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

For Sarracenia - to the USA

Vlastik Rybka (1997)

Part three:

We begin this half at the twentieth day of our journey. The tachometer of our Mazda was almost 4,500 miles past the starting point, it was raining, and we were staying in the middle of Alabama. We traveled along the shorelines, where we expected to see vast plains full of Sarracenia. We did not attempt to stop and find one of the rarest Sarracenia - S. rubra ssp. alabamensis as we did not have an accurately described site. As well, the wound from looking for S. rubra ssp. jonesii was still raw. We visited the botanical garden in Birmingham. It was not bad, the Japanese gardens and bonsai were really nice, but the CP were poorly represented - they have got a new marshland with only a few Sarracenia. We continued further southward and turned onto US 45 near Mobile. Near the town of Citronella we found the first Sarracenia in a ditch along the road. Of special note was the observation of S. leucophylla. The initial exploration showed many promising locations. We also found a rich population of D. filiformis var. tracyi. We continued for a while, staring at the marvelous scenery of a white plain full of our favourite Sarracenia. We estimated that they covered an area of several hectares. We explored the plain and we found it to be a great carnivorous plant site. The list of species found is imposing; S. leucophylla, S. alata, S. psittacina, S. purpurea, probably S. rubra ssp. wheryi, as well as D. capillaris, D. brevifolia, D. filiformis var. tracyi, P. lutea, P. primuliflora, U. subulata, and U. juncea (or cornuta). Sarracenia from this locality are alluring to photograph. We even stayed overnight among them; a marvelous experience.

Sarracenia remained relatively unaffected on the plain, which was a sparse woodland before, with some exploitation here and there with plants damaged or destroyed. If exploitation is limited and does not harm water system or destroy the soil surface, this locality may survive. It is rather difficult to reproduce a structure of vegetation in a short time. CP's constantly grew near a few species of grasses, creating a community with a low number of species at this locality. The whole plain was about 1 km x 600 m with rolling terrain. CP's grew at all the side springs and the depressions. A lot of Sarracenia were growing in incredibly dry places, in almost pure sand. Depressions had built up a layer of organic detritus and humus influenced by higher humidity.

And now a couple of paragraphs on the individual species established, for the most part, at other localities:

S. leucophylla - the most common species by virtue of its being widespread on the vast plains. Coloration of the pitchers varied from plant to plant, but nevertheless we could discern two major types. These were 1) plants with a little red hue and white-green pitchers with slightly red venation and 2) a type with narrow pitchers which were strongly red colored. We could see types among these from almost naked (no veination) to those heavily veined. This species most commonly interbred with S. alata at this locality, but hybrids with all the species present were found.

S. psittacina - the second most frequent species, which crackled under our feet making it was possible to find them by listening instead of looking. They grew in the wettest places, producing many flowers. Variability of the plants was apparent in the shape of pitcher; beaky heads predominated over rounded ones. Coloration of pitchers was even more variable, from purple to almost orange. We found a few insects in the traps, and a hybrid with the previously noted species was also found.

S. purpurea - a giant form from the group of S. purpurea ssp. venosa was found. Pitchers were never purple, and the flower was a bright pink with a diffuse green style. These populations grew in the southernmost area - Florida, Alabama and Mississippi - and were isolated. They had a rather uniform aspect and were at the same time different from others of the same species, so that they would deserve a certain level of the taxonomic differentiation, at the level of variety or subspecies. Frequently, and probably best, it is characterized as var. burkii. It was very scarce at this location, and even at other sites it was not too frequent. This form shows a certain preference for growing near shrubs. We also found nice hybrids with S. leucophylla and probably S. alata which looked like a peculiar S. x catesbaei, even though S. flava did not grow there.

S. rubra ssp. wheryi - with all of the hybrids with S. alata, it was rather difficult to discern this subspecies. More often than not, plants turned out to be hybrids. A few miles further and several days later we had an opportunity to see S. rubra ssp. wheryi, so the reader must wait a bit for our description just as we had to wait to see the plant!

S. alata - We would not wish this species upon our worst enemies, if any of them are reading this article. A large degree of variability and the number of transient forms lead to confusion. While blooming, some of this variability could be resolved thanks to flower color, but it was almost certain that the pure species was rarely present. Hybrids with S. leucophylla were more numerous there.

D. filiformis var. tracyi - In contrast to ssp. filiformis, this one likes higher humidity and grows on marshlands not subjected to long-term floods. Almost anywhere we found this species, we did not find the flower stalks, and if they were present, no seeds had been produced.

The very common D. capillaris had rosettes about 5 cm in a diameter with pink and white flowers.

Leaving this locality, the sheriff noticed us. Someone passing by would have seen us standing in front of the car, hands on the hood, while a brawny officer went poking though our car. We found out afterwards that he was looking for narcotics. We did not have any, but were not able to say to the policeman poking around our car that he had upended our self-confidence. Fortunately, he soon left.

We then went through nearby Mobile along the side roads, following up a tip from Don Schnell on where to find a population of S. flava with copper-coloured pitchers lids. However, we did not find any Sarracenia, only fields full of cotton-plants. This was the only place where Schnellīs tips failed. We stayed overnight at a nice place with a view of the whole of Mobile Bay.

In the morning we continued exploring, hopeful with regards to areas near the coast on Mobile Bay. We were again highly satisfied. This area looked like the previous prosperous locality, and indeed nice pinewood grew there. It would be more pleasant if the Yellow Hammer Shell refinery was not obstructing the view in the distance. This location was drier, so bladderworts were not present and S. psittacina was scarce. Variability of hybrids and S. alata was great again. They often had red colouration on the lower part of the lid; rarely was all of the plant red.

Within a day we entered the state of Mississippi. There were a lot biotopes containing Sarracenia at the border area near Motorway 10. We could see from the whole length of the road nice pine woods with marshlands and sometime even Sarracenias. We stopped several times, but nothing out of the ordinary was seen. Not too surprising was the fact that at places where both S. leucophylla and S. alata were found in similar numbers, there were a large number of hybrids and all of the transient forms. However, where one species dominated, the incidence of hybrids was lower and often kept down to a few clumps because the probability of cross pollination was decreased. Starting in the middle of Mississippi, S. leucophylla decreased in frequency and easily recognizable S. alata began to predominate. We stayed overnight in the De Soto National Forest. In the morning we went through the vicinity of our camp and found a nice swamp, very wet and full of CP's. S. alata was very common here, covering 60% of the larger open areas. Sarracenia looked uniform, without incidence of the other species here, typical of S. alata. The average height of the pitchers was 43 cm, up to a maximum of 52 cm. We were very happy when we found Pinguicula planifolia. This species was not too abundant, but grew in colonies together in the wettest open places. It is unmistakeable thanks to its richly red colored leaves and the size of the rosette, the largest of which measured about 14 cm in a diameter. The hue of the rosettes was variable for plants growing within the same light conditions. There were a lot of plants of D. filiformis var. tracyi at this locality.

On the same day we visited the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge. It is a vast marshland area protected because of the presence of the last living population of the Canadian Mississippi crane, which is different from most of the other subspecies. We chatted with the workers there about how successful their work is and about the protection of valuable swamps containing cranes and CP's. We searched in this area too. In comparison with 1992 the water level was higher, so that, for example, Sarracenia were inundated with 20-30 cm of water.

Then, we said goodbye to the marshlands and CP, continuing on to the deserts of Texas. We left Mississippi and a drove into Louisiana, full of the allure of alligator feeding, alligator wrestling, casinos, etc. We enjoyed crossing the shallow swamps full of red cypress, locally called "bayous," and crossing the Mississippi River at Baton Rouge, capitol of Louisiana. We entered Texas and visited something all American: an "All You Can Eat" pizzeria where you pay 8 dollars and then can eat as much as you want. Of course this was an invitation for Czechs to overfeed. We speculated on the existence of this kind of restaurant in our republic.

We stayed overnight near the Big Thicket National Preserve. This place attracted us as it represented one of the westernmost incidences of Sarracenia. You must admit that the image of Texas is more one of cacti and agaves rather than one of CP's. S. alata supposedly grew here, representing the sole species of Sarracenia in Texas; rather isolated from other species. We were looking forward to learning more about the variability and aspect of this problematic species. We visited an educational trail marked "sundews," and found D. capillaris and S. alata. However, S. alata looked less alata-like than in Mississippi, looking slightly like hybrids with S. leucophylla. We did not know what to think. The plants were bright green standing 40-45 cm tall and up to a maximum of 57 cm. The clumps were large, very overgrown, and obviously very old. We also looked for the butterwort P. pumila to no avail, although it should have grown there.

We continued further. At one point, we went a bit over the speed limit in town and two sheriffs took immediate interest in our car. They mentioned our high speed, and started to look for narcotics. Perhaps we looked like drug dealers or a suspicious car from Miami, possibly both. The police of Texas are more unpleasant looking than those in Alabama; they are strong young men in bullet-proof vests. They gave us a great fright. On top of that, the chief of this patrol seemed determined to find some narcotics, so he raked over our car very closely, finding such items as tweezers and scissors which led him to believe that he was on the right scent.

Meanwhile we told his colleague who was watching us how narcotics are completely outlawed in the Czech Republic, and that we do not know about them. In the end we began to persuade his colleague of our innocence. After a few long minutes during which his chief had given up looking for narcotics, he finally released us. We breathed a deep sigh of relief, but we tried to act brave so it would not seem that that we had something illegal. In fact, they apologized to us and thanked us for our co-operation. We would never see such an approach in other countries, our republic included. After this incident, we resolved to keep to the speed limit so that we would not end up in jail. Fortunately, this was not too difficult in Texas, because the speed is unrestricted outside of towns, an item of Texan pride.

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

Copyright (c) Vlastik Rybka, 1997