Sunday, February 8, 2009

Longleaf Pine - Wiregrass Ecosystem

I've been out exploring and scouting some areas at Ft. Stewart for the upcoming turkey season. I "found" a large longleaf stand that is in great shape....and has some really cool plants (and lots of turkeys to boot, what have I done to deserve this?). Molly wanted to see it, so we all went for a picnic and an afternoon in the woods.

What struck me when we first got out of the truck was the sound of the wind through a million longleaf needles and the total absence of any other noise. All-consuming but at the same time, strangely muted...

I've always loved the longleaf woods. Just something about ''s our native forest, and has greatly influenced our history and culture. From a once proud 93 million acres to now less than 3 million scattered acres, we need to take care of what little we have left. What is so unique about the longleaf ecosystem (besides the tree itself, which is a whole other discussion), is the understory. The understory contains the diversity....more plant species can be found in a square meter of longleaf woods than in the same area in the tropical rainforest. The whole system is built on frequent fire, which eliminates encroaching hardwoods and loblolly pine, keeping the woods open and sunlit. It harbors a host of wildlife species...from bobwhite quail to red-cockaded woodpeckers...flatwoods salamanders to Bachman's sparrow, eastern indigo snakes to gopher tortoises.

Me and Levi in the woods...

The entrance to a gopher tortoise burrow. While becoming less common due to loss of habitat, they are not threatened in Georgia (but they are in Alabama and Mississippi). Not only do these burrows harbor gopher tortoises, they also serve as a thermal and protective refugia for the federally-listed eastern indigo snake, eastern diamondbacks, assorted small mammals, and a host of insects. Trivia: They're evidently pretty tasty...were called "Hoover Chicken" during the depression....don't try it now, though. A bite of tortoise ain't hardly worth jail time.

Ought to be an old bird dog somewhere in this picture.

The grasshoppers were everywhere....flushing under our feet (There's one on the side of the tree).

They wanted our crackers, too. And with all that grass.....dern hungry varmints.

A small creek that feeds in to Taylor's Creek....we ate our lunch here. Levi had to soaked and covered in mud wading and digging around.

Little hands growing up fast.

Toothache grass (Ctenium aromaticum). So named because of agents that help numb the mouth when chewed (it's never worked for me, however). This species is endemic to moist pine savannas and bogs....which means it occurs in the same neighborhood with.....

Hooded pitcher plants (Sarracenia minor). Listed as threatened in Florida, but "unusual" in Georgia. These perennial forbs are carnivorous and are found in bogs and wet woods. Like so many other things associated with the longleaf ecosystem, changing land-use patterns and fire suppression has done a number on pitcher plant abundance. Luckily, because of regular fire and good ecological management, Ft. Stewart contains a good many pitcher plant bogs.

Molly took this one shot, and it's better than the 15 I took.


run4life said...

This made me so homesick for Georgia! I saw my dad's old birdogs, Shine and Smokey, in that picture!

Beth said...

Thanks for sharing these pics. They are beautiful! Molly, can we go there when I come down to visit?