snakeskin not far from the trail (possibly rattlesnake?) was another decent reminder as to why I *always* wear my hiking boots on these trips, regardless of the temperatures.

For More Information:

Fern Forest Nature Center

Fern Forest, 247 acres in entirety, is a magnificent conservation site and wildlife refuge located in Broward County, Florida, taking its name from the myriad ferns — more than 30 species — found on its grounds. In 1979, scientists from FAU and Broward Community College (now Broward College) wrote about the area’s botanical diversity in their article “A Tropical Fern Grotto in Broward County, Florida.” The researchers characterized the site as “the last remaining stronghold of ferns in southeastern Florida.” This beautiful and diverse natural area represents the last remnant of the historical Cypress Creek floodway. Authorized in the early 1900s to create more suitable farming land, the Cypress Creek drainage system and the surrounding areas have a long history as farmland, first for such crops as pineapples, tomatoes, beans, and peppers, and later for dairy farming, logging and milling.

Fern Forest remains a significant refuge for wildlife in this highly urbanized region, and hosts many educational activities, conservation events, and nature programs. A reception hall, an ampitheater, and picnic areas and protective shelters are provided within its nature center. The park encompasses 10 plant communities, including a tropical hardwood hammock, an open prairie, and a cypress-maple swamp. Three main trails are offered: The Cypress Creek Trail (a wonderful boardwalk); The Prairie Overlook Trail, which includes a 20-foot-tall observation platform; and the Maple Walk (my favorite!), through an often soggy red maple swamp. Fern Forest was awarded “Best of” from the Broward/Palm Beach New Times for:

  • 2009 – Best Nature Trail
  • 2007 – Best Nature Trail
  • 2005 – Best Place to Birdwatch

LaSpada’s Subs is nearby, even better! We like to grab some grub for a picnic, before our walks either here or at nearby Tree Tops park… Upcoming post.

For More Information:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

An Ethereal Swamp in Riverbend

After visiting the newly created (and still-in-development) Cypress Creek Natural Area (see corresponding post), we darted through one of my favorite areas of Riverbend Park in Jupiter, Florida — not exactly a difficult hike in this particular location, but we weren’t exactly looking for one, after spending 4 hours plodding through the (occasionally) deep sand of Cypress Creek.

Awhile back, we discovered a cut-through (perhaps the beginnings of a new trail) leading to Riverbend’s cypress swamp — a truly beautiful area of the park. The shortcut is lovely, and is obviously used by many critters judging by the tracks. We even managed to stumble upon a flock of wild turkeys and several hunting osprey, as it was approaching dusk. But Florida’s cypress swamps are a sight like no other, and it’s wonderful that this area of the Loxahatchee River — Seminole for “River of Turtles” — has been protected in all of its glory. (The Loxahatchee’s source is actually in Riverbend, winding through Jonathan Dickinson.)

Per the park’s signage:

“Riverbend Park’s aquatic habitats are invaluable. They provide food, water and shelter for a vast array of unique species of aquatic and semi-aquatic wildlife. Protection of these riparian or river ecosystems within Riverbend Park not only gives visitors the opportunity to study local wildlife, but provides critical habitat for the wildlife, thus ensuring their survival.”

For More Information:

Wildflowers, Riverbend Park

Birds’ Feast, Riverbend Park

Plethora of Palms, Riverbend Park

Cypress Stump in Swamp, Riverbend Park

Cypress Swamp, Riverbend Park

Cypress Swamp, Riverbend Park

Signage, Riverbend Park

Wild Turkey, Riverbend Park

%d bloggers like this: