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Alabama Adventures: Longleaf Pine Treasure Forest

After hearing about Pinus palustris from several southern botanist friends, I had to see the trees for myself! I had the great pleasure of ...

05 June 2016

Alabama Adventures: Splinter Hill Bog

Before heading home, I had to visit a special place near Perdido, AL. I found out about it thanks to two awesome botanists (Michelle and Gil) who said it was a great place to see Sarracenia leucophylla (white-topped pitcher plant). Unfortunately I had less time than was ideal to explore, as the trip back to Illinois would be no less than 15 hours and I was short on time.

I said farewell to Mobile and after a 45 minute drive I arrived, pulling into the gravel parking area of Splinter Hill Bog. After lacing up my hiking boots and liberally applying bug spray, I set out on the east loop.


 The sun burned bright overhead as I made my way down the trail. I hiked for a while down the path, spotting Rhexia mariana, Sabatia stellaris, Polygala lutea, and many more fascinating plants; some familiar, some new to me.




I finally found the shade of trees, a welcome respite from the unforgiving heat. I reached into my backpack, rummaging around for the familiar cold of my water bottle, only to come to the awful realisation that I forgot it in the car. I was so antsy to get going that I made a huge mistake. Luckily I had an apple to somewhat quench my thirst, as there was no way I was going back given the time restrictions. I definitely took a big risk! I continued onward, hopping over streams and puddles of water, and finally emerged back into the sweltering heat where the lack of canopy made the trek much more grueling.


I noticed many different critters on my journey, most notably some lizards of some sort that were sunning and fled as I neared; they were too quick for photos. I lost track of time and was starting to worry that I somehow took a wrong turn. I was parched, sweltry, and wondered if all the effort to that point had been worth it. I continued onward. And then, off in the distance...could it be?! Yes, the bright white of S. leucophylla, a beacon of hope! I was a lost traveler in the desert, the pitcher plants were my oasis, and this was not a mirage!


Stunning. I had only ever seen one other carnivorous plant in the wild: S. purpurea in Illinois, which was an adventure in its own right, and one I could easily visit any time I wanted. White-topped pitchers in the deep South were fields of extraordinary plants in a strange land that I might never see again.

With renewed vigour, I charged ahead. Camera ready, aimed, and fired. I snapped picture after picture, but was not satisfied until I switched to macro. Only then could I capture the beautiful details of an individual plant. I focused on the ruffled operculum with intricate maroon veins, translucent white windows, and smooth peristome. I had the great pleasure of observing a green lynx spider, Peucetia viridans, waiting on the hood of a pitcher for a free meal.

To top it off, they had flowers! And to my great delight I spotted S. purpurea as well.





 

It wasn't until I heard thunder rumbling in the distance that I remembered I had a time limit. I was sad to leave, but grateful to have had the chance to explore. I tore myself away from the pitcher plants, hurrying back to the east parking lot in an effort to beat the storm.

Uh oh.

By the time the dark clouds rolled in, I had to call my husband (who had been patiently waiting the whole time) to bring the car to the west parking lot as I made my way to the trail leading there. I stuffed my phone and camera in my backpack moments before the sky decided to dump water onto me. Luckily I was already at my exit route. I bolted down the half-mile path, eager to escape further drenching. I held on firmly to my hat as I sprung over mounds of grass and pools of mud, as if I were clearing hurdles on my way to the finish line. "You will not stop to look at plants!" I reminded myself, as I exerted as much self-control as I could muster. 

(This didn't count as *stopping* to look at plants; it was a run-by shot!)

At long last I emerged from the brush into the parking lot, and I almost made it to the car until I beheld a plant that stopped me dead in my tracks: Passiflora! Camera out, jaw dropped. Whatever willpower I had minutes before vanished without a trace, as my bewildered husband wondered why I, soaking wet, decided to stare at flowers instead of seeking the shelter of the car.

Entrancing! Stunning! Worth it.

After capturing an indeterminate amount of passionflower pictures, I finally came to my senses and flopped into the car with sopping clothes and a huge grin, enthralled with my adventure, and ready to tell Steve about what he missed out on.

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That concludes my Alabama Adventures series! The whole road trip was amazing, from Georgia to Alabama and every bit between. I hope you enjoyed the pictures and recollections! I am fortunate to remember everything so vividly, as I am just finishing this nearly a year later!

Quick note: For some reason my photos in that album are completely out of order. It is a lot to organise so I will have to take my time fixing it.

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