For some years I have been a visitor to the Abita Flatwoods Preserve, a Nature Conservancy property managed as a preserve just north of Abita Springs, in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana. I never realized in all the walking I had done there, that there was actually some topography to the place. Everything I had seen until this summer was, as the name implied, flat.
I recently had the opportunity to see another part of the property, and to my surprise, I found that its got slope! In September, I was invited to work with Dr. William Platt, who was setting up research plots on two sides of a transect line (1800 feet) that cuts straight down the face of a west-oriented slope. Dr. Platt is a fire ecologist who has studied the southern pine forest systems his entire career. His body of published papers is really big. He’s not only a forest and fire ecology expert but a fine human being (see below for quote from the 1980’s movie Little Big Man) as well.
I have visited a few hillside bogs before, but Dr Platt provided his interpretation of this one and it was a treat to be able to get a glimpse of the site, through his eyes. What this particular hillside provided for discussion was a series of zones (recognizable only because Dr Platt pointed each one out to me). I was familiar with most of the plants but I didn’t recognize how many different different zones there were. As we walked down the slope he pointed out how we were making a transition to another, and so on. The topography basically went from really upland, well-drained soils to boggy soils at the creek bottom, which is of course at the lowest elevation.
Guessing, I would say there were about six or so zones altogether, each one existing because of a different hydrology. I have drawn some crude sketches of the slope as I see it, below.
above: a drawing showing the slope, demonstrating how water percolates through a sand layer and then follows the impermeable clay layer, eventually exiting the hill side as a seep area. When the water flows through the soil, it finally exits in its purest, cleanest form (spring water). These different moisture regimes along the slope face create a highly specialize niches for specific plants to occur. The bog plants are dependent on the purity of the water for their survival.
above: showing the theoretical zones along the slope face. Each zone exhibits a different association of plants.
The purpose of the research plots at Abita is to guide ecologists in restoring more fully, the biodiversity of the site.
A very interesting aspect of Dr Platt’s work is his research on fire scars on old pine stumps and the study of living trees to determine fire frequency in a particular forest. This work has helped him understand what most of us don’t about our natural lands.
Dr. Platt has authored scientific papers on the study of frequency and timing of fire occurrences in the southern pine forest by using the rings of ancient trees and tree stumps. He is the tree stump whisperer.
above: Dr Platt points out the lilies we stumbled onto, growing amongst the Pale Pitcher plants, Sarracenia alata and Lady’s Hat Pins, Eriocaulon decangulare, about mid-slope. The rare Catesby lily, Lillium catesbyi, an extremely site-specific plant and needs near-perfect soil conditions and soil organism populations in which to grow.
Catesby lily at Abita preserve
Lady’s Hat Pins, also known as Ten-Angled Pipewort, or Bog Button are all over the boggy parts of the Abita slope.
Indian Plantain, Cacalia ovatum, is a cross-over, showing up in distinctly prairie soils as well as wet Pine savannahs
Golden-crest, Lophiola americana is strictly a bog plant. It maybe should be known as Silver-crest because its stems and floral scape is a noticeable silvery-grey most of the growing season except for a month in the summer when its in bloom (when it displays, yea, you guessed it, a golden-yellow floral display). Its said that the roots range in color from reddish-orange to purple though I’ve never seen them. Red Root, Lachnanthes caroliana, which grows in bogs in the same moisture regime is first cousin to Golden-crest.
the chartreuse green of Club Moss, a fern family member, indicates boggy soils. (click photos to enlarge)
moss grows thick on relict Black Gum, Nyssa sylvatica, and Black TiTi, Cyrilla racemeflora, in the bottom of the slope near the seep creek
Sweet Clethra, or Summer Sweet, Clethra alnifolia, grows in thickets in some bottom areas along with Bog-Sweet Azalea, Rhododendron viscosum, and the occasional Caesby lily still finding niche
tell-tale sign (a cypress knee) of Pond Cypress, Taxodium distichum var. ascendens the bog-cousin of the more commonly known Swamp or Bald Cypress, straight species Taxodium distichum.
Savannah stops at the creek, at the end of the transect, to get a drink. An old Sweet Bay Magnolia,Magnolia virginiana had fallen during the last year or two, opening up a huge area to sunlight.
Sphagnum moss grows in a cushiony mass in some areas near the bottom. It makes a matt that’s pleasantly soft to the touch
coming back into the sunlight, we swing north along the slope to walk under some old, beautiful Slash Pines. The bark is made of large plates that protect it from fire. Dr. Platt told me that they are extremely fire tolerant and said these were around 100 years old and probably left as juveniles as the old growth timber was cut back in the day.
Back up the hill side we go with Bill leading, Savannah, Kimber and myself following behind
quote from Little Big Man, as promised
Jack Crabb(Dustin Hoffman): Do you hate them? Do you hate the White man now?
Old Lodge Skins(wise Indian Chief): Do you see this fine thing? Do you admire the humanity of it? Because the human beings, my son, they believe everything is alive. Not only man and animals. But also water, earth, stone. And also the things from them… like that hair. The man from whom this hair came, he’s bald on the other side, because I now own his scalp! That is the way things are. But the white man, they believe EVERYTHING is dead. Stone, earth, animals. And people! Even their own people! If things keep trying to live, white man will rub them out. That is the difference.
good day ya’ll