Endearing Epiphytes at Cypress Bend

Cooler “fall” temperatures finally arrived for a 10-27-2018 group walk at the Cypress Bend Community Preserve (CBCP), a 47.25 acre property owned by Indian River County on the beautiful banks of the St. Sebastian River.  Nearly all (43 acres) of this Preserve is an abandoned citrus grove overtaken by weeds and invasive pest plants.  The natural area includes a bit of xeric scrub on the very highest ground, mature oak hammock, and freshwater wetlands.  Epiphytes are abundant at the CBCP, as they are at the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA).

Epiphytes are plants that grow on the surface of other plants (or objects like fences, benches & power line).  They are NOT parasites.  They get their nutrients and moisture from the air and from rain to perform photosynthesis.  Thus, they often are referred to as “air plants”.  They may be ferns, bromeliads, or orchids.  Some of them are able to gather nutrients from leaves & other debris that accumulates in or on them.

Pictured above at Cypress Bend Community Preserve is a red wild pine (Tillandsia fasciculata).   Cardinal wild pine and cardinal air plant are other common names for this “tank” bromeliad that holds water (and aquatic insects) in its center in the confines of cupped, stiff grayish green long leaves.  It flowers in the spring or early summer, and its common names refer to its striking red floral bracts.  Red wild pine reproduces via wind-borne seeds and via suckers (“pups”).

Green wild pine (Tillandsia utriculata), shown below, grows nearby and is a larger and stouter plant.   It does not produce suckers and reproduces only via wind-borne seed, so it is always a solitary.

When they are young, it can be difficult to differentiate these two species …

Southern needleleaf is the most common bromeliad at the CBCP and covered the long limbs of the large live oaks (Quercus virginiana).

Quill-leaf wild pine or porcupine wild pine are other common names for this bromeliad with its a cluster of needle-like leaves, sometimes reddish in color.

Interestingly, Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) and ball moss (Tillandsia recurvata), which are abundant at ORCA, are not present at CBCP.  Both preserves have lots of resurrection fern growing on the deeply furrowed bark of its live oaks.

We were fortunate that recent rains had bought the resurrection fern to life.  The fronds nearer to the Sebastian River were fully open, while the fronds were beginning to curl up to conserve moisture, showing their brownish, dead-appearing undersides.

Some of the fronds were fertile with rows of round spores cases (sporangia).

With constant moisture from the nearby St. Sebastian River, we also saw resurrection fern growing on the trunk of a saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) that was cut off on the edge of the trail.

Two ferns are associated with our Florida state tree, the cabbage palm (Sabal palmetto) and are found at both the CBCP and the ORCA:  Shoestring fern (Vittaria lineata) and cabbage palm fern (Phlebodium aureum).

Shoestring fern is aptly named.  It is a very primitive fern, not especially common, and grows only in the “boots” (old leafstems) of young cabbage palms in moist places.  It does NOT transplant.

Cabbage palm, also known as golden polypody fern and serpent fern, is far more common and also grows in the “boots” of cabbage palms from a hairy dark rhizome.  On occasion, this fern will be terrestrial.

Every preserve is different (just like every person).