It Was A Sealed-Bid Auction. Eight Timber Companies And The Nature Conservancy, An Organization Dedicated To Protecting Ecologically Important Lands, Submitted Bids. These Bids Were Opened One By One On October 2, 2000, In The Small Local Library. As The Envelopes Were Opened, The Name Of Each Timber Company And The Millions Of Dollars It Was Willing To Pay For The Right To Log The Old-Growth Forest Was Read Aloud. Finally, The Nature Conservancy’S Bid Was Revealed: $8.25 Million Just A Few Hundred Thousand More Than The Next Highest Bidder. Nature Writer Janisse Ray, Who Lives Near The Forest, Said, “The Moment It Was Purchased For Preservation I Will Recall As Among The Most Blessed Of My Life.”
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The Nature Conservancy Generously Opened The Forest To The Public So We Can Visit It And See At Least A Remnant Of The Old Longleaf Pine Ecosystem.
One Would Never Guess It At First Glance, But Longleaf Pine Forests Contain Some Of The Highest Levels Of Species Diversity On Earth Not In The Trees, But In The Herbaceous Wildflowers That Carpet The Ground. Normally I Am Able To Identify Most Of The Wildflowers I See Blooming, From The East Coast To The West, But I Was Amazed At What I Saw In This Small Section Of Longleaf Pines. There Were Many Plants In Flower, And Some Of Them I Had Never Seen Before, Anywhere. The Best-Known Groundcover In The Longleaf Pine Ecosystem Is Wiregrass, And I Did See That All Around Me, But I Also Saw Blooming Candyroot, Queen’S Delight, Cat Bells, Finger Rot, And Many More. (The Latin Names Are In The Notes.) My Wildflower Guides Did Not Cover This Region, So I Was Sketching, Photographing, And Memorizing. A Beautiful, Purple Skullcap Had Me Stumped. Of The Sixteen Hundred Plant Species Found Only In The Southeast, More Than Eight Hundred Of Them Are Found Only In The Longleaf Pine Ecosystem. No Wonder I Was Not Familiar With Them. These Plants, Called Endemics By Botanists, Had Not Spread From Someplace Else; They Had Become Distinct Species Right Here. I Found Myself Wishing For Better Botany Blogs, A Magnifying Lens, And Lots More Time But I Would Probably Still Be Finding New Things If I Spent A Decade In This Forest.
The Queen’S Delight Has Glossy, Green Leaves And A Spike Of Flowers That Give The Impression Of Yellow. But A Closer Look Shows That The Flowers Have No Petals. The Yellow I Saw Was From Pollen On The Anthers, And Clutching Every Spike Of Flowers Were A Few Black Insects, All Of The Same Species.
Again, I Investigated And Photographed. I Assumed That Once I Returned Home I Would Be Able To Solve The Mystery Of The Beetles That Love Queen’S Delight, A Plant With Toxic Sap. But Hours Of Research Turned Up No Other Reports Of This Association. Finally I Sent A Photograph To Whatsthatbug.Com, And The Response Came Back That It Was Possibly Some Type Of Rove Beetle. But There Are More Than Three Thousand Species Of Rove Beetles In North America Forty-Seven Thousand In The World And Very Few People Who Can Tell Them Apart. The Taxonomists Who Can Identify Them Are Discovering New Ones All The Time. (If You Want The Opportunity To Name An Organism, Rove Beetles Would Be A Good Subject To Study.) There Is One, Called The Black Lordithon, Which Is Associated With Old-Growth Forests. Considered Globally Rare, It Is Suspected To Occur In Georgia, But No One Knows For Certain. I Wondered If The Bugs I Found That Day Were Members Of This Globally Rare Beetle Species.
Later The Entomologists Wrote Again: They Had Been Wrong, And Now Thought It Was A Tumbling Flower Beetle. There Are Only Two Hundred Species Of That Type Of Beetle, So The Possibilities For Identification Were Considerably Narrowed, But Behavior And Life Cycle Have Only Been Studied In A Few Of Those. We Still Don’T Know Why They Are Attracted To Queen’S Delight, And What Exactly It Is They Are Doing On It. There Are Mysteries Beyond Mysteries Here, Too.
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