Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fall in the Fakahatchee

You can click on any image above to view larger.
Last Saturday, we met at the blue Harmon Building on Janes Scenic Drive within the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park.  From this starting point, we could choose a number of possible sketching locations.  Across the road is Lake Gloria, named after the wife of the former landowner.  The lake was created years ago when it was dug for roads and construction.
The door to the Harmon Building.

I chose to sketch the back extension of Lake Gloria, which formed a pond bounded by cypress, cattails, and a grassy area filled with blooming and seeding goldenrod.  A perfect day for sketching, with the sun warming my back, and a cool breeze ruffling the lake and my sketchbook pages.

Monarch and Gulf Fritillary butterflies  flitted between Spanish needles, goldenrod and a tiny purple morning glory (Ipomoea triloba? ) straggling over the rocky ground below my feet near the lake’s edge.  A little blue heron kept vigil from a nearby young cypress tree, flying back and forth from the far edge of the lake to the tree, keeping an eye on me.  Was I friend or foe?    
Little blue heron.

Black vulture feather?
Black vultures circled around and around in a distinctive kettle pattern over the cypress dome, and a pair of kingfishers swooped though the air playfully chittering to each other.  The heat of the sun brought out that unique earthy fragrance of freshwater lakes.  The clear blue sky slowly filled with clouds ahead of the oncoming front, breathing a gentle softness over the skin.  The light changed again and again within two hours, as I struggled to capture what I could.

November is filled with subtle colors here – the rusty sienna of bald cypress needles ringing the pond contrast with the bright greens of shrubs and grasses.  Cattail stands are silvery white, golden brown, and green, all at the same time.  The grassy space to my right was filled with a range of yellow, gold, and brown as tall stands of sturdy goldenrod alternately bloomed and went to seed. 

The pond’s surface changed constantly with the light and the wind – first a mirror to the blue sky, then the reflective browns and greens of the foliage around the edge, then tannin-stained clearness in the shallows, revealing rocks and the hulking shapes of gar fish and darting minnows.  Dragonflies floated on the breeze, moving aimlessly from cattail to rock to grass tip.

White pelicans!
In the early afternoon we were treated to a rare sight: a group of over three dozen white pelicans searching for a spot to land.  I learned from the ranger with us that white pelicans seldom come this far inland this time of year, usually preferring nearby coastlines.  We speculated that the upcoming front perhaps drove them this far into the center of the state.  Whatever the reason, it was an amazing sight, and the perfect end to a perfect sketching day!

The fall colors of the Fakahatchee, along the bank of Lake Gloria.
The sketch was done in my:
Aquabee Super Deluxe  spiral-bound sketchbook
9x6 in, (22.86 x 15.24 cm), 93 lb. paper,
Sakura Micron Pigma pen 01, Niji waterbrush,
and Faber-Castell Aquarelle watercolor pencils.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


My Cassia shrub has suddenly started blooming like crazy!

 Keeping a nature journal and the subsequent quest for deeper knowledge led me to discover that this native is not as advertised!  I planted this about two years ago, and was thrilled to see it covered with flowers this fall.  The butterflies and caterpillars love it, and the bright yellow buds and blooms all over this five-foot rambling shrub lighten the heart. 

The right-side-up view.
As always when I sketch something, I start wondering about it.  I wondered what kind of caterpillars were on it – I was used to seeing the green caterpillars of sulphur butterflies, not these bright yellow creatures.  One thing led to another, and as I read more in depth about this shrub, I realized that I probably purchased one of the non-native Cassias.  After much reading, counting leaves, and comparing leaf shapes, I’m sure of it.  Apparently mislabeling happens quite often with some species, especially this one.

According to my reading, the Florida native is Senna mexicana var. chapmanii, and I believe the one I have is Senna pendula, which is discouraged as it can become invasive.  Yikes!   But it’s so beautiful…

A side view of the bloom.
Cassias go by many common names: Yellow Candlewood, Rambling Senna, Christmas Senna, Golden Shower, Christmas Cassia, and Bahama Cassia, and (of all things) the Scrambled-egg Tree.  The terms "cassia" and "senna" are often used interchangeably, since these plants were once classified under the genus Cassia.  They reside in the very large bean family, Fabaceae (also Leguminosae), which is the third largest plant family in species behind the orchid and aster families.  The bean family contains immensely important species used by humans for millennia for food, forage, fertilizer, flowers, and clothing dyes. 

Its yellow color is related to diet.
Cassias also provide larval and nectar food for several species of sulphur butterflies in Florida: the Cloudless Sulphur, Sleepy Orange, and Orange-barred Sulphur.  The caterpillar I found munching away is an Orange-barred Sulphur, and interestingly enough, its yellow color derives from eating the bright yellow Cassia buds and flowers! 

The sketch was done in my:
Aquabee Super Deluxe  spiral-bound sketchbook
9x6 in, (22.86 x 15.24 cm), 93 lb. paper,
Sakura Micron Pigma pen 01,
and Daniel Smith watercolors.

For more online reading:
Floridata on the Cassia species I believe I have. 
From Heuristron, Orange-barred Sulphur emerging from its chrysalis.
Fact sheet on another non-native Cassia from the University of Florida IFAS Extension

Monday, October 20, 2014

Where are my images?

When I linked this blog to my Google profile, some of my images disappeared from this blog.  No warning, no display box, no choices to make.  So please bear with me while I begin the laborious process of  re-connecting my images with the appropriate blog post. 

I'm not sure why this happened, when  I researched it I found that other had suffered in the same way.  My photos are still showing in my Google profile, but just not linked up to Blogger.  I'm sure Google has lost many bloggers and received many irate communications.  I may move to another blog site, but for now will try to repair this one.  Thanks for your patience!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Pipevine and Polydamas

Even a month and a half later, both pipevine and caterpillars are still going strong!

This pipevine (Aristolochia species) isn’t one of our Florida natives (we only have one that I know of), but I enjoy seeing the swallowtail butterflies fluttering around it.  Why would pipevine attract swallowtails?  It’s not the nectar, although the very odd, weirdly-but-possibly-pipe-shaped flowers seem like they would hold pools of delicious nectar or pollen.  It’s the leaves, especially the soft young leaves at the ends of the new vine tips. 
As you’ve probably guessed by now, pipevine is one of the larval foods for swallowtail butterflies, in my area attracting the Polydamas swallowtail, Battus polydamas. 
The pipevine
A series of posts (or even books) could be written about this unique species.  I’m fascinated by every part of it, from its strange blooms, to its intriguing seed pods and heat-shaped leaves.  This species grows from seed easily, and is now reseeding itself nearby (I see the tiny vines starting in several places).  The leaves are a symmetrical heart shape (cordate to botanists) with slim petioles. 
The blooms give the plant its common name of pipevine or Dutchman’s pipe, as they are thought to resemble a curved pipe stem of a Dutchman-style pipe; think of Sherlock Holmes and his ubiquitous pipe. The flowers are fleshy and curvy, the colors a gradation of pale green near the stem with intricate burgundy patterns over pale yellow or cream on the lips.  The flowers on this vine are about 3 inches by 2 inches, but variable in size, like the leaves.
Young pipevine leaf.
The seeds are spread by the open seed pods, which are shaped like parachutes complete with suspension lines!  These tiny parachutes hang upside down, waiting for the wind or a passerby to jostle the winged seeds out of their nest.  Once out, the winged seeds float to the ground, hopefully to fertile soil.
Pipevine seems to thrive on little care.  Also called calico flower and birthwort, its been used in herbal remedies for childbirth ailments, arthritis, edema, and as a disinfectant.  Pipevine contains the toxin aristolochic acid, which is what gives the swallowtail caterpillars and butterflies their survival edge, as they become both toxic and distasteful.    
Some Aristolochia species are invasive, so don’t let me encourage you to plant these everywhere!  
Wingspans of the butterflies in my yard are about 3 to 3.5 inches wide.
The Polydamas butterfly
Also called gold-rim swallowtail, the Polydamas butterfly is the only tail-less swallowtail in the eastern United States.  They are a tropical species found in peninsular Florida, the Florida Keys and the Bahamas.  Occasional strays may wander as far north as Missouri and Kentucky.  Once of our black and yellow butterflies (a tropical adaptation?), the upper surface of the wings is black with yellow bands along the margins.  The underside of the wings is black, with yellow spots on the top wing and bright orange to red spots on the bottom wing.

The black, brown, and orange caterpillars emerge from small yellow eggs and begin their gastronomical   From there on, it’s all about eating the tender young pipevine leaves until it’s time to create the chrysalis.  The chrysalis may be brown to gold or green – but I’ve noticed that the green ones turn brown right before the butterfly emerges.  I’ve been waiting to post this, as I keep hoping to catch one in action as it emerges, but they’re too quick for me!  Be sure to watch the two YouTube videos from the links at the bottom for a close-up view of the transformation from caterpillar to chrysalis and then to butterfly – very cool!
Caterpillars are brown to black in color.
adventures by consuming the egg shells.
The sketch was done in my
Aquabee Super Deluxe  spiral-bound sketchbook
9x6 in, (22.86 x 15.24 cm), 93 lb. paper,
Sakura Micron Pigma pen 01,
and Daniel Smith watercolors.

The top wings are black with golden rims.
For more information on the web:
 University of Florida, with photos of eggs, caterpillars, and host plants.  
Wikipedia on swallowtail butterflies in general.  
Biokids from University of Michigan on swallowtails in general.  Brief but concise paragraphs covers many aspects of butterfly life.  
Butterfly fun facts, photos and facts about polydamas or gold rim  and photos of the osmeterium of different swallowtails.  
Floridata. About pipevines.
Heuristron, with photos here for butterflies   and here for pipevine photos.  
YouTube video from caterpillar to chrysalis!  
YouTube video from chrysalis to butterfly!  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Resurrection Fern

At the bottom are two fronds (under clear contact paper) showing variability.

Resurrection Fern
Polypodium polypodioides

This tiny fern has always been a favorite of mine.  It grows in an epiphytic fashion, anchoring its wiry roots into the bark of trees with deep fissures, and receiving nourishment from the water and dust in the atmosphere using energy from the sun via photosynthesis.  The fronds of this fern are fairly small, but I’ve seen some that grow up to 3 or 4 inches. 

It’s called the resurrection fern because it has an adaptation that allows it to transform from a withered brown cluster of curled leaves to a vibrant unfurled green frond.  This adaptation allows it to survive long periods of drought until the rains come, which is helpful in south Florida, with our dry fall-winter-spring and our rainy summers.  Scientists tell us that resurrection fern can stand up to a 95% water loss without perishing.  Compare that to humans, who often find a 15% water loss a fatal event.

The curled, dry fronds, waiting for water.
I learned that this feat is possible because of a protein called dehydrin.  Dehydrin allows the cell walls in the leaf to fold when drying, in a way that can be reversed without damage.  As the fern dries, it manufactures dehydrin, turns brown, and stops photosynthesis.  When moisture is available, the fern takes water in through its stomata (tiny openings on the bottoms of leaves that allow for gas exchange), turns green, and begins photosynthesis once again. 

I’d always thought of it as native to tropical Florida.  Imagine my surprise to find out that these ferns range from Florida to Delaware and then west to Texas!  Not only is it native to the Americas, but it’s also native to Africa.  

A complex ecosystem in a small space.
This ink and watercolor study is of a live oak branch that fell to the ground after a rainstorm.  The branch broke into several smallish chunks, so perhaps it was insect-damaged; my experience with oaks is that the wood is very strong.  I loved the interplay of texture and colors in this tiny universe of lichens, mosses, bark and fern.  Once again, sketching a subject led me to ask questions and then to start

Needless to say, scientists are studying the property of dehydrins, which could have many applications.  Did you know that resurrection fern has gone into space?  It was the subject of a 1997 experiment on board the space shuttle Discovery.  To read more about this fascinating plant, visit the hyperlinks within the text or listed below.

As always, thanks for visiting!

The sketch was done in my:
Aquabee Super Deluxe  spiral-bound sketchbook
9x6 in, (22.86 x 15.24 cm), 93 lb. paper
Sakura Micron Pigma pen 01,
Daniel Smith watercolors.

Wikipedia on resurrection fern 
Time lapse YouTube video of resurrection fern coming back to life
Wikipedia on dehydrin