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Plants

The beauty of a swamp

Christopher Woods

Christopher Woods

August 7, 2018

The Green Swamp Preserve, 17,424 acres (7051.24 hectares) in Brunswick County, North Carolina is owned by the Nature Conservancy. It is an area of pocosins, Algonquin meaning “swamp-on-a hill”.

Pocosins are dense with shrubs such as black titi (Cliftonia monophylla), gallberry (Ilex coriacea) and sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana). Thousands of years of muck have produced acidic, nutrient deficient soils where a carnival of carnivorous plants grow, notably the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula), a member of the sundew family, which opens and closes its hinged leaves in response to an insect brushing against tiny trigger hairs on the leaf’s inner surface.

 

Venus flytrap

 

In half a second, the trap shuts and the plant secretes digestive juices, taking about a week to fully absorb the insect.  Charles Darwin called the flytrap “one of the most wonderful plants in the world”.

There are fourteen known species of carnivorous plants in the preserve. The yellow pitcher plant (Sarracenia flava) is perhaps the most dramatic with 20 to 36 inch (50.5-91.5 cm) yellow tubes veined red and a red-purple throat at the base of its hood. They are modified leaves, curled to make a tube.The flowers come up in spring and are angled or pendulous and a vibrant green-yellow.

 

Sarracena flava

 

Surrounding the pocosins are long-leaf pine savannas. The pine (Pinus palustris) grows from southeastern Virginia, all the way to the Florida panhandle and west to the Piney Woods of Texas.

“A magnificent grove of stately pines, succeeding to the expansive plains we had long time traversed, had a pleasant effect, rousing the faculties of the mind, awakening the imagination by its sublimity, and arresting every active, inquisitive idea, by the variety of scenery”, wrote William Bartram in 1791.

 

Longleaf pine

 

Now, longleaf pine savanna is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the United States with only about 12,000 acres (4,856 hectares) of fragmented old growth remaining of a pre-colonial population of 90 million acres (364,21,707 hectares).

The pine’s demise is due to its usefulness to humans and to human greed. Tar, pitch, rosin and turpentine, four products derived from pines that protect wood and rope from rotting, caulk planks, and deter wood-boring insects and mollusks. Perfect for ship and house building. The high resin content of Pinus palustris, made it especially useful to the expanding colonies. Business boomed, especially with the cheap labor of slaves. But within sixty years of the end of the “war between the states” (1861-1865), the once great forests were gone, chopped down, sawn up and boiled.

 

Swamp cypress

 

Nearby are wetter areas, home to the occasional alligator and surrounded by one of America’s finest trees, the swamp cypress (Taxodium distichum).

There ain’t nuthin’ like a good swamp.

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