Some places just feel old. Grab some tall trees, some worn stones, sprinkle in a few ferns, and add some creatures that look like dinosaurs, and you’ve got yourself a genuine lost world. And when it’s one of the most densely developed counties in Florida, well, that’s a real paradox. But that’s Fern Forest. Today really drove home how wild a place can be even when it’s smack in the heart of the city…
Today belonged to the armadillo. I go weeks without catching sight of them, and then today, I saw at least 5 of them: 1 on the Cypress Creek boardwalk, 1 on the Wetland Wander, 2 in the pine woods, and 1 in the prairie. Here’s a little gallery of them:
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As those of you who have any experience with these rootin’ tootin’ armored-suitin’ mammals, they pretty much do whatever it is they’re doing, unless you give them a reason not to. Simply walking up next to them and inspecting their actions isn’t very threatening to them; they have very poor eyesight and (apparently) very bad hearing. Any self-respecting cat or raccoon would have been gone minutes before I even caught sight of these guys today; only one of them even so much as shied away from me after I’d spotted it. Although these armored mammals aren’t dinosaurs, they sure look like them. And if dinosaurs were so slow to flee from the apex predator on the planet, it’s really no wonder they’re extinct! (Disclaimer: yes, I know that dinosaurs WERE the apex predators, and that they never shared the stage with primates, let alone humans. Still…)
While I was on the Cypress boardwalk, I noticed a fern I haven’t seen before; need to get home and ID it before too long:
UPDATE: Now that I’ve had a chance to look this one up in my Nelson, it’s pretty obvious that this is Tectaria heracleifolia, Broad Halberd Fern, listed as endangered by the Florida Department of Agriculture. Nelson mentions that this fern can be distinguished from its cousin, T. incisa, Incised Halberd Fern, by “the shiny green color, and by lacking hairs on both the lower side of the rachis and the axis of the lower surface of the pinnae” (72). I had no trouble distinguishing it at a glance from the boardwalk; it’s just that, never having encountered it before, I didn’t know what it was. It was obvious what it wasn’t!
And speaking of ID problems, I also noticed some differences in the appearance of the exotic ferns I wrote about a while back; their pinnae are much farther apart than before:
See how much room there is between the “leaves” of the frond than there was a couple of weeks ago? And if you look at that fern from the past entry, then compare it to Doug Scofield’s description of Florida Tree Fern, you have to wonder whether I’ve been a bit overzealous in identifying all the ferns in sight as M. torresiana… Looks like yet more homework is called for!
So as I strolled through most of the key habitats at the park, and confronted mammals that look like dinosaurs, ferns that look like other ferns (and like no other ferns!), I got to thinking: how much space would you need to make a place like Fern Forest? 250 acres? 25 acres? 2.5? How small can you go before you run out of real estate when you’re trying to create your own little land for time to forget?