Part I. Part II. Part III. Part IV.

For Sarracenia - to the USA

Vlastik Rybka (1997)

Part one:

Although the title of this article seems to be different from the main theme of this journal, our expedition was concerned with looking for localities containing carnivorous plants (CP). Only Sarracenia was used in the title as this was the main object of our interest when visiting the USA.

Our expedition began to take shape during the spring and summer of 1996 when I felt that I had to see Sarracenia in its native localities again and repeat my visit of 1992. Superstitions aside, I planned my departure for Friday the 13th.

We can recommend several practical tips and tricks. You should rent a car in Florida where this service is the cheapest, so that is why you should fly there even though the ticket is more expensive than a ticket to New York. Our car was rented from the Hertz company, but some say that Alamo is cheaper. All necessary transactions can be made in the Czech Republic. We flew on British Airways, receiving an autumn deduction from the price for the trip from London to Miami on October 13th.

I have never forgotten my first contact with the subtropics of the Western Hemisphere. When we had gone through all controls and clearances and then opened a door of the airport hall, the warm and moist weather, about 28C, struck us at 10 AM local time. We got our car immediately and explored the modern and "independent" Mazda for awhile.

Then we started our expedition to Lake Okeechobee, route to the north, and the second day we travelled around Lake Okeechobee. The whole southern part of Florida is completely flat; the highest elevation above sea level is only about 10 meters. All the territory is swampy, and from Lake Okeechobee water flows slowly to the south, mixing with the Gulf of Mexico in the Everglades National Park. Vegetation runs rampant, genera of various fast-growing, tall grasses prevail in the water, and palms of the genus Sabal dominate among the trees. More to the north one sees magnificent evergreen oaks (Quercus virginiana), with widely-branched tops.

We tried to contact well known CP grower Bruce Bednar from near La Belle, but we had no luck. Our efforts to find the most southern locality of Sarracenia minor, near Lake Okeechobee as found by Bruce Bednar, were aborted without him. Some kind of flies were swarming all day long. Later we discovered that this genus is often captured by Sarracenia. Near Avon Park we conducted our first detailed exploration of an interesting swamp along the road, discovering our first CP. There were rich growths of Utricularia striata among the clusters of beaked rush in shallow water, in full yellow bloom. Specific identification of yellow flowering bladderworts is rather difficult, because genera can be discerned but there are many synonyms and forms dividing even an individual species. We made efforts to use Taylor's excellent monograph, where this species is listed under this name. The names U. fibrosa and U. biflora are given among frequent synonyms. Mr.Taylor does not appear to be quite clear in his own mind how to denominate this species which belongs to a section of Utricularia that encompasses all Czech bladderworts as well.

We arrived at Withlacoochee State Forest, finding a pretty lake but no carnivorous plants. On the other hand we met many alligators. We also met for the first time the numerous spiders whose webs made our movements across the ground difficult. We found a pleasant place to camp, and on the third day of our journey we awoke with an optimistic expectation that we would finally see Sarracenia. In the morning we looked around the road through the woods in Withlacoochee. The woods consists largely of the pine Pinus elliotii, with Taxodium distichum in depressions in the ground. We chose acceptable sites from the slowly moving car and then went on foot to explore further. During one of these halts we found a road through the moist woods with bare patches of fine sand. There were many Drosera capillaris and Utricularia subulata covering areas where water was at the surface. We also enjoyed a great ornithological experience when three wood storks, Mycteria americana (large rare white storks with black heads) circled around.

Through the little city of Eustis we went to the Ocala National Forest, the great national forest in the central region of Florida. We stopped at a visitor centre and asked a woman about Sarracenia. We got a peculiar answer: that they grow somewhere, but they are seen only in the rain. That sounded like a very odd story to us, but we went to try our luck. I will not lead-on the reader; we did not find anything! However, Ocala National Forest is pretty, and there are several great springs with a temperature about 21C all the year. Owing to the karst bed found in most of Florida, the springs climb to the surface at large circular rings from which a rather square river flows. The river flows slowly into the Atlantic Ocean owing to the minimal difference in altitude. You must pay admission at the springs, but swimming is allowed in the river. Therefore, we refreshed ourselves - I did not say anything to Kamil about the presence of alligators.

In nearby Alexander Springs we found a little lake full of blooming U. purpurea. Its name describes its flowers' purple-pink color. There is a typical growth form of this species with only one trap located terminally on the individual branches of a spindle (the plant is not known to have chains of traps). The flowers are also located singly on the stalks, only rarely with two flowers on a scape. We arrived in the area of Juniper prairie while still in Ocala. Two miles from that place we discovered a beautiful marsh along wooded road with an overgrowth of marsh pine (Pinus palustris). Part of the marsh was freshly burnt. The marsh pine is a typical tree found in biotopes containing Sarracenia. This pine is found throughout sandy soils of the coastal plains of the Southeastern USA. The marsh pine is often the sole tree in this marsh biotope. The localities have got a typical, very dynamic water state. During dry seasons natural fires occur frequently, and this pine is very well adapted to these fires. The seedlings are already adapted to fire because the growing tip is protected with a dense cluster of needles 30 cm long. The bark of the tree can also withstand low fires. Long repression of the fires is more dangerous, leading to accumulation of detritus. Then a great blaze can occur leading to the destruction of the whole living community.

We also found very interesting Drosera capillaris with rather elongated petioles holding their leaf lamina above the substrate. The plants had white flowers. U. subulata grew here as well. I'm sorry to say that the Sarracenia still had not appeared. A little compensation for us was a beautiful bunkhouse on the edge of water holes. In the morning we left Ocala National Forest and passed through the Russian-sounding city of Palatka, steering for Lake City. It started to rain, and near Lake City I felt that some Sarracenia could grow in the glades along the road. Kamil looked at me rather suspiciously, but I found several pretty Sarracenia along the edge of a recently cut glade. The lady with whom we had spoken was right - Sarracenia were only seen when it was raining! Of course we went through all the glades, but we did not find another Sarracenia. Machines had damaged the Sarracenia, 15-20 cm high, but nevertheless we were pleased. There was more D. capillaris in this locality, in this case with pink flowers. By the way, the mere incidence of this sundew is a certain indicator of scarcer species of CP's. If D.capillaris is not present, do not bother looking for other CP's.

The same day we arrived in the next national forest, called Osceola, near Jacksonville. At the intersection of our route and highway 10 we found a beautiful water hole full of bladderworts (Utricularia cornuta and U. juncea). The problem of differentiating these two species was solved by Kondo, who uses as a key characteristic the red protuberant flower stalks of U. juncea. Both Taylor and Schnell casts doubt on the validity of this distinction. Schnell broke down our certainty in this matter by showing the plants from his collection, so the identities of this pair remain uncertain.

I think it will be good to return to this matter on the pages of Triffid at a later date. Both species are more or less terrestrial with elongated leaves, tall stems, and rather large yellow flowers. In bloom these bladderworts are very pretty. Utricularia are the most common CP in all the east of the United States. Along the wooded road near this location we found S. minor in a damp ditch; this time they were really very beautiful plants. The mature plants were 12-16 cm tall. We also saw the first butterworts on damp sand in the ditch, which contained sporadic vegetation. The rosettes were about 4-7 cm in diameter. Exact determination of species identity was rather difficult, requiring certain experience which we lacked. It was likely P. caerulea.

We left Osceola and arrived in Georgia. On I-94 near Moniac we saw a marshland with Sarracenia. We were satisfied with the results of our exploration - six types of CP were growing there. Along with common D. capillaris and U. juncea, for the first time we found D. intermedia. There were only a few of these plants occurring in the wettest places. Some butterworts were also present, likely P. caerulea again. We looked at S. minor and also a few plants of S. psittacina, which occurred infrequently and only in the wettest places. S. minor was represented by hundreds of mature plants. For the first time we found some hybrids. While we knew that these could only be S.minor and S.psitticina crosses, in some cases it was very difficult to discern between pure species and hybrids. This was due to several generations of complex hybridization making differences almost non-existant between hybrids and species. The substrate consisted of a thin sand cover over a thin layer of organic medium. The S. minor ranged from 15 cm to 37 cm tall.

The next day of our journey was one of the most exciting. The first item on the agenda was a visit to the well-known Okefenokee Swamp. We saw some Sarracenia in the ditches along the edge of the lake. At the west entrance to Okefenokee we rented a canoe for $17US and paddled along the Suwanee Canal to the heart of the swamp. Okefenokee is one of the most interesting swamps in North America, a vast protected area of several hundred square kilometres. The magnificent Suwanee River runs out this swamp, watering a large part of Florida. Okefenokee is home to a whole range of rare species of the animals and plants. The large overgrowth of red cypress (Taxodium distichum) is of significance - this tree grows only in the United States. We hoped to see a rare subspecies of the Canadian crane and often observed white ibis. Of course we were interested in finding CP! Such a giant marsh plain is literally a paradise for butterworts. We were often able to find U. purpurea whose flowers had made a pink-violet carpet on the water surface. The plants may be as long as one meter. U. striata and U. gibba were rarer.

U. juncea bloomed on floating carpets of vegetation. D. intermedia grew profusely as well. The plants were very vigorous with a rosette 6- 8 cm in diameter and flower stems holding ten or more flowers. The floating carpet of vegetation is a very interesting phenomenon of Okefenokee, and was referred to as "ground which is swaying" by local natives. There is a fine waterish sapropel 0,2-0,9 m deep under the layer of grass and moss vegetation, and then the hard base is found. Walking around this surface is an interesting experience, our first movements having been rather uncertain. After awhile we became accustomed to this peculiar way of walking. We were looking forward to seeing the Okefenokee Giant form of S. minor - you cannot overlook this plant, a pearl of this marshland. There were plenty of Sarracenia on the slightly firmed islets of marsh vegetation, often under the shrubs. The plants were from 50 cm up to 93 cm tall with clumps up to 75 cm wide. We could see that the plants had optimal conditions to grow in, and they had plenty of flower stems. Seedlings were frequent found as well. Unfortunately, a large number of the flowers had been damaged by some species of insects; likely taking revenge on Sarracenia for their deadly trapping. The traps had high efficiency; most of the traps were full of insects, with ants predominating. Some species of insects also feast on the captured prey, with larvae of flesh flies (Sarcophaga) having so cuticle firm enough to resist the digestive fluid of Sarracenia. We could see how sophisticated food chains were in the Sarracenia.

When we later discussed with Don Schnell the reasons for the unusual robustness of S. minor from Okefenokee, Don suggested that some genes of the other hefty species of Sarracenia, probably S. flava, entered this population in the past.

We enjoyed our visit of marshland, including the pouring rain. Walking around the swimming carpets became a routine procedure for me after I fell into the marsh up to my belly (I did not enjoy that!).

We left this part of Okefenokee. Near the town of Folkston we discovered a beautiful site along the road. There were S. minor, S. psittacina, and plenty of hybrid Sarracenia present. D. capillaris and P. caerulea grew there too. S. psittacina occupied the wettest places again, while butterworts grew in the driest places.

The next day we survived the first great clouds of gnats. We continued around Okefenokee to Waycross. Along the road a few sites with Sarracenia were present. We turned to the north gateway into Okefenokee. There was a paradise of CP along the road again: U. gibba, U. purpurea, U. striata, P. caerulea, D. intermedia, D. capillaris, and S. minor. Sarracenia were robust plants, but shorter, with a maximum height of 73 cm and a clump diameter of 50 to 60 cm. We even found one blooming plant. The north gateway offered an untrimmed walkway into the swamp and guided boat tours, but we saved our money and time.

Just when Kamil started driving at high speed, a sheriff passed us, turned his car on a grassy trench, and stopped us. He explained that we could not drive that way, or we would go to jail for a week. Luckily for us, he was only joking, and in the end we didn't even have to pay a fine. However, he explained that driving that fast is reckless and gave us a citation that served as a souvenir. We thought for awhile about how drivers would react if the Czech police used this approach. I decided to visit Cumberland Island National Seashore, and so we turned south. This island belongs to a system of protected coastal areas. I had enjoyed visiting here a long time ago. This island is the most interesting because it is unpopulated. There are no roads or restaurants, only the primitive camps and trails for walking. The boat set sail, and we did not want to risk a long delay. Therefore, we continued next to the north along Interstate 95 connecting New York and Miami, known for its traffic jams despite having six lanes. Because we had cruise control, we were able to reap its benefits, setting a constant velocity with the car working almost without us. In peacefulness we drove the 1000th mile of our journey. The next day is best characterized by the citation from our diary: "The day was characterized by crawling on some latest district roads and looking for suitable CP localities. But the weather is warm, the car runs well and the countryside of the American South is so beautiful, that we enjoy that." We stopped near the Savannah River and refreshed ourselves in the water. Then we left Georgia and entered the state of South Carolina. In the evening we enjoy civilization a bit by visiting Charleston. It is one of the most beautiful towns in the South. It emphasizes a historic character - each home from the past century has got a card detailing persons and events. From Charleston we left to spend the night in the Francis Marion National Forest which promised encounters with CP. Actually, we discovered the first P. caerulea and Sarracenia during this evening. We were very pleased to see the first S. flava. We found it a very fine opportunity to sleep in a pretty pine forest full of Sarracenia with dreams of our next explorations.

This locality was rather wet, most of the ground being covered with water to 20 cm depth. Sarracenia grew in water up to 35 cm deep. S. minor seemed to be rather tolerant of variable moisture since it grew from quite dry to submerged places. Ants were the main part of diet. The average height of the plants was 31 cm with the tallest plant at 42 cm. The plants had many flower stalks, up to 4 stalks per cluster, but insects damaged about 70% of them. We noted that the clusters of plants grew in the neighbourhood of the shrubs as in Okefenokee, but the reason for this is not clear. S. flava grew only in water, with many clusters of tall, pretty plants 56 cm to 82 cm tall. The widest peristome diameter was 6 cm. All populations looked stressed by flooding, with new pitchers being shorter and no sign of blooming that year. The coloration of the whole population was rather uniform, practically yellow with an unimpressive red throat and very dubious veination.

After enjoying so valuable an experience, we decided that we could afford some time looking at the history of America. We visited the Charles Pinckney House, where Mr.Pinckney, one of the authors of the American constitution, had lived. It is a magnificent white southern residence surrounded by giant Magnolias and oaks. That morning, we went swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, which had a pleasurable temperature for tourists from Middle Europe. We came back to the Francis Marion National Forest and crossed some bosky roads. We had encountered much mud so far, and we imagined what an agent of the Hertz car rental company would say. We found a beautiful sand pit, and Kamil found a turtle. I identified her as a nice Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) - she tried to snap at me. She had been displeased by my trying to model her for the camera. We then found another population of Sarracenia; S. minor. The plants were rather short, from 17 to 22 cm tall. In deep woods nearby, we found a stressed micropopulation of Sarracenia - S. minor and S. flava. Evidently, without fire or disturbance, movement of the vegetation had occurred. However, they are capable of long-time survival under these unfriendly conditions, and after removal of the shrubs by fire, the Sarracenia can start to grow again. One of them was veined, a kind commonly offered as "heavy veined."

We stayed overnight near the turtle's water hole, and in the morning we continued looking around the forest. It was Saturday; the whole forest was full of hunters gathering to hunt deer in the public forest. We were concerned about the replacement of these animals. This morning we were lucky, and soon found a mixed population of S. minor and S. flava. The insects captured by the pitchers differed depending on the species, in spite of the fact that plants of different species were growing alongside one another. S. minor captured the traditional prey, ants, but the pitchers of S. flava gave an interesting sample of the entomofauna. Blackflies and the other genera of dipteran insects had been caught. Minute wainscots and, rarely, hymenopterous insects and beetles were also found in the pitchers. The level of water was 20 cm below the surface. This locality was the only one where S. flava developed fruits. It is evident that this species prefers drier areas and dislikes long floods. We left Francis Marion with pleasant sensations, that we had seen a lot of Sarracenia, even though it was clear that we had seen only a small part of the vast area in which Sarracenia occurred.

Part I. Part II. Part III. Part IV.

Copyright (c) Vlastik Rybka, 1997