At times the weather will dictate the nature of an outing and that was the case when we recently visited the Florida Panhandle. While we were hiking on a glorious clear day, prior to our arrival the region had experienced several days of heavy rains and was under a flood warning. The heavy precipitation made many trails impassible. For this reason we chose to utilize the “all person” Tarklin Bayou Trail, that consisted of a sidewalk and a raised boardwalk, and allowed us to wander through this wetland ecosystem.
Personally I was interested in Tarkiln Bayou Preserve due to the presence of several species of threatened carnivorous plants. Like Audrey II from “The Little Shop of Horrors”, plants that consume animal proteins as a nutrition source have always intrigued me.
The trail starts out on concrete as it weaves its way through a sandy Longleaf Pine woodland, with water settled in the low lying areas.
Easily visible and approachable were numerous species of wildflowers including:
Orange Milkwort – This is a biennial plant (grows vegetatively one year and flowers in the next). It has the interesting genus name of Polygala, meaning “much milk”, based on the mistaken folk belief that it increased breast milk production. It flowers from February till November. This April the flowers were soft, but when I saw them last October that had the dry, crisp texture of straw flowers.
Yellow Hatpins – This plant has tiny grass like leaves at the base of the flower stems. The term “yellow” comes from the yellow bracts on the underside of the flower head. “Hatpins” comes from the flower’s resemblance to the hatpins that were used to secure women’s decorative headwear a century ago.
Narrowleaf Blue-eyed Grass – There are numerous species of this flower that occur in many habitats across the USA, with some authorities listing sixteen alone in Florida. It is a relative to the Iris family and one can see some similarities in the stem structure in the photo.
Yellow-eyed Grass – Native to the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas, it flowers all year long.
Rabbitbells – Flowers all year and found across Florida, but each flower only blooms for one day. The plant is a host plant for the larvae of the lovely Ceranus Blue butterfly.
As we ventured onto the boardwalk and further into the bayou ecosystem we began spotting the carnivorous plants and orchids that the wetland was known for. These included:
Pink Sundew – It is pictured in the title photo and below. It was not flowering when we were there. The hair like glands on the leaves secret a sticky “dew” that entraps small insects which are then digested after the leaf slowly folds up upon itself. In the photo below a captured insect can be seen, but the leaf has not enclosed it yet.
Tracy’s Sundew – This plant captures soft bodied insects with the sticky dew that is exuded by the hair like glands on the leaf stems visible in the photos below. Enzymes digest the insect and the nutrients are absorbed into the plant. This allows the plant to live in nutrient poor soils. Another interesting characteristic is that the leaf stems unfurl like those of a fern as can be seen in the first photo.
Whitetop Pitcher Plant – This is a unique and beautiful plant. The “pitcher” is a modified leaf that entraps insects. At the mouth of the cylinder, narcotic like substances are produced which sedate the insects, causing them to fall to the base of the structure where they are trapped. The “pitcher” is lined on the inside with hairs directed downward that prevent escape. There, a mixture of bacteria decompose them to nutrients that the plant can absorb. Some specimens were also displaying its maroon flower when we visited.
The native orchids were as showy and dainty as you would expect them to be. These were in amongst the carnivorous plants in the semi-shade.
Grass Pink Orchid – There are several species to this group of orchids and they occur in wetlands throughout the eastern US.
Rose Pagonia Orchid – Like the Whitetop Pitcher Plant, it occurs in wetlands throughout the eastern US and up into Canada.
In addition to the wildflowers, we also saw some other flowering plants along the route. It can be surprising for some to realize that Blueberries occur quite frequently in the wilds of US, and in fact, six species are listed as native to Florida. It appears that we saw two different species on this hike, given the differences in the flowers and the shapes of the leaves.
Another plant whose presence lets me know that I’m in the south is the vine Carolina Jasmine. It has an outstanding sweet scent and its essential oils have been used in the production of perfumes and fragrances.
Not all the color that we saw along the way was displayed by plants. In one twenty foot section of the hike we found these 4 outstanding Mabel Orchard Orb-weaver Spider specimens showcasing vivid coloration that showed variable patterns on the abdomens.
As the boardwalk approached Tarkiln Bayou the woods were thicker with species including Red Maple, Bald Cypress, Tupelo and Longleaf Pine.
In these moist habitats the Red Maple bark frequently boasts a mosaic of coloration due to mosses and lichens.
At the end of the boardwalk there is an overlook that presents views of unspoiled Tarkiln Bayou. Its shore is lined by Black Needle Rush which is vital to many species in this nursery of marine life.
Although this hike was short at just 1 mile total length, it offered plenty to see and study for our 90 minute commitment. The all person trail and boardwalk allowed us to get out in nature when standing water would have otherwise made it a “no hike” day. As the Florida State Parks likes to say, it gave us the opportunity to experience “the Real Florida”. I encourage you to set aside some time while on vacation to get up close and personal with nature. As I noted before, scientific study confirms that it is good for one’s peace of mind.
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Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns.
Parking – Excellent large gravel lot.
Facilities – At the parking lot.
Trail Conditions – As an all person trail it is flat and in good shape.
Benches – There is a bench at the overlook at Tarkiln Bayou.
Print Map Link – no link available but trail is well marked.
Kids – Children of all ages would do well here.
Paired Hikes – Tarkiln Bayou Preserve also includes the 6.5 mile Perdido Bay Trail and the 2 mile Wet Prairie Trail.