A Paddle Across the Myakka Estuary to an Explosion of Flowers


Allain Hale from the Sierra Club organized an exploratory paddling trip for four of us across the Myakka River from Campbell Rd in North Port to the riverside campground in Myakka State Forest. This was an adventurous loop of about 3.5 miles starting in a large quarry, continuing down a narrow creek with extensive sand bars, and across a broad tidal river with strong NW winds blowing.

On landing at the campground on the western bank of the river, we gladly left our cramped seats in kayaks and walked through pine flatwoods within Myakka State Forest, last burned in November, 2016. Such burning sometimes stimulates the growth of flowers and I have in the past observed thousands of pink spiderworts blooming here after a burn. In this case however we found only one spiderwort, but there were large numbers of blackroot, Florida or Feay’s milkweed and rose rush in bloom. Even though the rarely seen native milkweeds were “lush,” their leaves are narrow and the potential food for monarch caterpillars is minimal. This explains why local butterfly enthusiasts who grow monarch caterpillars have to use exotic Mexican and giant milkweeds for food. The tubers of blackroot were indeed dark colored, and these roots which are a food storage organ for the plants, have been used for various medicinal purposes.

Fire stimulated bright green re-growth in coontie and the palmettos were in full bloom.

One of several butterfly species we observed was a tiny but beautiful Ceraunus blue. The eye spot on the rear of the hind wing likely serves to divert the attack of predators away from the real head.

The explosion of flowers we observed about three months after a fire in this area was remarkable and it is worth looking in recently burned areas of flatwoods over time to observe this spectacular but ephemeral phenomenon. I have also seen it occur along the Gordon Smith Trail, which can be accessed by driving into the forest from River Rd and walking to the trail head.


Bill Dunson

About Bill Dunson

Bill Dunson, born in rural Georgia, skipped 12th grade and went directly to Yale. Bill subsequent-ly received a PhD in Zoology from the University of Michigan, studying softshell turtles. Bill is Professor Emeritus of Pennsylvania State University thanks to a career spent entirely at that institution, teaching and doing research on the physio-logical ecology and ecotoxiciology of reptiles, amphibians and fish. Always curious about nature, Bill has dedicated his life to learning and sharing his knowledge with others. He has served on many advisory boards here in Southwest Florida to preserve the water that gives life to our region.

View all posts by Bill Dunson