tortoise spotting in DeSoto

I spent the day yesterday in DeSoto National Forest, spotting tortoises, while my buddy Jim McGee collected seeds of beautiful pine savanna. We were trying to fulfill our obligation to supply DeSoto with copious amounts of diversity for their eco-restoration work and in the process, protect the endangered gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) from the machinery we use to do our work. The area where we were collecting, the 700 acre Ashe Seed Orchard, has many tortoise burrows, but most seem to be inactive, with no current signs of turtle activity that I’ve seen so far. The gopher tortoise is seen as a keystone species because it digs burrows that provide shelter for 360 other animal species. They are threatened by predation and habitat destruction.

The gopher tortoise is a representative of the genus Gopherus, which contains the only tortoises native to North America. This species of gopher tortoise is the state reptile of Georgia and the state tortoise of Florida.

West of the Mobile-Tombigbee Rivers, to the Florida Parishes of Southeastern Louisiana is the protection zone: the western edge of its range.

In our work so far, we haven’t found any turtles but we have loaded up on some wonderful collections of herbaceous understory seed, by the truck-load.

The staff at the Forest has been busily planting, trying to keep up with new collections that are coming in. They’ve sowed different mixes in different areas with different conditions and with different types of application. Time will tell us what the result is. This type of seed work is fairly unique as National Forests go.


Yesterday was our first attempt at summer collecting with the new tractor-driven machine. Summer collecting is a bit more unpredictable because of the Gulf-influenced rain showers that tend to pop up this time of year. You can loose your day’s work with a rainstorm.

All went well, though. We got a good haul and made it back to process the seed without complication.

We harvested pounds of New Jersey Tea, Caroline Bush Pea, Rose Pink, Tickseed (C. major), Yellow Blanket Flower, Savanna Meadow Beauty, Prairie Milkweed(A. humistrata, (possibly A. variegata)) with the occasional population of Yellow Colic Root and American Blue Heart, and a long list of other notables. This collection will add dimension to the eighty or so species we collected last fall, getting us well over 100 species total


above: Savanna Meadow Beauty (Rhexia alifanus), with its red, urn-shaped seed capsules

The tortoise-spotting job description sure beats the heck out of the old way of collecting: carting around a thirty pound, awkwardly balanced, motorized seed stripper rig, strapped over my shoulder, swiping the thrasher over the seed I was after, while I take the random fall as I tripped over sticks and got all-stuck-up by briars in the hundred degree heat, and falling into the occasional pine stump hole. This coupled with ticks and chiggers makes for an exciting but laborious day.

Speaking of pine stump holes, yesterday, there I am doing the spotting thing, walking as I am scanning the landscape and in my unawares put my next step into the abyss of a pine stump hole and before I knew what happened, gravity pulled me down it like a vacuum, leaving my hat in mid-air, just like you’d see in the Roadrunner cartoons. I had to laugh once I assessed my bones and realized still had all my parts.

As usual, the milkweeds won the day for best pictures in the field. enjoy!


above: Asclepias humistrata/variegata seed ready for a big wind to bring it to its new home.


above: Aclepias viridiflora? (Green-Flowered Milkweed) is popular with the nectaring crowd


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