Yesterday, I went down to the river. I never tire of visiting, for the experience is always new, always changing. The Peace River is an unsung river, small in scale, and usually conspicuously absent on maps of Florida. For much of its length, it is relatively unspoilt, undeveloped, and truly a peaceful place of respite.
We walk through the woods to reach the river. Moss-draped live oaks dominate the canopy of this forest, with palmettos blanketing the forest floor.
My walk is going to take a while, for I am definitely distracted. There are so many wildflowers to spy along the way. This is lyreleaf sage (Salvia lyrata).
And here is coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), vining through the trees and keeping the hummingbirds happy.
Carolina jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens) was twining high in the canopy. I would have never spotted these beautiful vines had I not noticed fallen flowers scattered on the path.
Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron strigosus) flowers were strewn cheerfully along the path.
The beautiful fringe trees were shining brightly in the tangled understory of the forest.
Fringe tree flowers are even more fascinating close-up.
And here's my mystery shrub. These delicate beauties bloom along the path every spring. I'm certain they belong to the Heath family. At first, I thought maybe a fetterbush or staggerbush, but the bells are too short and the leaves are different. The closest I've come to identifying it is the honeycup (Zenobia pulverulenta), but those should not be growing in Zone 9 Florida (?). The bushes are growing in Hardee County. They've been here as long as I've been coming to the river. Please, if anyone can help.... (Post-publish note: I do believe these are honeycups, as I have found a couple of websites that list the zones as 5-9 and confirm that they do grow in Florida. Thanks, Sweetbay, for helping to confirm this!)
I love the tiny white bells and would like to have this plant in my own garden.
Here is a good shot of the leaves.
I think this is the coolest lichen! It is found all over the tree trunks here in these woods (though I never see it in my own garden). It looks as though someone has splashed the trees with paint.
It is Cryptothecia rubrocincta, better known as the Christmas lichen, so called due to its color. It can be found in subtropical and tropical forests of the American continents.
So many interesting things to be found in such a small space!
We have arrived at the River of Peace. It is a slow-flowing course.
Here, a mighty oak arches across the water, nearly touching the surface.
Our native sabal palmetto (Florida's state tree) and cypress trees line the river.
The buttress of this cypress tree is several feet across.
I didn't see much wildlife today, as it was noonish and quite hot at the time of my walk. But I did see a few turtles. And my journey came to an abrupt halt when I startled a gator on the bank of an ox-bow lake. I'm afraid that the gator startled me as well, since I did not see it as I quietly crept through the branches, looking for, what else, but gators. It lunged into the water in a huge splash, while I ran screaming the other way. If she hadn't jumped in, I might have stepped on her, for she was just a few feet below me as I made my way down the bank. The ox-bow lakes, which are really swampy ponds, are a great place to get alligator photos, as the females use these protected habitats to raise their babies. She takes them back to the river when they have grown large enough to fend for themselves. Did you know that alligators are good mothers? Anyway, I've photographed moms and babies alike here in the ox-bow lakes before. But there would be no photos this day. My heart raced all the way back down the path, and I couldn't escape quickly enough. That was too close of an encounter for me! I'll think twice next time.