The first field trip for the Class of 2019 was a fun adventure and provided many learning opportunities. Arriving at the site, everyone immediately noticed that the entire area had been subjected to a control burn just days earlier, and was still smoldering in some places. Students saw first hand how the burns help eliminate the underbrush that can grow into a thicket, but do no harm to the Longleaf Pines, Pinus palustris, and their seedlings. It also did not affect the blooms of the local Wild Azalea, Rhododendron canescens, and the black ground provided a dramatic backdrop for the many Flowering Dogwoods, Cornus floridana.
Arriving at a hillside seepage bog, we saw carnivorous Sundews, Drosera brevifolia, unaffected by the burn in areas that were too barren for other plants to grow. There were also carnivorous pitcher plants, Sarracenia alata. Some of these had been burned and the crispy leaves could be cracked open to reveal insects inside that had been trapped. Keith Stephens found one plant that actually contained a grasshopper inside about an inch long. The pitcher plants will rebound from the burn quickly.
We crossed Boykin Creek, a lovely, shallow, sandy bottom creek, and explored a little mountain of rocks, an outcrop formed by the Catahoula geologic formation. Keith Stephens told the history of the formation from ancient volcanos and pointed out fossils contained within the rocks. We also saw a beautiful display of the brilliant orange Elegant Sunburst Lichen, Rusavskia elegans, on many of the huge rocks towering over the creek.
After a short break, we caravaned to a nesting site for the endanger Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Dryobates borealis, and learned that their nesting trees are identified with white painted rings. We were able to see one young bird that kept poking its head out of the nesting hole, probably anxiously waiting for us to leave so mother would bring it some food.
Traveling on to the Old Aldridge Sawmill site, students were able to investigate the ruins and quiz Keith Stephens about the history. Just a short distance beyond the old mill, Keith hacked the grown up trail with a machete to take us past the old drying kiln, and then on to the bat houses that had been erected to replace an old torn down structure that had previously housed them.
Longleaf Ridge veterans, Sue Singletary and Nichola Coco thought to bring along trash bags and removed any debris we found along the way. Students learned that this is a good way to earn service hours. Anytime we find a public treasure like this trashed, we can pick it up.
Since we were in search of carnivorous plants, and our first bog had been burned, we traveled to a second site and were rewarded with seeing a few blooming Bladderworts, Utricularia spp, and more pitcher plants, Sarracenia alata. But the highlight of the day was last. A large population of blooming Butterworts, Pinguicula pumila, greeted us.
The day was a success! A handout prepared by Laura Clark was provided to students ahead of time with more information on the Carnivorous Plants of Longleaf Ridge.