Spring wildflowers in bloom at Corkscrew Swamp

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary still has room for one for the wildflower walks that takes place on April 27 from 9 a.m. to noon with Sally Stein, director of public programs, so call and reserve your spot now — (239) 348-9151, extension 108.

This is a wonderful opportunity to identify what’s blooming this month and find out more about the role these plants play in this ecosystem. Let Sally guide you through the swamp, spotting color as your eyes scan the edges of the boardwalk for the red color of the terrestrial leafless beaked orchid.

Let her introduce you to the fragrant elderberry and saw palmetto and explain their importance as food sources for wildlife. Continue to follow her along the dirt path in the pine uplands for the flowering understory shrubs and the sometimes elusive annuals. Overhead, you may hear the familiar cries of the apex predators in this ecosystem. These are raptors that include the red shoulder hawk, the bald eagle and the swallow-tailed kite. But nestled in with the grasses, vines and shrubs are some of our unique wildflowers along with the variety of insects, the base of our food web.

This time of the year when the water has receded to the lowest elevations in the swamp, the still moist grounds play host to a multitude of flowering shrubs, vines and annuals. These may include the coreopsis leavenworthii or tickseed as it is commonly called, a graceful and reliable spring annual. This is our state wildflower and a popular nectar source for butterflies.

Actually, this flower is a composite of two different types of flowers, the disk flowers which make up the center and the ray flowers along the outer edge. The plant that supports the zebra longwing, our state butterfly, is the corky stemmed passion flower. This is a harder one to view because the flowers are small and green but take a lens with you to check out the delicate nature of this flower.

This is a complete flower meaning that it contains all of the flower’s parts; calyx, corolla, stamens and pistil. It is also referred to as perfect because it contains both the pistil, the female component that contains the ovules and the stamens, the male component that contains the pollen that will fertilize the ovules, turning them into seeds.

Lining the path in the uplands you may come upon the low growing shiny blueberry along with the low growing blue pennyroyal, its minty fragrance and purple coloring giving it away on the path. The shrubs blooming now include the rusty lyonia, lyonia ferruginea, a nectar source for insects with leaves and flowers that are eaten by deer. The butterflies are helpful on this walk as your eye follows them from one nectar source to another and eventually to a plant identification which may include Spanish needles, bidens alba var. radiata or purple thistle, cirsium horridulum.

For some of our visitors at Corkscrew Swamp, it is the larger events that catch the eye. They may see a bear rambling next to the wet prairie, a bobcat taking a catnap at the edges of the swamp or maybe suddenly, come face to face with a barred owl on the boardwalk. But as you stop and take it all in, your eye will begin to focus and like a giant puzzle the pieces of flora and fauna will connect, revealing a marvelous and unique ecosystem.

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Audubon Florida’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary boasts a 2.25-mile boardwalk trail open every day of the year. The Sanctuary is located at the end of Sanctuary Road, 15 miles east of Interstate 75 off Immokalee Rd (exit 111). For admission fees and hours, call (239) 348-9151 or visit www.corkscrew.audubon.org.

© 2012 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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