Monday, September 26, 2011

Trip Report: Florida native Encyclias

Our Florida vacation started with a bang, when we spent two nights camped in a chickee hut in the northern part of the Florida Everglades.  Our little hut was on stilts in a swampy area on Seminole reservation land.  Directly next to our hut was the entrance to a boardwalk running about a half mile (by my estimation) through a cypress stand.  We went out on this boardwalk twice and really enjoyed it.  It easily landed in the top 3 activities on our trip.

Christie at the entrance to the boardwalk, sporting her very appropriate alligator shirt
Along the walk we encountered several alligators, some large and some mid-sized.  The largest one was camped just outside the back pier of our chickee hut.  Yes, our chickee hut had it's own boardwalk leading back to a picnic table. That's how cool this place was.

Our chickee hut from the front
Our chickee hut along the back walkway
Anyway, the alligator behind our chickee hut was probably easily an 8-footer.  We were just about sure that he was fake since he wasn't moving, but the next day we noticed he was in a slightly different position.  Christie has a theory that he had just eaten a large meal (the people who stayed in our chickee hut before us) and so he was just resting (and waiting for the next careless chickee renters to fall in).  We saw several alligators along the boardwalk, including the one pictured below.

One of the larger alligators watching us just a couple feet away.
Wandering the boardwalk

From the boardwalk you could see trees covered in Tillandsias.  It was almost comical at some points to see how many Tillandsias were coating the trunks or hanging twigs of the trees around us.

Tillandsia madness

Large Tillandsias

More Tillandsias
From what we learned, the area we were in would be on the northern part of what is considered the Everglades.  The Everglades is a large region of subtropical wetlands that gently slopes downwards as you go south.  So the entire area is slowly draining towards the sea.  It is not really a swamp, since the water is moving and not stagnant.  However, by observation, there are small pockets where water is motionless and I think the boardwalk here was built over one of those stagnant and swampy areas.  This may or may not have an impact on what plants grow in this area.  I imagine there were no fewer than 5 different species of Tillandsia.  I'm sure a Tillandsia nut would have been able to pick them out, but that is not me.  Also, we probably saw 4 or 5 different species of fern.

Really nice fern
An interesting lanceolate fern near the water line
We did see some other animal life, besides gators.

Nice butterfly. Just when you think it's going to sit still, it starts to move again...
White Ibis - Eudocimus albus
White ibis (Eudocimus albus)
When we had just about reached the end of our trek the first time, I noticed the first orchid perched on the side of a tree - an Encyclia.  As we retraced our steps on the boardwalk back to our chickee hut, I began to see them all over the place.  My eyes just had to become attuned to look for them.  Without seeing any of these plants in bloom I can't definitively identify the species, but as far as I understand, only Encyclia tampensis grows in this area, so it should be that species.   Encyclia tampensis is common enough in Florida to be known as the "Florida Butterfly" orchid.

The first Encyclia sighting!

Encyclia (upper) and Tillandsia (lower)

Baby Encyclias spotted along with resurrection fern
Encyclia size comparison
The next morning when we went on the same boardwalk through this stand, I started seeing even more.  I quickly noticed that one of the larger Encyclias had a seed pod perched on a thin bloom stalk above the plant.  Then I began to notice other Encyclias with this same seed pod.

Boardwalk in morning light
Encyclia with seedpod.  Look closely in the upper left.  It is green and shaped like a little football.

Encyclia with more visible seedpod
It was great to see these plants growing in their natural habitat and in such prolific numbers.  I was actually able to cross an item off my bucket list by seeing these little orchids growing in nature.  Collecting these plants is illegal and I was happy to uphold the law, only photographing the plants and taking pleasure in the fact that they are doing so well in their natural habitat.

Photographing the Encyclias
Yes, I could even touch them! This is one happy guy!


  1. So glad you all enjoyed your trip and saw some unusual plants and gators!

  2. This was a perfect "encyclias in nature" post! Good job!

  3. !!! Wild orchids are the most exciting thing ever (except maybe that hut you rented... that looks pretty awesome too). I think your mystery white bird is a white ibis, Eudocimus albus.

  4. I love your pictures! I was wondering if you know how I could rent this chickee! I love the everglades and would love to stay in that chickee it is awsome! Thanks again for the great post! Ken

  5. thanks for the reply!That place looks awsome! do you know what # of the chickee is? was it hot inside, i guess it has no eletric?
    thanks again!

  6. Ken, I looked at our pictures and I think we were in number 30. If you look at the map on their website ( we were in the last chickee hut on the road, right at the nature boardwalk entrance (lower of the two on the map). Think of the chickee hut as a screened in porch with a bed. No glass windows, no restroom. There is a restroom with a shower near the main office. It's a lot like camping and really a lot of fun. Take mosquito repellant, a camera, and have a good time!