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Ponce de Leon Springs State Park Field Trip by Lizzy Jenny Dunn


Photo 1. Longleaf Pine and Sweet Bay Chapters joint field trip to Ponce de Leon Springs State Park.

In November 2021, Longleaf Pine Chapter and Sweetbay Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society conducted their first-ever combined Chapter field trip in an attempt to reach out to more folks interested in experiencing native plants in the panhandle. Organized by Longleaf Pine Chapter Vice President, Kimberly Bremner, and Sweetbay Chapter President, Jody Wood-Putnam, and led by Jim Burkhalter, curator of the University of West Florida Michael I. Cousens Herbarium, the group convened on Ponce de Leon Springs State Park in Holmes County.

Photo 2. On the group hike on the Ponce de Leon Springs State Park Field Trip.

With 22 people in attendance, the group identified approximately 108 different species on the excursion. The park boasts nine distinct habitats across the 406 acres of land; and from the beautiful Sandy Creek amongst the mixed hardwood forest (Magnolia grandiflora, Vaccinium arboretum, Quercus michauxii, etc.) to the upland pine forest on the south side of the park (Panicum virgatum, Eupitorium capitifolium, Solidago odorata, etc.) our members enjoyed the great botanical diversity and good company of new friends.

As outgoing President of Longleaf Pine Chapter and Mother to a budding, young naturalist, this trip was a particularly sentimental culmination of my time with the FNPS. Ever since my first field trip with Longleaf Pine Chapter, my young son, Matias, has accompanied me. At times, his presence diminished my ability to focus on my own education, but what I sometimes lost there, I gained in enjoyment as I watched him grow and develop a fondness for plants and nature hikes since the age of one and a half. On this last trip of ours, his curiosity and engagement were more evident than ever. At one point, he pointed out a grass and asked me and several others around us what it was. I honestly had no idea (nor did I think it looked particularly interesting to be quite honest). Nonetheless, he was determined to find out. I told him he would have to ask Jim (our botanical expert). Before I knew it, he plucked the grass from the ground and went running up to the head of the group to seek Jim’s expertise. Now, please understand, this was the first time he had ever done such a thing as to pull the entire plant from the ground, root and all. I do not condone that behavior and we did discuss later, that in the future, he should not pull an entire plant from the ground while trying to identify it, so please pardon this mistake as he was only 3 at the time and very eager. Upon chasing down Jim, he showcased his grass and asked Jim to identify it, but low and behold, Jim was stumped. This, my friends, does not happen often. For anyone who knows Jim Burkhalter, you would know he has a nearly encyclopedic mind for plant identification, Carl Linnaeus history, old movies, and Pink Floyd lyrics, but Matias stumped him on this grass. Luckily Jim does not accept defeat. He bagged the grass and brought it back to the University of West Florida (UWF) for a proper identification by keying it out after the field trip. A few days later Jim called to tell me that the grass, which he referred to as the wimpy, nerdly, little grass, was Agrostis perennans (autumn bent grass). While this is a common species throughout North America, it is not common in Northwest Florida. In fact, he was surprised to discover that he did not already have a specimen in the UWF Herbarium and so he decided to mount Matias’ plant and enter it into the official Herbarium collection for Holmes County, Florida!

Photo 3. Jim Burkhalter and Matias Dunn mounting Agrostis perennans in the University of West Florida (UWF) Michael I. Cousens Herbarium.  

On Monday, 22 November, 2 days before our family packed up and moved on from Pensacola with our next Navy job, Matias and I visited Jim at the UWF Michael I. Cousens Herbarium. Accompanied by Duane Tant and Kimberly Bremner, we had a behind the scenes tour of the amazing work that Jim has accomplished over his 48 years as curator of the herbarium and the more than 27,500 specimens he maintains. As promised, he had beautifully mounted Matias’ specimen of Agrostis perenens from Ponce de Leon State Park and even listed Matias T. Dunn as the collector along with Jim Burkhalter, the identifier.


Photo 4. Jim Burkhalter, Matias Dunn, and Lizzy Jenny displaying the new Agrostis perennans specimen at the Herbarium.

As mother and Longleaf Pine Chapter President, I couldn’t have been prouder of the accomplishment and really, all our time in Pensacola over our brief two and a half years. As Chapter President I learned a tremendous amount about the incredibly extensive biodiversity of my temporary Florida panhandle home, while also connecting with so many brilliant plantsmen and women in the area. To join forces with our neighboring Chapter and have such an awesome last trip really sealed my experience. I am so proud to have had the pleasure and opportunity to have been a part of the Florida Native Plant Society. I look forward to seeing the Longleaf Pine Chapter continue to grow as a botanical leader in the panhandle, led by our new President, Kimberly Bremner! Furthermore, I look forward to taking these experiences with me and my family as we move on to our next duty station with the Navy and mine and Matias’ next stage of our botanical careers.

Photo 5. Jim and Matias in the field together.