Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Plants of the Okefenokee Swamp

“The prairies of the Okefenokee are gorgeous expanses of flower-studded wilderness. The growls of hidden alligators, piercing cries of sandhill cranes, and haunting cypress tress draped in Spanish moss create a place of primeval beauty” Writes Leslie Edwards for the Georgia Botanical Society. “Land of the Trembling Earth” to Native Americans, this unique ecosystem has been designated a National Wilderness Area, and remains one of the oldest and best preserved freshwater wetland areas in America.

The water throughout the swamp is clear but stained the color of iced tea by tannins and other products of decaying vegetation. The result of this decay is to make the swamp extraordinarily acidic, with an average pH value of 3.7. Add to this low levels of nitrogen and phosphorous and it is hard to believe that the swamp supports roughly 600 species of plants including pond cypress taxodium ascendens and bald cypress T. distichum.

Other trees found here include blackgum, loblolly-bay, sweet bay, and others. Carnivorous plants can be found in abundance including the best known and most obvious Pitcher Plants. Three varieties are found including golden trumpet pitcher Sarracenia flava; the hooded pitcher plant, Sarracenia minor and the parrot pitcher plant Sarracenia psittacina. Sundews Drosera L, Butterworts Pinguicula L. and Bladderworts Utricularia L. are also common.

Other plants to watch for include Golden Club Orontium aquaticum in the spring, Water Lilly Nymphaea odorata for its fragrance, Climbing Heath, Pieris phillyreifolia, Spanish Moss Tillandsia usneoides (not a true moss, but an air plant) and Southern Blue Flag Iris verginica.

For more information about the Okefenokee, see the United States Fish & Wildlife Service website for the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. According to this website, “the refuge, established in 1936, includes over 400, 000 acres of the swamp, and an additional 350,000 acres in the interior designated a National Wilderness Area.

To plan a visit for this and other Georgia destinations, visit the Sherpa Guides website.

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