During my vacation last week to Panama City Beach, Ian Tench and I rode through Apalachicola National Forest into Tate's Hell State Forest. I will discuss Tate's Hell in an upcoming post and will concentrate on ANF here. Thursday, Ian and I headed southward via SR 12 from Bristol Florida later accessing SR 379 and SR 69. This route is classified as a scenic byway and offers excellent views of Longleaf Pine Savannahs and swampy areas. We also visited Camel Lake and hiked a mile or so around it checking out the forests there. I was astounded by the Longleaf while Ian was astounded by the size of the biting flies! This trip gave me my really first good look at the Longleaf Pine and it's forest type. I discovered its growth stages. Grass, Bottlebrush, Sapling and Mature. While I have seen Longleaf Before ( Planted specimens at the Biltmore Estate ) and Lowland Larry Tucei gave me one of those huge cones from one in Mississippi, this was the first intimate look at them in their real homeland. I also found the openness of the forest unique. Here we have Longleaf, and in some areas Slash Pine, with an occaisional hardwood tree thrown in with a nearly open understory. Wiregrass and Palmetto dominate the forest floor. They are also numerous wildflowers. The NPS has controlled burns here since this is supposed to be a fire controlled type of forest. I am sure nature occasionally has a hand in it too.
Many areas in the forest had a very natural appearance but some areas of Longleaf has been planted plantation-style. That is in long rows. While I agree in re-planting longleaf and getting the species to a more prominent position again, I just wonder if they can find a way to plant trees more at random? Planting them in straight lines is probably easier but can be hardly called natural.
Camel Lake has quite a few small cypress trees along it's shores. I suspect them to be Pondcypress. By what I have read they are more common than Baldcypress in this part of Florida. I don't really know how to tell them apart.
Here are two Longleaf Pines I measured near Camel Lake. The first is 79.2 feet tall and 5' 6" cbh. The second 56.1 feet tall and 5' 11 1/4" cbh. It seems that few trees here reach 100 feet and I would say that only a rare one would exceed 110. At least in the small amount of forest I visited. The forest is very young in many places, but according to sources on the web the forest dates back into the 1930s so they have to be some trees around dating to that time.
It's still cool seeing pines with cones nearly the size of footballs!
Tate's Hell comes Next!