Thursday, August 18, 2016

Green Swamp, Revisited

Nearly a year after Hunter and I made our first trip to the Green Swamp Nature Preserve in Brunswick County with a band of intrepid explorers from the Sandhills Natural History Society, 
we make a return visit with Julie and Jay.

Thankfully, nothing has changed. 

Nature, undisturbed, is timeless. 

But for seasonal transitions,
a century's passing might seem merely a day, 
beneath the lonely longleaf pines of the Green Swamp savanna.

Of course, time does not actually stand still,
even in such timeless places as these. 

The subtle shades and superficially similar forms 
of Meadow Beauty (Rhexia sp.) and St. John's Wort (Hypericum sp.) 
and the amazing Crested Fringed Orchid (Platanthera cristata), may dot the longleaf pine savanna alongside the Grassleaf Barbara's Buttons (Marshallia graminifolia)
just as they did twelve moons ago,
but it's now been years, not months, since the last fire roared through.

The wire grass is thicker and taller,
and scraggly shrubs are beginning to appear again in the understory.

Without regular burning, wild or prescribed, the pace of change accelerates rapidly in the dappled shade of the majestic longleaf stand.

The exquisite little sun-loving orchids, with their fringes, and their crests and their spurs,
facing outward like a pack of ferocious little fire-breathing dragons
defending their turf from a marauding army,
will soon vanish in the shade of broad-leaved shrubs and other dense foliage
if periodic fires don't keep them at bay.

And the clever little yellow-orange orchid spider might very well go with them...

For now, at least, 
the Green Swamp visitor can count on seeing the orchids

and the impressive stands of carnivorous Yellow Trumpets, 

who call the swamp home,
along with the ubiquitous Green Lynx spider, 
a frighteningly efficient predator.

Yes, you can count on seeing these magnificent creatures,
because the Nature Conservancy and their partners in the region have collaborated to develop and implement an ongoing regime of controlled burns in this ancient woodland,

where fire-tolerant trees and ferns and flowering plants with their outrageous blossoms

offer the curious visitor a glimpse into our prehistoric past.

Palamedes Swallowtail drifted on the gentle forest breezes here 
long before humans set foot on the continent, 

and it quietly quaffs the thistle dew as we make our way along the woodland path, 

or unconcerned
or both, 
intent upon exploiting an old reliable energy source for the day ahead...
ensuring that Papilio palamedes will still be around for next year's visitors to admire.

Many other colorful and ancient clans are represented here in the heart of the savanna,
including orange milkwort, Polygala lutea,

and Venus Flytrap, Dionaea muscipula,
a carnivorous plant known and celebrated around the world,

but naturally occurring only here,
in the coastal plain of the Carolinas.

Red milkweed resides here too, in the sunniest spots,

and the adult wheelbug, 
among the most ferocious of arthropod predators,

patiently awaits the landing of careless pollinators.

The sun has begun her steady descent toward the horizon, and the pines cast their long shadows beyond the glorious Marshallia blossoms,

when at last we take our leave.

Yellow fringed orchid, Platanthera ciliaris, a bit larger than P. cristata,
guides us homeward along the trail like a glowing beacon,
aided by the pure white light of the false asphodel...

Another exhilirating trip back in time draws to a close as we near the edge of the pines,

and old friend Sabatia sp.,
one of the white pinks,
bids us farewell from the dense stand of ferns guarding the exit...

As we mount the ditchbank to our waiting transportation, 

one last surprise awaits -
Savanna bluehearts, Buchnera floridana,
a bit past prime blooming time perhaps,
but a delight to meet, nonetheless;

and perfectly camouflaged green lynx winks an eight-eyed farewell 
from its still sun-drenched perch near a delicate purple blossom.

Farewell, green lynx.

And fare thee well, Green Swamp...

'til we meet again.

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