Bill, Bruce, Brack and I met at the Pruitt Trailhead on the Halpata Tastanaki Park of the Cross Florida Greenway this afternoon for a bike ride through mostly flatwoods ecosystems. We made it down to the Withlacoochee River, doing a loop of about 13 miles averaging a leisurely 3 mph. There was a goodly wind above the treetops, but we felt only a breeze down at the bottom of the forest road “canyons” that cut through the tall pines. Plus, there was the sound of the wind in the pines, what can I say? The wind so converted what would otherwise have been a hot summer ride.
The route took us over limerock roads and dirt roads. Limerock roads were relatively smooth and easy to ride, although bahia grass cloaked most of the graded road top and frictioned the tires. Dirt roads had been recently graded and grass was growing back in, but there was a lot of bare sand saturated with recent rains that was a little squishy to ride on. This will likely ameliorate when the grass thickens in.
Bruce said the place was simultaneously on fire and in flood the first time he visited it, right after it had been acquired into the state preservation lands program, and that it looked awful. Today, the burned area comprising the northern half of our loop was lush with a diverse plant community of grasses, sedges and wildflowers. The low upland adjacent to the marshes had thick growths of wiregrass (Aristida stricta) that was setting heavy seed. This is exactly what I would expect in a burned natural low flatwoods landscape after a very rainy growing season. Mental note to self: Return in the spring with tripod when perennial wildflowers bloom in concentric rings of varicolored wildflowers around low flatwoods freshwater marshes like these.
Most of the park’s uplands are in plantation pine that have a closed canopy and appear to be almost ready for thinning. There is little undergrowth, but I bet the durable seeds of flatwoods wildflowers are still there. If the goal of this forest’s management is to restore the native low slash pine flatwoods habitat (and I hope it is), then a good pine thinning will allow much more sunlight to reach the ground and stimulate herbaceous vegetations. In my opinion, no habitat in Florida contains more species of wildflowers than low flatwoods and their associated freshwater marshes, and there are no better conditions for them to bloom than just might exist right here next spring.
Not another soul out there.