Today, we got to see a real treat – Lignumvitae Key State Botanical Park. The park is located on the Key of the same name and is accessible only by boat. The island has been spared the development of the rest of the area and includes the best example of rockland hardwood hammock (subtropical broadleaf forest) in the Keys. Lignumvitae is a tropical tree of the Caribbean that is found natively in a few hammocks in the Florida Keys. The dense, dark-grained, oily heartwood of this species was traditionally used in making boat propeller shafts and is so heavy that it sinks in water. Before we headed out, Professors Carrier and Skean reminded us about the history and the flora and fauna we were about to see.
Professor Carrier gives us all a short lesson on the history of Lignumvitae Botanical Park while Davide Zailo, Sam Yackel and Dan Klarr look on.
Professor Skean takes over and reminds us of the botanical uniqueness of the area we are heading out to see.
We had to take a short ferry ride leaving from Robbie’s, a local fishing tour company. While we were waiting, the tour guides gave us fish to feed the pelicans.
One of the pelicans puts on a display for the fish in Holly Grand’s hand while (from left), Alison Gailey, Cynthia Hanson and Ashli Wilson look on.
Even though the sun was shining, there was still a chill in the air. From left, Chris Wardlaw, Lannis Smith, Holly Grand, Sam Yackel, Ashli Wilson, Heather Nobert, Rachel Leads and Ashley Tewilliager are bundled up against the wind, waiting to leave the dock.
Once we got to the island, Ranger Jerry took good care of us. He led us on an hour and half walk around the island, pointing out the different trees and bushes that are unique to the area.
Also on the island is a nesting pair of ospreys. Ranger Jerry told us that the same pair had been returning to the site for the past six years, raising over 12 chicks there during their years in residence. Chris Wardlaw has his binoculars trained on the nesting site, to the right of the house. Even from this distance you can get a feel for the size of the nest!
The park is named for the Lignumvitae tree (Guiacum sanctum). Alison Gailey, Trevor Floyd and Cynthia Hanson stand beneath the twisting and gnarled branches of an old tree.
In addition to the trees and other plants, we saw several arachnids. Lannis Smith stopped to get some close-up photographs of the next to invisible webs and their tenants.
The favorite subject was a small, red spider with an unusual body. Below you can see the front and the back of the creature.
On the island were the ruins of an old wall that runs east-west, built from the coral of the island.
Dan Klarr walks past a blolly tree covered in spanish moss.
After our tour of the hardwood hammock was over, we posed for picture in front of the National Champion (largest in the U.S.) shortleaf fig tree.
After we finished with our tour, we got a short lecture from Bill Schwicker, a friend of Professor Carrier, who builds wooden boats by hand.
Here you can see Bill in his boat, VIVA. Viva is a shoal draft (shallow water) boat that was originally designed for use on the northern waters around New Haven in the early 1800’s. The “Sharpies,” as they are known, made their way into south Florida around the early 1900’s, and Capt. Billy’s restorations have been featured in Wooden Boat magazine. Even though they were invited aboard, none of the students took him up on his offer, probably afraid they might mar the boat!
After a late lunch, we headed back to Mote for a little free time. Some students went out for another spin in the kayaks, some braved the cold water for some snorkeling, but most of them took the time to write in their journals and upload photos from the day.
Lacie Carter, Trevor Floyd, Davide Zailo and Holly Grand work on their journals, while Professors Carrier and Skean gather around the latest photos of the day.
Next up? Tomorrow is a really early day because we are heading out to the Dry Tortugas, about 70 nautical miles west of Key West. But before we all turn in, we are going to make S’Mores around the Keys bonfire!