Memorial Day Walk 2017: Looking Up

Epiphyte, Hammock plant, Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area

Dick Atkinson (Class of 2005), Gayle Peters (Class of Winter 1999), John Warner (Class of 2012), Diane Morgan (Class of 2012), Gorgeous Gwendolyn (second ORCA “group” walk), Doreen McLeod (Class of 2010), Trich Kruza, Gayle Lafferty (Class of 2015), Bob Bruce (Class of 2012), Susan Warmer (Class of 2006), Jeanne Walther (Class of 2010), Michael Walther & John Kennedy (Class of 2004) enjoyed a walk at the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area on Sunday, May 28. The group stayed in the relative shade of the hammock canopy.

The epiphytes seemed especially abundant and lush, perhaps, in part, the result of Hurricane Matthew which, in October, thinned leaves and small branches from the long limbs of the live oaks (Quercus virginiana) allowing more sunlight to reach the epiphytes. These plants have adapted amazingly and complete photosynthesis without roots in soil or in the vascular system of the plant upon which they rest.

The southern needleleaf (Tillanadisa setacea) which dominates the photo above was full of flowers and was particularly reddened likely from increased exposure to sun. Also called quill-leaved wild pine, this plant resembles a clump of pine needles, but the term pine in its common name refers to its botanical lineage. The plant is a member of the Bromeliacace family, also known as the bromeliad or pineapple family.

John Kennedy was on the look-out for another type of epiphyte — orchids. ORCA is home to many butterfly orchids (Encyclia tampensis), the most abundant native orchid in Florida and the orchid for which the barrier island in Indian River County was named “Orchid Island“. Soon, it will be in bloom  at ORCA …

Some of the orchids seemed a bit sun-stressed …

Its pseudobulbs, the bulbous specialized storage structures shown above, seem to be in good condition, though, and you can see the flower stalks from last year’s flowers. It is growing from the deeply furrowed bark of a live oak tree in association with resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodiodies) and the grey strings of Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides).

Look closely to see how much of the resurrection fern is beginning to curl up to save moisture to await the next rainfall event when it will miraculously once again become a green carpet. Ferns reproduce via wind-borne spores and are more primitive than flowering plants.

The Spanish moss, despite its stringy sturcture, is amazingly able to complete photosynthesis using moisture and nutrients gleaned from the air, which is why epiphytes like Spanish moss and southern needleleaf are referred to as “air plants”. Spanish moss uses its spongy and hairy outer coating to conserve moisture and produces small flowers that split open to release tiny seeds. Winds spread the tiny seeds which are outfitted with silken hairs to propel them.

Enjoy the epiphytes & take to time to have a closer look!