Monday, January 11, 2010

Welcome To The Frozen Swamp

If you are a tourist planning to visit Louisiana in the wintertime to escape the frozen north, be advised it is not always tropical here. We have warning signs posted in front of our bridges advising drivers that bridges may ice in cold weather.

Yes that is ice in the swamp near my house. As rare as it is, it does happen that once in a great while, we do get extended hard freezes along the Gulf Coast.

The title of this blog is the greeting offered to fans of The Louisiana Ice Gators Hockey Team as they arrive at The Cajundome, home of the Louisiana Ice Gators.

Judging by the inch thick ice in the ditches and horse trough at my house as seen below, one could presume that global warming is a thing of the past! The winters of South Louisiana are usually mild and sometimes what is happening now, catches many local people off guard, resulting in transportation complications not commonly experienced here in our subtropical environment such as; frozen car doors, frosted windshields, and slippery road conditions due to bridges freezing and causing many accidents.

Here is a photo of frost on plants at 11AM on the third day of lows in the teens and highs in the thirties.

Below is a blossom of the Mallow plant encrusted with frost crystals. Although the roots and most of the stem is in an inch of ice, it appears to be very freeze hardy.

All three of these photos show how some plants(such as Mallow) can survive an extended hard freeze, and this one looks like it will go one for a week or so.

Notice in the photo below that most of the plants below the ice are dying.

Although rare and unfortunate for our broken water pipes, and inconvienent frozen windshields, these freezes are an important part of the ecology of South Louisiana.

Hard freezes are natural plant control!

And, if you have been following my blog for the last year you know I am opposed to chemical, government applied plant control at Lake Martin.

Below are a couple of photos of my swamp tour boat parked in my yard in February, 2009.

Below are photos of my boat and car parked in my yard in December,2009.

OK, that is snow 1" thick, twice in the same year, and now...

And now January 10, 2010 as you can see in the photos below, we have an inch of ice in the swamp.

Below is a photo showing the floating mat of plants dying in an inch of ice.

All of this leads to my conclusion that perhaps chemical plant control at Lake Martin is not as important as some people think.

Below is my anylasis of the floating mats of plants at Lake Martin over the last twenty years of doing swamp tours here.

When I first started doing swamp tours at Lake Martin in my air boat in 1989, there was a lot of okefenoke everywhere. In the course of about five years most of it disintergrated and disappeared. I was disappointed because I would get out of my boat and walk on it to demonstate the concept of "trembling earth".

Or let my dog out of the boat and allow him to walk on it.

As you can see below, my dogs love to get out of the boat and hunt when in the swamp.

So what is okefenokee?

First you must understand that the stems and leaves of most of the plants in a floating mat of living plants are self supporting floats, because of closed cell construction. What that means is that the plants float because the stems and leaves are like strofoam.

When on tour, I demonstrate this by breaking open the stems of water hyacinths and dollar bonnet to show the closed cell construction.

Most of the floating plants that flourished and formed thick floating mats of living plants during the summer growing season, will now die and create a thick mat of decomposing plants which will still float due to a rich supply of methane gas produced as a by product of plant decomposition.

In the photo below it looks like trees growing on floating land, but actually what is there is trees growing in about 4-6 feet of water with the first layer, in the first year, of okefenokee beginning to form.

Although mallow, and penny wort will not freeze and begin growing and blooming in wintertime, most of the new growth for 2010 will not really get going until it warms up in March and many new plants will grow upon the floating mat of last years decomposing plants.

Although the mat of decomposing plants is in itself very fragile it is stabilized by the roots of the living plants that grow on top of the mat in the growing season.

This new growth produces even more plants than the year before because last years decomposing plants allows some plants to grow over standing water covered with the floating nutrient rich muck, which could not grow there otherwise because they are not able to float on their own. As this living, then dying plant growth builds up layer upon layer, year after year it forms what is known as okefenokee. Okefenokee is an Native American word that means "trembling earth".

As okefenokee builds up year after year it gets so thick you can walk on it. And walking on it, is like walking on a water bed, it undulates.

Ten years ago, I wondered why there was so much okefenokee in the early 90's and then most of it had disappeared by 2000.

Of course I suspected human intervention in the form of too much boat traffic or maybe the abundance of nutria were slowly disintegrating the 12" thick mat of decomposing plants. And because shrimp and crawfish injest decomposing plants(known as detritus), I suspected that perhaps the degradation was occurring below the water and thus not visable to the human eye.

But today I believe that I was witnessing an end to a biological/chemical cycle that is just beginning to evolve again in this new decade.

The importance of the floating mat of plants is an issue of great debate amounst the plant experts whose government paid job is, to chemically destroy these misunderstood and undervalued plants in the swamps and marshland of Louisiana.

I will post my observations of the evolution of okefenokee in this blog throughout this coming year.

A simple definition of a swamp is: a wetlands dominated by trees. And of course the sunset reflected on the water is gorgeous in a cypress swamp aseen below.

But although dominated by trees, the swamp should contain an infinate variety of floating and submerged plants as well. Such as Resurrection Fern as seen below.

And that "fern", like spanish moss(as seen below) is actually a bromiliad.

And when the swamp is freezing, don't we look forward to the warm return of spring as seen below!

In a couple of months we will have thawed out and I can once again show pictures of alligators sunning themselves as they rest on a layer of evolving okefenokee.

Below is the last photo and sighting of alligators at Lake Martin for 2009, taken right before the Thanksgiving holidays.

My prediction is: unless it warms up, we won't see alligators again until the middle to the end of March.

In the music scene, the Blue Moon Saloon is open again after the big freeze last week with a great show on Friday celebrating Lil' Buck Senegal's birthday, and on Saturday it is 4 bands in one night called the Grammy Send Off Party! Scheduled to play beginning at 8:30 are The Magnolia Sisters, 9:30 Zachary Richard, 10:30 Donna Angelle, and 11:30 Cedric Watson. You can check out the Moon's schedule on the link above.

Also found a new little hangout in Carencro, called O'Darby's, with great music, good food, and really cool nice people. On Sunday, there is a band called Dustin Sonnier and Six Pack. On Mondays, it's steak night with a great open mike/jam session.

See you at the lake,