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A Florida state park employee setting a prescribed burn at Dunns Creek State Park.

Starting a Good Fire

Fire has historically been a natural part of Florida's ecosystems. Years of fire suppression have resulted in much habitat degradation as the understory gets crowded with different and shrubby plants and hardwood trees moved into areas that had naturally been mostly pine. This prevents many of the native species, many of them unique to their habitat, from thriving. Some plant species even require fire for germination. Fire suppression also allows an unsafe build-up of fuel in these areas, that can be dangerous and hard to control if a wildfire starts.
Proper land management of our parks, forests and other natural areas now involves prescribed burning. These burns are conducted when possible, balancing the desire to mimic the natural fire cycles and seasons and timing for when the fire can be safely controlled.
The frequency of fire varies with the habitat, with flatwoods and sandhills burning more frequently than scrub. For more information on fire and our ecology, visit goodfires.org and The Nature Conservancy.
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The featured image shows the green leaves of a lone red mangrove sprout surrounded by a few red mangrove prop roots and many black mangrove pneumatophores.

Rhizophora mangle - RED MANGROVE & Avicennia germinans - BLACK MANGROVE

Florida has four plant species in three separate families that are considered mangroves, a grouping made due to their shared habitat and each species' unique adaptations for tolerating the salt-water environment. The members of this group are the red mangrove, black mangrove, white mangrove and buttonwood, or button mangrove.
Red mangrove can most easily be distinguished from the others by the reddish arching above-ground prop roots and the long propagules - seeds that germinate while still on the plant. The long, narrow appendages develop from the fruit before falling off and floating away to quickly take root once they come to rest, typically in a muddy location. One of the most distinctive features of black mangroves are the pneumatophores. These are erect aerial roots that allow the plant to breathe. They are narrow. mostly straight, vertical roots that resemble skinny stalagmites surrounding the plant. The black mangrove fruit is a flattened green pod, asymmetrical in shape with pointed apices, somewhat resembling a large misshapen lima bean.
This photograph was made at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Largo, Florida.
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This juvenile gopher tortoise is probably between 2-5 years old. At this stage the shell is still soft and the juvenile is vulnerable to predation.

Gopherus polyphemus - GOPHER TORTOISE

The range of gopher tortoises extends through the coastal plain from southwestern South Carolina into eastern Louisiana and through much of Florida, except for the Everglades and Florida Keys. They can be found in almost any upland habitat, although open longleaf pine sandhills and flatwoods appear to be the most suitable.
Gopherus polyphemus is a state listed threatened species in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, and is federally listed as threatened west of the Tombigbee and Mobile Rivers in Alabama and also Mississippi and Louisiana. Gopher tortoise populations are in danger mainly due to habitat loss as the high dry ecosystems favored by this land tortoise is in demand for commercial and residential development. The shells can reach up to a foot long at maturity.
The burrows that gopher tortoises dig are utilized by many other species, especially during natural and prescribed fires.
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I call this image of part of a saw palmetto leaf showing the hastula, Saw Palmetto Hips. The hastula is the junction of the petiole to the base of the leaf.

Serenoa repens - SAW PALMETTO

Saw palmetto is a common long-lived shrub or small tree of wet to dry flatwoods and hammocks throughout nearly all of Florida. The range extends through the southeastern coastal states from Texas to South Carolina.
This slow growing palm is usually decumbent with much of the trunk buried, but does sometimes grow upright. The leaves are fan shaped with deeply divided segments with petioles that have short curved spines along the edge. These spines are about 1/16 inch or less in length and give the petiole the look and feel of a saw blade. Tiny greenish-white flowers grow on spikelike clusters, most prolifically after fire and in the spring. Fruit is an oblong yellowish drupe that turns black as it matures.
The junction of the petiole and leaf (hastula) is short and blunt. Compare this with the hastula of the cabage palm.
Purchase Saw Palmetto Hips by Paul Rebmann


This Eastern Phoebe was photographed while kayaking in Tomoka State Park.

Sayornis phoebe - EASTERN PHOEBE

Eastern phoebes winter in Florida and much of the southeastern United States and eastern Mexico. The breeding range in the summer extends from the Yukon Territory and British Columbia into southeast Canada, and much of the eastern United States except for the southernmost areas.
Brownish-gray above, with head, wings and tail darker, and mostly white underneath with a pale olive wash on sides and breast. Weak wing bars and black beak. Juvenile birds from summer to fall have a yellow wash below.
They are found in woodlands and forest edges, often near water and have a habit of pumping and spreading their tail. Nests are made of mud with moss and small leaves and located under cliffs, bridges or the eves of buildings.
Purchase Eastern Phoebe by Paul Rebmann


These palm trees were photographed while kayaking along Blackwater Creek in Central Florida.

Blackwater Creek Palms - cabbage palms - Sabal palmetto

Blackwater Creek flows from Lake Norris through Seminole State Forest to the Wekiva River, joining the Wekiva not far from where that waterway meets the St. Johns River.
The upstream end can be paddled in kayak or canoe from the Lake Norris Conservation Area into Lake Norris, but usually requires negotiating over fallen trees. The lower portions of Blackwater Creek can be paddled by entering it from the Wekiva River.
Read my blog post on kayak photography which includes a mention of the other kayaker I meet on the creek the day I photographed Blackwater Creek Palms and a link to his blog.
These palm trees are cabbage palms.
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