Friday, March 3, 2017

Tomoka State Park, FL A new ecosystem

We camped last night at Tomoka State Park, near Daytona Beach.  Frankly, when I made the reservation, I didn't have high hopes for this park, so close to Daytona.  In my mind, I pictured a park full of partying Spring Breakers.  I couldn't have been more mistaken.  I was blown away by this park, and give it 5 / 5 stars.  The content on this page is from their website, the signs and kiosks we read in the park, and just stuff I know.

The park is on a 900 acre spit of land formed as a sand built up over time between two rivers, the Tomoka and the Halifax.  As the sand was colonized by plants, they retained more sand, and over 100's and 1,000's of years, the spit built up.  Immediately, you know you're not in Kansas, Dorothy. 

You see a mix of trees, including moss covered live oaks, pines, and palmettos.  Spanish explorers found native Americans living on this land in 1605.  (You might not know that nearby Saint Augustine is the oldest city in the US, formed in 1565).  There was a continuous change of ownership and habitation, including plantations farming Indigo, a plant used to make a dark blue dye.  Its been a state park since 1945.  

Here's one of the live oaks, covered with Spanish moss, an Epiphyte.  An Epiphyte is a plant that lives on another plant, without actually using that other plant for water or nutrients.  Epiphytes get their moisture directly from the air and rain, and get nutrients from wind-blown dust.  It's amazing how many these oaks can hold up.

 Here, you can see the rivers surrounding the spit, and the storm clouds that caught us and drenched us a little while later...

They were making a shoreline restoration effort to armor and protect the land from eroding.  The rocks look to be old bits of reef that was quarried and laid out, with the small tufts of marsh grasses planted, and then the palms.

On the right you can see bags of shells, which I think form both a barrier to waves and also habitat for more shellfish in the restoration.

We didn't see any manatees, but there was a sign for them.  You can see the weather coming in, too.

 The wind started ripping along, and the storm blew in, drenching us.  We were already wet, so we just stayed out and walked the nature trail in the rain.  That's the kind of commitment we have to bring you this amazing quality blog content :-)  Here are some palms blowing...

The nature trail had a cool mix of pines and hardwoods, like these oaks.  Originally, this forest had more pine trees, but the area is undergoing succession, the change in community makeup over time.  Historically, this area would have naturally burned on a regular basis, but since it was a plantation and now is a park, fires are prevented and the oaks are out competing the slash pines.

This slash pine shown here has evolved a thick bark that protects it from the flames, which kills the more thinly barked hardwoods.  You can get an idea looking at my hand - the bit of bark you can see exposed is at least 2" thick.

Here's a view looking up the side of the tree.  Interesting to me, that just a few hours north the primary pine was that loblolly pine - totally different. 

There were a lot of epiphytes like the resurrection fern on the right, and this one in the middle which I do not recognize.  Any of you blog readers know it?  If so, please comment and let us all know.

Here's a picture of the resurrection fern about half resurrected from the down pour.  It was really quite quick.  Don't let this photo fool you, it was dark out and driving rain.  My camera's flash makes this look friendly and bright green.  These ferns are brown and curled up when dry,  but after getting wet, they turn green and unfold.

Saw Palmettos are everywhere.  I would not want to have to go cross country through this.  Apparently, you can eat the berries and leaf buds, and use the roots for tanning leather.  This is another species that does best in burn areas.

Here's a picture of one of the live oaks, covered with a mix of epiphytes.  If you look at the resurrection ferns to the right and underneath the limb, they've not gotten wet yet and are still shriveled and brown.  The ones on top have resurrected, unfolded, and are green.  Pretty amazing.

This scraggly pine is called a sand pine, and apparently the species relies on fire to cast its seeds.  It is threatened by development, since fires are now largely prevented.  I had never seen one before.

Scary picture of me my wife made, drenched and soaked to the bone.  My wife commented that it has rained on us every day of our trip so far...

Picture of our campsite taken this morning.

As I write this, we're "roughing it" at the Boardwalk RV Park in Homestead FL, a little south of Miami and on the edge of the Florida Keys.  Its warm and I'm wearing shorts and my birkenstocks.  We'll base camp here for a few days.  We hope to look at a huge Orchid Botanical Garden and make a trip to the Everglades.  

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