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The Perdido Pitcher Plant Prairie

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Above: This is me at the pitcher plant prairie entrance. Yes, it was hot.
Yes I was having a bad hair day!

Pitcher Plant Prairie Update - June 2005

I visited the park on June 14th, 2005, but was unable to get in due to the park being closed for construction. I read where the park was going to be closed from the park's website at http://www.floridastateparks.org/tarkilnbayou/default.cfm

I'll try to get back there in a few weeks to see what they have done. It appears the were beginning to lay the boardwalk from the main entrance on into the park.

Pitcher Plant Prairie Update - July 2004

I made a quick visit to the site, and saw that they had completed a portion of the boardwalk. They had made progress in clearing an area around the boardwalk, and the S. leucophylla and D. Tracyi were getting back into fine shape. The D. Tracyi plants were huge.

 

Pitcher Plant Prairie Update - January 2002

In December, 2001, the pitcher plant prairie was placed back on the states priority list for aquisition. Owners of the parcels of land had been relucatant to sell, seeking highly inflated prices above appraisal. This, coupled with an enormous amount of funds being diverted from the aquisition fund to the everglades restoration project caused the project to come to a halt. But this all changed by late 2001. Ordinances making it more expensive to develop wetlands, and the US Navy seeking an ordinace to seriously restrict developing in the area has caused some owners to be become concerned that lan dprices may seriously drop, and became willing to sell their property. About 4000 acres of the original 7000 acres have been purchased by the state. 1000 acres has been lost to development. The remaining 2000 acres will cost around $10 million to aquire.

End Of Update

 

The Pitcher Plant Prairie (which has now been renamed to the Tarkiln Bayou State Park) is a Florida State Park located in Perdido, Florida. The land was and is continuing to be obtained by the government to protect the pitcher plants (the one noted was S. leucophylla) which had been found growing there. (Actually, the Tarkiln Bayou has been known for the better part of the last century as a hot spot for Sarracenia, especially S. rosea.) It should be known that the state of Florida is still attempting to purchase land parcels for the park. Some of the better known places within the Tarkiln Bayou area for Sarracenia, as of this writing, still have not been aquired by the state, therefore I do not list those locations here. Here is an account of my visit to the park in July 2000.


In the late summer of 1999, my girlfriend Kristi and I was talking to a friend about our recent trip to Florida to look at pitcher plants. While I was certain that her friend would not really know what a pitcher plant was, I was surprised to find out that not only did she know of them, but that her brother was an attorney which had recently closed on the sale of some land in Florida which was to be called the pitcher plant prairie. It was at that moment that pitcher plants began to consume our conversation. She gave me a little background on the state purchase, and told me that the prairie was located near Pensacola, Florida.

During the last week of July, 2000, Kristi and I went to Gulf Shores, Alabama, which is just a few miles away from Pensacola, Florida. While down there, I decided to attempt to locate the reserve on the internet, but only found a few references to it. I was hoping for a map, but only found a few references to it. (Actually, if I had done a more detailed search, I would have discovered that the Pitcher Plant Prairie was located in the Tarkiln Bayou area, which is a very famous spot which I  knew well.)   Ironically, one of the best sites about the location of the pitcher plant prairie was found in a young womans website on mudding and fourwheeling. It  turns out that the pitcher plant prairie used to be a favorite location in which to take four wheel drives for some serious mudding activity. The location was closed to all vehicle traffic in 1999. (More on the four wheeling activity in a moment.) None of the internet sites I found actually gave directions to the site, or made mention of Tarkiln Bayou, so I gave up hope in finding it.  Without knowing where the prairie was, Kristi and I decided to go sight seeing. We drove by the Tarkiln Bayou Access, and discovered that it was the Pitcher Plant Prairie.
 

As it turns out, the pitcher plant prairie currently includes about half of the Tarkiln Bayou and a total land mass of about 2000 acres. (It is currently 4000 acres now.) The proposed size is nearly 7,000 acres when and if all of the surrounding parcels of land are aquired, and that will be an ongoing process.  One problem is that some of the land is being aquired by developers as well.

The rest of this article will be focused on the Pitcher Plant Prairie as it existed in July, 2000. Remember, it is hoped that this park will continue to grow, and hopefully include what many consider as the crown jewel parcel. But as of July, 2000, this parcel had yet to be purchased.

In the Pitcher Plant Prairie,  S. leucophylla and S. rosea were noted to grow. (Newer notations refer to S. rubra growing there asw well. S. psittacina also grows there in abundance.  The actual prairie was in fairly bad shape due to the recent drought and encroachment of woody plants. The pitcher plants were growing in the driest habitat I have ever seen Sarracenia grow in. The area has been in a drought for a few years, and it is taking its toll on the site. Large woody plants have taken over, and the area is in bad need of a burn. However, due to the extreme dryness of the ground, it may be impossible to do a controlled burn until the drought conditions subside. The plants were mainly found growing in the old trail made by the four wheel drive activity of the past. The vehicles cut a path about 8 feet wide in which the woody plants have not grown back into yet.  One has to wonder whether or not there would be any of these plants left in this part of the park had it not been for the four wheel drive activity of the past which cleared some land for the plants to cling to.

Despite its name, until the crown jewel parcel is aquired by the state, you are not going to casually find pitcher plants; it will take some hunting. I have included directions within the park on where the plants are located, as the park is of significant enough size that you could spend all day there and see few or no plants. The initial purchase did not include some of the better Sarracenia sites within Tarkiln Bayou, although this should eventually happen. Looking on the ground for D. capillaris will aid you in determining whether or not the location could support carnivorous plants. For those of you who want to visit, let me give you some precautions. First, the plants are not very conspicuous, especially rosea and psittacina. Be extremely careful where you walk to avoid trampling them. They are heavily restricted to the pathway in which you will be walking, but are covered in grass and are somewhat camoflauged. At some point, the park will be building a boardwalk, and this will aid you even further.

Also note that wildlife abounds, most notably the pygmy rattlesnake, and it is very common in the park. Although not necessarily deadly, it is very agressive, and isn't the best snake to have to contend with considering how hard you will have to search for these plants. The snake is relatively small, and its rattle isn't very loud. It has been reported to sound more like an insect buzzing sound. In any case, be very careful. You'll have a long walk back to your vehicle should you be bitten. I did see an albino opossum and a black king snake, but no rattlers.

The pitcher plants found growing at the pitcher plant prairie were S. leucophylla (red & white, green & white, and red/green & white varieties), S. rosea, S. psittacina, and S. rosea x S. leucophylla hybrids. D. capillaris and D. tracyi was also found, as was at least one specie of Utricularia. D. intermedia most probably grows there, but its presence in this part of Florida has declined over the past few years due to the drought conditions. (D. intermedia thrives in a waterlogged state, and can be found growing directly in an inch or two of water, and is very popular in raodside ditches that maintain constant standing water.) Few of the leucophyllas had flowered this year. About a fourth of the roseas had flowered, and about 80% of the psittacinas had flower stalks.

Below: This is a general map of the location of the Pitcher Plant Prairie. We stayed
in Gulf Shores, Alabama on this trip and the prairie is only about 20 minutes
away from there. It is located in Perdido, Florida, which is adjacent to Pensacola.

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Below: This is a rough drawing of the Prairie site. The pitcher plants can be found
circling the Tarkiln bayou. They are concentrated from about 20 yards away from
the bayou edge out to about 200 yards away from the edge.

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There are basically two trails to the Tarkiln Bayou. From the main entrance, walk 200 paces along the main trail and hang a left on the 1st side trail. About another 1000 paces back and you will reach the property line of the park. Hang a right to go to the bayou, and you will start encountering the plants. The second side trail can be reached by walking 1200 paces from the main entrance and hanging a right. The second side trail is heavily overgrown, and is not easily seen. The plants start within about 50 paces and continue back.

 

And now, the pictures!

Below: My girlfriend Kristi holding the leaves of D. tracyi. This is still a very
common plant in this area of Florida, and can be found next to almost any roadside
ditch which stays at least moist. The plant can be very easily overlooked, and is
best spotted in the very early morning as the sun is rising. This allows the dew to
reflect the soft morning light, allowing it to stand out from the other plants. I walked by this stand of plants for three consecutive days without seeing them. Kristi found them on her first trip to this part of the park.

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Below: A closeup of D. tracyi inside the park. D. tracyi likes somewhat drier habits,
and you will not normally find it growing in water. Along roadsides, you will find it
growing about halfway up the ditch embankment. These were growing right in the
old four wheel drive paths made years ago.

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Below: S. leucophylla growing in a tire rut made by four wheel drive activity of the
past. This is a red/green version of the plant.

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Below: S. leucophylla red & white variety. This plant was growing within a few
yards of the bayou.

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Below: Green & white S. leucophylla growing next to a smaller red & white version.

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Below: A large S. leucophylla with a pitcher from last year. Larger leucophyllas
produce their largest pitchers in the fall. This pitcher would have opened last fall,
and is just now dying down as a new crop of pitchers are being produced. Small
leucophyllas will produce pitchers in the spring, and medium sized leucophyllas
are producing their best pitchers now (July-August). Leucophylla pitchers tend to remain evergreen through winter unless the temperatures drop below freezing. In the spring time, you may see very large leucophylla pitchers, but these are almost always pitchers from a previous season.

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Below: A small S. rosea producing its very first mature pitcher.
(Center of the plant) Two juvenile leaves can be seen growing to either side
of the center.

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Below: A beautiful S. rosea which produces green pitchers early,
turning to bronze as they age.

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Below: S. rosea with heavy hood venation. Pitchers turn blood red with age.
The top pitcher hood was slightly frilled and and very wavy, making one wonder if there was a little S. leucophylla influence in this plant. My guess is that it is a pure S. rosea, as the other leaves look very typically like a rosea.

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Below: S. rosea with heavy venation. This plant was growing under a tree which had fallen. The only way I found it was by spotting taller flower stalks through the branches of a few other plants growing alongside.

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Below: S. rosea growing in a very dry habitat. The area is in need of
some heavy rainfall. This plant (as were almost all at this site) appear to be
in excellent health, even with the very dry conditions. Insect damage was extremely minimal within the park. If a season of heavy rains were to come, followed by a swift burn of the area, the pitcher plants could be back in force in just a few years.

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Below: S. psittacina with flower. This plant is growing in the 4 wheel drive path,
and was green with red venation. This species of Sarracenia seems destined to be
with for some time, as it is an excellent colonizer of roadside ditches. It grew freely
throught the CP grow zone in the park, and was second in total number of plants
only to D. capillaris. There were sections of the old road path that were nearly impossible to step through without stepping on these plants.

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Below: S. pisttacina  growing under a canopy of woody brush. The leaves are longer
and lack red coloration. These plants were about 10" in diameter.

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Below: S. leucophylla x S. rosea hybrid. There were several spectacular
hybrids within the park. Another S. leucophylla x S. rosea hybrid produced green pitchers with heavy white netting and no red pigmentation in the pitchers.

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Below: Another hybrid, but this plant is probably not leucophylla x rosea.
Instead, it is probably a back-crossed hybrid, such as  (rosea x leucophylla) x rosea. There is no white netting in these pitchers at all. This plant could easily be confused with S x catesbai (flava x rosea) except that the hood edges are frilled (leucophylla trait) and the lip does not contain the characteristic flava "spout." (S. flava was not found within the park area.) Another hybrid similar to this one (without any white) was found in which the pitchers (even the newly opened ones) were uniformily blood red down to the petiole, with no venation of any kind. It was simply a pitcher which looked like the one below which was blood red from top to bottom.

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Below: The CP barometer plant. D. capillaris is an excellent indicator of
whether or not a location can support other genera of CP (The plants are reddish
and located in the center to lower part of the photo. Two plants have flower stalks.) 
Although the location is extremely dry, the plants are covered in dew. In other
locations in Florida, I have seen this plant grow as an annual in conditions as dry
as this, and be completely lacking of dew. These plants seemed to be growing very well for such dry conditions.

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