Monday, November 22, 2010

A Trip to the Pocosin

Pocosins are densely vegetated, unspoiled forests. Derived from the Algonquin word for swamp on a hill, pocosins can be found along the southern Atlantic Coastal Plain. Perhaps their most important value is that of providing habitats for endangered species and species adapted to living in untouched areas. See

I had the opportunity to the Pike County Pocosin this afternoon. It is a 190 acre nature preserve tract with the Forever Wild Program.

Image taken from

I have a pretty vivid imagination. Combined with tales of legend, you can picture how my imagination can get carried away. Prior to the visit, I pictured exceptionally neat walking trails dotted with exotic floral species and small wildlife a safe distance away. Sounds fantastic (and a bit naive) right. What I actually got was a two-hour hike downhill through brush and bramble, dotted with Carolina Jessamine (if you don't remember these from a previous posting, they're the super poisonous vines I tossed from my garden). Let me interject that I had a fun, learning experience. But there were some really scary moments for a city girl like me.

Upon arrival, we came across a dead doe and her baby, entrails hanging out. For a second, I thought I was in an Alan Jacobson novel. Both had been mutilated for their tenderloins. Apparently it's the filet mignon of deer. Then as we read the warning postings, my group learned that hunting was allowed on the grounds. None of us were wearing orange. The leaders of our group however surmised that because it was the middle of the day, the game would not be out frolicking. And the hunters would likely wait for the full moon tonight which would draw the deer out. Not exactly scientific, but made enough sense for us to continue. Just in case, we made a racket along the way, which included shouting 'I'm not a deer!'.

Just as I had relaxed about entering a hunting zone improperly dressed, one member of our team remarked that she wished she'd brought a pistol to shoot snakes. Great. Eyes peeled on the ground for mocassins and ears tuned for rattlers, I did manage to see several springs (my first), a creek bed, dozens of oak varieties, tulip trees, wild blackberry, nandina, the original holly tree, reindeer moss, peat moss, prickly pear, a squirrel nest, an armadillo hole, snake holes, and deer tracks. It was stunning. If I were more of a country girl, this would be the ideal place for some quiet time, but the forest noises kept me somewhat on edge. Case in point, the cow somewhere in the distance mooing that I would have sworn was an ATV backfiring. (I'm still trying to figure out what the heck a cow was doing in the middle of a pocosin. Either that was one lost cow, or we were near to pastureland that backed up to the forest.)

After a few hours we made it out safely. Although my group probably believes otherwise, I am really grateful for the experience and did enjoy it. Will I do it again? I don't know. I'd have to be wearing an orange vest and knee-high goloshes, armed with a machete and a pistol.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rain Gardens

Like I friend of mine said, 'I installed a rain garden in my yard before I even know what a rain garden was'. Essentially, I had an area on the top of my driveway that collected and held water after it rained. One option was to install a French Drain which would have run about $500. That was a definite no-go. The other was to find plants whose roots love to get and stay wet (and tolerate shade) and create a new garden. Bingo! In my search, I acquired Elephant Ears, Black-Stemmed Elephant Ears, perennialized Ferns and Louisiana Iris, all from friends happy to get rid of them.

Subsequently I heard about the ACES' interest in installing a rain garden at the Pioneer Museum of Alabama (PMAL), where I also volunteer. I decided this would be a great opportunity to learn exactly what a rain garden is, what it does and how to correctly install one.

Very simply put, a rain garden is a depressed flower bed (about two feet in the ground), placed at least ten feet from a building structure, to collect rain water runoff, thereby:
  1. preventing the runoff from contaminating nearby water sources
  2. enabling the water to reabsorbed into the ground, which acts as a natural filtration system
  3. preventing erosion
It must be filled with native plants because these are pre-conditioned to deal with very wet and very dry conditions. The bed should be heavily composted (during) and mulched (immediately after) to provide nutrients and preserve moisture.

After an extensive calculation to determine the ideal spot and size, a 250 sq/ft rain garden was installed at the PMAL on a rainy and very cold morning. It is filled with Coreopsis, Agarista, Stokes' Aster and Echinacea. It needs some time to grow in, but should be promising in the spring.

Obviously I unknowingly skipped a few steps in my personal installation, particularly the two-feet excavation, but mine does just about the same thing. Bear in mind, this isn't anywhere close to 250 sq/ft. Of course, most of it has now died back with the frost. But I'm looking forward to enjoying it in spring.

Guess Who Came To Dinner

The other evening while inspecting my gardens, my daughter and I noticed the wierdest half moth / half hummingbird freak of nature drinking nectar from my Ryan's Pink Chrysanthemum plant. I scopped up my baby and raced inside for the camera. Luckily it was still there happily drinking away. I was able to snap a few pics before it flew away.

Later that night I scoured the Internet for this species. You'll never believe it, it was a five-spotted hawk moth (aka sphinx moth or hummingbird moth). If this still means nothing to you, remember those pesky tomato hornworms I was so busy killing earlier this year? Well the five-spotted hawk moth is the tomato hornworm all grown up. Fancy that!

I came across several websites praising the beauty of moths in general, and five-spotted hawk moths in particular. I learnt that moths are nighttime pollinators as butterflies are daytime pollinators. Pretty important huh. This tidbit later influenced my perception of the five-spotted hawkmoth...I suddenly found them more beautiful. Don't get me wrong, they're no ruby-throated hummingbird or monarch butterfly, but there's something to be said for a creature that can go either way. It had the markings and wing span of a moth but the stealth of a hummingbird. Who knew. But don't take my word for it, take an evening stroll around your own garden and keep your eyes out for one.