Monday, March 27, 2023

St. Tammany bugeaters

Our visit was impromptu, almost accidental. When in Louisiana, we always stay in St. Tammany Parish: Jessa grew up there—well, there and New Orleans East, just across Pontchartrain—and most of the people we visit live there. So Lacombe and Slidell are where we've traditionally hung our hats. This was our first time staying in Abita Springs, and I was idly scrolling Google Maps when I noticed Abita Creek Flatwoods Preserve. The website showed Sarracenia pitcher plants; I naturally thought, "Hey, wouldn't it be nice to see some pitcher plants?" So I ran it by Jessa, a.k.a. The Keeper of the Itinerary, and she agreed that this would be good to squeeze in. So then my thoughts transitioned to something like "Man, I hope we can find a pitcher plant..."

Mission accomplished. 

I think I've mentioned before that I'm nobody's botanist, but based on my pre- and post-visit research (mostly post), there are two species of pitcher plant native to St. Tammany Parish: Sarracenia alata, the pale pitcher plant, and S. psittacina, the parrot pitcher plant. S. alata has upright pitchers, yellow flowers, and was in full bloom at the time of our visit, whereas psittacina's pitchers are mostly prostrate, and it blooms reddish to purple about a month later. Without the blooms to guide us, we didn't see (or more likely didn't notice) any psittacina, but alata was hard to miss. 

It helped that Jessa already had a good idea what the blooms would look like; the flowers were practically shouting "Here we are!" while, on the first few plants at least, the pitchers were sere and brown, difficult to notice amidst all the botanical clutter of the longleaf pine savanna.

The mid-Gulf region has been described as a global hotspot for carnivorous plant diversity, and also present at the preserve are sundews. I know even less about Drosera than Sarracenia, but I believe these are either D. capillaris or D. brevifolia—very possibly both.

These are not large or conspicuous plants; we saw sundews ranging from silver-dollar size (like the specimen above) to dime size or smaller. Jessa and Rebekah got quite good at spotting them on mown paths or amongst pine needles on the savannah floor; I mainly saw the ones nestled against the exposed roots of longleaf pine.

The most subtle of the carnivorous plants we noticed were these bladderworts, Utricularia subulata (I think). The bulk of the plant, including the "trap", lies beneath the wet soil, with only the flowers being noticeable to the likes of us.

Carnivorous plants tend to attract devoted, even obsessive, admirers [helpful example], including the most important naturalist in history.

...At the present moment, I care more about Drosera than the origin of all the species in the world.

—Charles Darwin, 1860

Given my botanical limitations, many such devotees will doubtless consider the riches we saw to be so many pearls before swine—but appreciative swine, I assure you. We are immensely grateful to The Nature Conservancy for preserving this site, and now feel even more attached to our favourite parish: St. Tammany is home.

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Related post: No way out.

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