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Let's start with a quiz. You are making your way through the Florida woods, wading through hip-deep palmettos. Directly in front of you is this scene. There is something that should make you very, very afraid. What is it?

palmetto frond

The Daily Bucket is a regular feature of the Backyard Science group.  It is a place to note of any observations you have made of the world around you.  Rain, sun, wind...insects, birds, flowers...meteorites, rocks...seasonal changes...all are worthy additions to the bucket.  Please let us know what is going on around you in a comment.  Include, as close as is comfortable for you, where you are located. Each note is a record that we can refer to in the future as we try to understand the patterns that are quietly unwinding around us.
Let's see, there are greenbriars creeping through the fronds. They can cut you up if you aren't careful. But that's not the scariest thing. It so happens that I could easily walk around this palmetto cluster. What might be on the other side?
palmetto frond with wasp nest
Yes, it was a trick question. But nature is full of trick questions. Sometimes I solve the riddle with no problems. But had this been a summer day instead of a winter day, I might have been "riddled" with wasp stings.

Note: I am using a mix of photos from my good camera, and from my phone. The better pics are in lightbox mode, which enables you to click to enlarge.

While we're on the subject of stinging insects, here is a recently vacated hornet abode. I happened to approach it from a direction where it was visible. The bottom of the nest is about three feet off the ground. As with the wasp nest, failure to pay attention during the hot part of the year could be quite painful.

hornet nest

When I was enduring The Year of the Hornet out in Idaho, I never dared get this close to a nest. Note the streaks of color, the result of hornets making their paper from different materials.

hornet nest close-up

The land I was on is a working forest. That's usually where I work, since there aren't many people or companies willing to pay me to survey trees in a wilderness area. This is flatwoods country not far from Gainesville. A foot or two of elevation change can make the difference between pine forest and swamp.

Over the years, the owners of the land have experimented with various methods of improving tree survival and growth. A highly successful method of establishing a new forest after a harvest involves planting trees on raised beds, and applying herbicide to prevent grass, forbs, and woody vegetation from overwhelming the young pines.

These slash pines (Pinus elliottii) were planted two winters ago, and the dominant trees are already eight feet tall.

Slash pines, two years after planting

These trees were planted five winters ago. The tallest trees are 25 feet tall. Note that the herbicide does not keep the understory vegetation away forever, but it gives the trees a head start.

Slash pines, five years after planting

Directly across the road are slash pines planted in 1989. The biggest trees are about 14 inches in diameter, and 80 feet in height.

Slash pines, age 25

With improvements in genetics and planting methods, the trees being planted now will be 80 feet tall at an earlier age.

The land also supports longleaf pine (Pinus palustris).

longleaf pines

These longleaf pines were planted about 11 years ago, and the dominant trees are around 30 feet tall. The short-needled tree in the foreground is a sand pine (Pinus clausa).

Longleaf pine plantation with sand pine in foreground.

What about the wetlands? The land is dotted with ponds and sinkholes, plus there are some large creek bottoms. When my measurement plots fell in the wettest areas, I was forced to put on my waders. Then I had to step carefully in the dark water, lest I find myself in water too deep for the waders. I had to keep my equipment dry, and the last thing I wanted to do was to bring my good camera. My fuzzy phone-camera pics will have to do. The pink flagging is used to mark my measurement points. The two major tree species in the swamps are baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) and water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica).

cypress swamp
Unfortunately, the phone's camera did not do a good job of capturing the reflection on the water, and the sunken leaves underneath. Cypress knees are everywhere, and are a real tripping hazard shallow water and on dry land.
cypress knees
cypress swamp
Finally, here is a type of grass I saw growing on open sandy ground. A central clump sends out runners to create an object resembling a Christmas wreath. If anyone knows its identity, I would be glad to know it.

Your turn. Questions, comments, pictures and observations are all welcomed.

unknown grass species


"Green Diary Rescue" is Back!

After a hiatus of over 1 1/2 years, Meteor Blades has revived his excellent series.  As MB explained, this weekly diary is a "round-up with excerpts and links... of the hard work so many Kossacks put into bringing matters of environmental concern to the community... I'll be starting out with some commentary of my own on an issue related to the environment, a word I take in its broadest meaning."

"Green Diary Rescue" will be posted every Saturday at 1:00 pm Pacific Time on the Daily Kos front page.  Be sure to recommend and comment in the diary.

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