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

For Sarracenia - to the USA

Vlastik Rybka (1997)

Part four:

We arrived in Houston, welcomed by a wall of skyscrapers and headed for Laredo. The countryside began to change, as trees decreased and the Spanish influences increased. There were oilrigs and refineries all around. We steered for the shore of the Gulf of Mexico, towards Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. This was to see the cranes as rare American white cranes spend their winter here. Unfortunately we were too soon; the cranes would still be somewhere in Nebraska for 14 weeks. The countryside was nice, very different from what we had seen so far. Unfortunately, the incidence of mosquitoes made one night here quite sufficient. We entered Corpus Christi where there was a flood due to the higher level of the sea after a prior storm. Nonetheless we waded across the beach to swim in the Gulf of Mexico; we could not forego the pleasure of it. We steered westward for the rest of day, watching the scenery change continuously to desert. We drove during most of the night and stayed overnight at a lay-by. In the morning we took a quick look at the desert scenery near the Big Bend National Park. The desert charmed us. While we like marshlands, the contrary extreme terrain is interesting too. We stopped near an entrance of the park and saw the first cacti, Echinocactus horizontalis. Most CP growers probably began with some cacti and succulents like ourselves, so that they will understand our excitement upon first viewing cacti in their natural habitat. Meeting the first spider (tarantula) crossing our path also shocked us. We went to see the Rio Grande, and at one of our halts we found probably the greatest botanical rarity of our exploration - Ariocarpus fissuratus. We would have missed this plant if it had been blooming. The Rio Grande was flowing in the large Bocadillos Canyon giving a very impressive view. Such a large river is a wonderful sight in the desert. The river had a strong current, and it was very scummy. Nonetheless I did not hesitate to swim in such a famous river, but Kamil stayed out this time. I could not swim to Mexico owing to the strong current, and it is probably a good thing. What if a border policeman appeared would not let me go back to the U.S.? The rest of day we continued in our exploration of the desert. We can recommend Big Bend for everybody travelling to this part of the U.S. It is one of the very large, well preserved, and well managed national parks with high geological and geomorphologic diversity, so that every visitor will be satisfied, both neophyte and expert. You should be careful of the heat. Even in October the temperatures surpass 30°C, and travelling without a hat is dangerous. We stayed overnight in the park at one of the camps where you may stay for free after registering in the visitor center. The camp is only a smooth surface. Most of the camps are accessible only by Landrovers, and so the journey there and back was a hard test for our Mazda. The next day we enter a highland part of the park reaching about 2,300 metres. We climbed one of the peaks  - Lost Mine Peak. We were surprised by the number of plants of Echinocereus and Mamillaria, which grew among the pines and junipers at the exposed sides. Then we went to see Castolon and Santa Elena Canyon - it is really magnificent, and we envied the boaters we saw. We stayed overnight in the park again, a nice evening with a beautiful sunset, really peaceful. Moreover, the desert at evening acquires an added dimension with its fragrance and mighty sounds, so that we used not only our eyes but also our other senses. These evenings in desert make up some of the most beautiful memories we have from the whole journey.

In the morning we decided to visit Carlsbad Cavern in New Mexico, about 500 miles away. All the day we raced the clock but thanks to crossing the time zone we gained an hour and so were optimistic. We steered north across desert plains where towns were very far apart, often 50-80 miles. Near Fort Davis the countryside looked more like prairie because the grasses increased. We passed through very nice Davis Hills with its rich canopy of junipers. We also passed by the beautiful Sierra Diablo Mountains, and had been nearing the highest mountains in Texas, the Guadeloupe Mts when We broke the speed limit again (there is a speed limit in New Mexico). We trundled over the landscape at about 100 miles per hour, reaching our destination after ten minutes. We went down a lift where the most interesting things could be seen. This visit clinched our decision to visit the cavern once more and come down through the natural entry from the surface. We stayed near the cavern until the next day. In the evening we attended a program on the departure of bats from the caverns, but only a few bats flew out due to the season. This cavern is famous for its colonies of bats. In the morning we were the first visitors in the caves, coming down by ourselves. A route was marked, and no guides were present. We descended into a deep cavern where the decreasing light evoked special sensations. I remember the words of my friends that the cavemen are moribund people because they bury themselves. The decoration of the cavern was uncommonly opulent, and we did not regret the long delay. We also visited the Living Desert State Farm in Carlsbad, a lesser zoological and botanical garden representing local desert fauna and flora. High in the desert of New Mexico we meet a lady at the post office who knows the Czech Republic and said that she watched the fall of the Berlin Wall and our revolution. Then we discussed the danger of Russia for Europe.

We passed through a range of the Rocky Mountains at 2,500 meters elevation. This trip taught us a lot about the dependence of vegetation on sea level and humidity as we passed from prairie to coniferous forest with Douglas pines. The last visit of the day was the White Sand National Monument. We made a long trip around just one big dune (50 km long and 0.5-2 km wide), made from pure white sand. We did not regret it because the marvelous views of the setting sun gave us great pleasure. It is an interesting fact that a major part of the dune is used for testing weapons: the first atomic bomb was exploded there. In the evening we turned southward and arrived at the westernmost point of our journey. We went to look at the Sonora Desert in Arizona. Meanwhile, Sarracenia awaited us at swamps in the east. A country as large as the U.S. is full of many invitations and allures. Once through El Paso, we steered east again. We rode all day and night almost non-stop, so the next evening we could halt at a beautiful place, unusually unconfined for America, New Orleans. It is one of the most beautiful towns in the U.S.; we could drink free in the streets, people are joyful, and there are jazz pubs and nightclubs everywhere. New Orleans is appealing to Europeans. Besides this town, in the rest of the U.S., there is only Las Vegas which is comparable. We were tired from the long trip and at midnight we went to sleep nearby, in a place known as the De Soto National Forest. Our first month in the U.S was just finished, and the tachometer showed 2,500 miles.

So, we were again in marshlands and the paradise of CP's in the state of Mississippi, but we did not stay for a long time. We returned to Alabama and the locations near Mobile Bay and Citronelle. One of the benefits of staying at known places is the possibility of using approved camps. So we stayed overnight near Sarracenia. The next day we continued from Citronelle far northward to Tibie, and finally found a locality where we were sure we would find S. rubra ssp. wheryi. This subspecies was robust at other localities; these were small plants 12-25 cm tall. It was probably due to the rather dry site. The plants were very fruitful, so this rare subspecies could naturalize in our country from imported seeds. Nearby we also found P. lutea, this time we were without doubt as to its identification since P. caerulea does not occur so far west. Today we are able to identify both species even in a vegetative stage - P. lutea is more of a fresh green colour, and its leaves are more curled. We left this interesting area near Mobile Bay and returned to Florida after a long time. Near Gulf Breeze we visited perhaps the most beautiful location of S. leucophylla very near the road. It was damp, between a wood fading into damp overgrowths of red cypresses. Large numbers of S. leucophylla were noted. Unfortunately it was too dark to take photographs. The tallest S. leucophylla stood 83 cm and the largest diameter pitcher orifice was 7.9 cm.

S. purpurea was rather frequent and extremely fruitful there. We stayed overnight in the Black Water River State Forest known to have some red plants of S. flava. Also S. rubra ssp. gulfensis should have been present; finding this plant established was the crowning achievement of our journey. In the morning we enjoyed a bath in the Black Water River. It was a great way to recharge our optimism and peacefulness. But after this marvelous experience, the rest of day did not bring anything enjoyable. We cruised the Black Water River State Forest, even entering Alabama in the Conecuh National Forest. By the way, both of these neighboring forest complexes yield the sole and unique chance for the protection of this world-wide unique ecosystem. Perhaps a national park protecting this world full of sand, water, fire, and carnivorous plants will come into existence. The single success of this day was our finding a population of Sarracenia at a dying locality with a lot of shrubs and a dominance of oaks among other trees. First we enjoyed a combination of S. leucophylla and S. flava, and the even more rarely seen S. purpurea and S. psittacina combination. The next day we set out to a ranger station, as we had no chance to find Sarracenia otherwise. There was a beautiful photo of a large swamp full of S. flava at the station. We asked them about such a nice location, and got precise information with a map. For a while we marveled at the overgrowths of Sarracenia. There were S. leucophylla, S. flava, S. purpurea, S. psittacina, Drosera capillaris, D. filiformis, D. brevifolia and Pinguicula primuliflora. We looked for S. rubra to no avail. Another dream came true when we found the beautiful hybrid S . flava x S. leucophylla. Hybrids were not too frequent owing to the major incidence of both parent species, and they looked more like S. leucophylla with a waviness in the lid and the shape of their pitchers. The colour was between that of the parent plants and they had a red stripe in the area below the lid. The plants of both parent species were rather robust, their height being in the range of 60- 80 cm. Noticeable was the opening diameter of the pitchers- 8.1 cm for S. flava. We should note for the benefit of those who want to visit this site, do not walk in short trousers and sandals. There were a lot of prickly bush-ropes from the Smilax, and the constant harassment by ants almost deprived us of all enjoyment .

We enjoyed the next stop more from a botanical point of view. We could imagine it as an ideal swamp for Sarracenia-in the spring it was likely full of water, so that the few trees were densely undergrown by Sarracenia surrounded by pine wood. On top of that S. flava did not keep to a single colour morph and looked like rubra . A lot of blood-red Sarracenia were observed - an unforgettable experience - a favourite among Sarracenia not only for left-wing botanists. Certainly it would be relished if it was frequent, but this plant is very scarce. We took many photographs and explored further. Such an exciting event was not repeated over the next few days. The red plants were less common, but we found a plant 60 cm high. The redness of the plants occurred in a range from high expression with wide venation to quite red plants. Generally, this colour composed about one third of the whole population at this locality. S. leucophylla was often more red there. S. purpurea x flava was frequent, but we did not find any pure S. purpurea. S. psittacina achieved surprising density here and there. This Saracenia made an involved vegetative carpet on the huge plains. The end of our stay at this state forest is noted in a citation from our diary: " We arrive at Bear Lake, and despite a sign that reads showering is only for campers, we enjoy a shower. It is very pleasant to take off the dirt and sweat and wash our hair. Keeping fresh, a providing a complete source of water, the state forest really does a great deal and remains unforgettable to us. This is beside the rubra gulfensis!"

We have explored our neighbourhood consisting of a driving along a few slowly interlacing roads and looking for suitable areas, but did not find any interesting sites. In the evening we steered eastward to the Apalachicola National Forest, where there were some suitable CP locations. Most of our exploration occurred in the neighbourhood of the exotic-sounding Sumatra, which consisted of three houses. There were Sarracenia swamps in the vicinity of this place. The most frequent was S. flava again, and very rarely S. leucophylla. This is probably one of its easternmost localities. On the other hand S. minor should have had one of its westernmost locations here, but we found no plants. S. psittacina was frequent there as well, and amazingly S. purpurea too. We also found D. brevifolia, D. capillaris, D. filiformis ssp. tracyi, and U. purpurea, which was conspicuously a rich red in one track. S. purpurea x S. flava were growing there too. The classically coloured forms with a red throat dominated while a form called "heavy veined" was less frequent. Specimens of P. planifolia were large, about 14 cm in diameter. We were surprised at finding these plants in water 20 cm deep. The plants lost their red colour in this environment, but they did not look threatened. We looked for P. ionantha which probably grew in this area, but we could not differentiate it with certainty from P. planifolia because none of the plants were red. Only a few smaller green butterworts looked to be P. ionantha, but we could not verify that. We enjoyed swimming in the nice large Apalachicola River, and then we called the Atlanta Botanical Garden to see if we could visit. Ron Determann was expecting us the next day, so we traveled a long way back northward; we had to take advantage of such an opportunity. Moreover, we decided to do another exploration; we returned to the west where we were yesterday at Yellow River. In the evening, when we looked at Don Schnellīs reprint, we discovered a note of a location for S. rubra ssp. gulfensis near this river. We felt sick when we realized that we had passed this locality on the previous day. The call of S. rubra ssp. gulfensis was so strong that we changed our itinerary and returned to Yellow River. On the way we did stopped to visit a site rich with S. leucophylla near the road. We were shocked because we also found Dionaea muscipula. The first feeling was indescribable: at once you see something out of place at this location, like seeing a kangaroo jumping over a Czech meadow. Venus flytraps grow in the moist sand there, looking very healthy. It is clear that this location was planted artificially, reflected in the uniform appearance of the plants. It seems that efforts at embellishing nature are not only a Czech phenomenon. Upon our return to the Czech Republic, we confirmed that this location was actually artificially created.

After a long trip we finally arrived at Yellow River. Now we had to solve a problem; from which side of the road and bridge should we look, since all sides looked promising. It was rather difficult, but we did well in the end. After the first "banal Sarracenia," S. flava and S. leucophylla, we were able to run to the first S. rubra ssp. gulfensis sticking up ahead of us. The redness of its pitchers took on a rich tinge in the evening sun, and it is certainly one of the most beautiful red Sarracenia. It has long narrow pitchers with heavy red coloration. The problem with this locality is the low number of plants and the frequent hybrids with S. leucophylla. In the final analysis only a few plants were confirmed as belonging to this species, others being hybrids. The whole matter gives the first impression that the plant S. rubra ssp. gulfensis is a result of steady crossbreeding between S. rubra and S. leucophylla, embodying more attributes of the first parent. This is probably not right. There is S. rubra ssp. wheryi in the area of S. leucophylla which looks quite different. The plants have a typical characteristic of a nominal subspecies: they grow in large clumps. The vegetation is grassy, the substrate is sand-loamy or loamy, and the humidity is not high. We crossed the river on the second bank, and we viewed the next population in absolute gloom. This population was richer, but there were a lot hybrids there again. Since we had seen something, we stayed at the location and then began the long trip to Atlanta.

When we reached western Florida, we turned to Alabama--land of promise for Sarracenia--and we continued to the northeast through this sympathetic state. We halted at 2 a.m. back in Georgia, about 50 miles from Atlanta, and tried to find a place to stay overnight. In the end we had to be satisfied with a side road leading to a peculiar and perhaps unoccupied house. But who knows at night. The night was terribly cold and muggy. Moreover, acorns fell all the time from the oaks, which we slept below. In the gloomy morning we had to face the traffic on the motorway. It was difficult. In the end we survived it, turned onto the right road, and arrived at the botanical garden in time. Ron Determann and Ron Gagliardo were expecting us; their names should be known among CP specialists. During our tour we were filled in by Ron Determan on the results of his efforts to save rare subspecies of S. rubra and S. oreophila. We saw an opulent display of the plants, each of these rare taxa restricted to an area 8 x 5 metres in outdoor cultivation. They also have seeds collected in the wild, which they store in a seed bank. Seeds matured in the botanical garden are not collected because there is a high risk of pollination by another species of Sarracenia. We were interested in the problem of management at wild locations, and I indicated the terrible example of our experience with S. oreophila. We were informed that foresters' co-operation is too difficult to obtain, but they practice firing at some private locations after an agreement with the land owners. Ron Determan is certainly aware of the American conditions in the field for protection of CP's, and it is thanks to his Dutch origins. We do not want to assess the American approach, but their method of plant protection seems in some respect poor or at least incomplete.

Ron Gagliardo is a known specialist in tissue culture, and he showed us rooms of these. He said that they only solved the technical problems related to a transfer of plant material to in vitro conditions. If they need to cultivate greater amounts of the plants, they leave this task to a commercial laboratory. A selection of species Nepenthes in tissue cultures was imposing. It was very interesting to see the various forms of colour and shape of Dionaea plants. A cultivar with very short marginal spines on the edges of traps gave it a bristly look. It has a working name "Burt Simpson." There also were quite red forms, plants with big indented traps, and others. By this way we entered the collection rooms. Because our hosts were busy, we had a chance to move through this space freely and photograph whatever we wanted. We looked over the part of the collection where admission is generally restricted.

Two species drew our attention; Nepenthes and our favourite, Sarracenia. They have a really large collection of pitcher plants that we could see and take photographs of. For example, adult plants of N. bicalcarata, N. fusca, N. truncata, and the beautiful N. ampullaria, N. ventricosa, and others. Species of Heliamphora were completely represented, most by adult plants, some even in bloom. All Sarracenia were present here, most of them in numerous rich collections. It is instructive to see a collection of natural hybrids. There are interesting plants such as an apochromatic form of S. rubra ssp. gulfensis and jonesii, apochromatic S. psittacina, and some aberrant S. rubra ssp. rubra - with a long spiked lid and pilose pitchers. Collections of succulents were also very interesting; we could see such rarities as Pachypodium decaryi or all the taxons of Adenium. Haworthia and Anacampseros were also richly represented.

We also visited the exhibition part where Heliamphoras are very nicely arranged with the frogs from the genus Dendrobates. Also the Madagascar exposition with Didiere and Pachypodium plants are well represented.

We left the Atlanta Botanical Garden, again in heavy rain and traffic, and steered south, now for good. On the way we decided that we deserved a little reward for the previous successes during our journey, so we stopped at a restaurant. At first we decided on something small and cheap, but in the end the most expensive Bourbon steak beguiled us. When it was brought on a pan and all the people were looking at the nice waitress, we did not rue it at all. I do not know about Kamil, but I had already experienced this marvelous spicy taste.

We continued southward and stopped at the border of Georgia and Florida, where we wanted to take photos in the vicinity of Okefenokee Swamp once more. U. purpurea was blooming richly, the water surface covered with its pink flowers. Out of curiosity we went to the west entrance of Okefenokee, which we did not visit during our first stop there. Near the path we could see S. minor, which had the normal height of S. minor, the tallest plants being below 30 cm. An hour before we saw plants three times as tall! The robust forms grow at the east edge of this swamp, but here Sarracenia match their species name. Unfortunately, we had prepared rather poorly, and thanks to our shorts the swarms of mosquitoes forced us to lie down at each spot to take a photo. In the end we were satisfied with measuring a few plants, before running away. We visited Osceola National Forest again, where we saw the first Sarracenia. We collected the aquatic bladderworts U. gibba and U. striata. At the same time we saw Sarracenia. We heard a shot and met a large number of hunters moving in the woods. Of course this was not surprising, because the weekend was beginning, it was deer season, and Americans are impassioned hunters. Moreover, most Americans can hunt only on state lands. We were most surprised to meet a hunter sitting over a path in a tree he had attached himself to. When you are walking around the woods, lift your eyes and you may just see a hunter sitting above you in a tree with a gun. We arrived in the Ocala National Forest in the evening, and the hunters were present too. When looking for a quiet side road we ran straight into one hunting party--there was a beer keg, women, and peace. They invited us to join, but my reluctance in the face of hunters was too strong. If I had said to them what I thought about today's hunters, it could anger them, and they might have shot us. But fortune smiled on us and we found an official camp, where only an old man was staying. We stayed at a nice water hole, and after a short exploration, found U. floridana growing in the water. We had no doubts about it, because the plant grew firmly attached to the bottom and deeper than U. striata. The water was transparent to the bottom, bladderworts grew to about 60 cm, and the pH of the water was 6.1. In the morning we left Ocala and headed for the shoreline. It was Sunday and crowds of bikers were riding everywhere. The number of bikers increased near Daytona Beach where they have a lot of their bars. It was an interesting view, community living: if they did not have their motor monsters they would have looked like medieval knights. It is funny that their description in our republic is precisely same in America: leathery black things, long hair, beard, a nice girl in the back.

We halted at the Cape Canaveral National Seashore. This place is known as the takeoff and landing site of space shuttles. It has some nice protected swamps, which we wanted to see. We planned to stay overnight on the beach, but it was not possible owing to breeding sea turtles. We got to enjoy the Atlantic Ocean; the sea was rough and we played in the waves to absolute exhaustion. In the evening, we came to the closest possible approach to the launching pads. We crossed a landing strip, where there was a rocket prepared on one of two launching pads. It was a peculiar view; in the foreground, a lot of alligators, in the background, a space shuttle. Prehistoric-looking reptiles and modern human technology from the end of the 20th century. Sunset added a suggestive dash to this scene.

Then we went far south. Because we could not find a good camp, we almost stopped at the huge Lake Okechobee. When our situation looked hopeless, we discovered a little camp near the road. In the dead of night some lights and voices woke us. I got up quickly and there were two police cars in the road. A sheriff asked me about my car. I said yes, it was mine, but had no idea what this was about. I was thinking to myself that I did not want to go through a third inspection for dope. Instead, the sheriff called my attention to my unlocked car, which could be stolen, and he left. So our last meeting with the American arm of the law was a happy one. The next day we enjoyed a tour of one of the largest and most magnificent marshland national parks in the world-the Everglades. This park would be enough to write a whole article. It consists of a lot of vegetation types, from brackish mangrove overgrowths to dry pine woods. Near Anhinga we saw the huge specimens of U. foliosa. It is one of the largest aquatic bladderworts, with a quadrangular stem cross section, a strongly scented pituitous covering, and bright yellow flowers. At the next stop in overgrowths of red cypresses near Pa Hay Okee we found this plant again along with U. purpurea (this bladderwort had white flowers). Both plants grew in shallow transparent water at a depth of about 40 cm with a neutral pH. As we were getting nearer to the sea and the water changed to brackish, the number of mosquitoes increased to unbearable levels. We experienced something similar in the swamps, but this was unbearable. We got away quickly from this part of Everglades. The last evening we went to Big Cypress Wildlife Preserve, which is back-to-back with the Everglades and is more open to the public. Some camps were available there. We found a beautiful place with water in its midst, so our last day in the U.S. began with a bath. We packed up went to Miami, passed through it and headed for Miami Beach. This name sounded too tempting to pass by unheeded. We sang a great hit of the Czech band "Prazsky Vyber" from the eighties: "So I walked along Miami Beach". Then we swam in the warm Atlantic Ocean, a pleasant end to our journey. We drove 11,316 miles, we visited many localities, and saw most of the CP's we had expected to find with the exception of a few bladderworts. It was a very successful and instructive exploration. We know more information about local conditions of the plants and their variability at natural localities. Thus, next time we go to see Sarracenia, it will be as old friends. 

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

Copyright (c) Vlastik Rybka, 1997