White Birds in a Nest (Macbridea alba) is a threatened Florida wildflower in the mint family that is found in the panhandle. It favors pine woods and savannas in environments that require periodic fires that manage the ecosystem. Years ago, somebody said the flowers reminded them of birds eggs or the heads of baby birds, and the notion became its common name.
Fire suppression–rather than letting natural and necessary burns take place–has played havoc with this plant along with many others in longleaf pine environments. It depends of bumblebees for pollination, and those are in decline. And then, too, there’s always the land’s old enemy development which takes its toll. Pesticides and pastures are among the usual suspects.
When I was growing up in Florida, these plants were much more common than they are now. I mention them in my 1950s-era folk magic crime novels because they were very much a part of the characters’ environment, a part of the wild flower display you can see along state highway 65 between Eastpoint on the Gulf coast north through the Apalachicola National Forest to SR 12 just west of Quincy. The flower can also be found in Alabama. The blooms stand out in their natural habitats between May and August.
When people find these flowers in the wild, they often pick them, thinking they can take them home and display them in a vase. They’re too fragile for that and will probably wilt in the car on the way back to the house. The Forest Service, in Ethics and Native Plants, states that “For many of us a field of wildflowers is one of the most beautiful experiences we can encounter in Nature. There is a deep impulse we carry from childhood into adulthood to reach out and pick a flower in a beautiful butterfly-filled meadow or along a public wooded trail lined with spring beauties, irises, or wake-robins. It is because we all carry such memories that we have devoted an entire website to Celebrating Wildflowers. Millions of people visit the public lands each year and if only a small fraction of them each picked a few flowers, soon there would be none for the rest of us to enjoy.”
If you live in Florida or are visiting the state, you can see White Birds in a Nest in Bay, Gulf, Franklin, and Liberty counties. The Apalachicola National Forest has the most stable populations.
I find these flowers to be quite showy and hope we can preserve them via common sense and Forest Service preservation plans.
In the 1950s retired lawyer and Republican candidate for governor Elvy Edison Callaway opened his Garden of Eden Park along the highway in the Florida Panhandle town of Bristol. Callaway believed that God had created man in the delta of the Apalachicola river, which split into four rivers, just as the Bible describes four rivers leading out of Eden. – Atlas Obscura
Florida’s Garden of Eden park near Bristol in the panhandle west of Tallahassee is long gone, though in its memory, there’s still a Garden of Eden Trail in the Nature Conservancy’s Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve:
According to the Conservancy, the “Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserveprotects one of the rarest of habitats: steephead ravines and streams. The Apalachicola River and Bay region is one of five biological hotspots in North America; it is unique to Florida and home to a disproportionate number of imperiled species. The preserve’s longleaf pine sandhill uplands have undergone a complete transformation over the past 30-years: the groundcover restoration techniques developed at ABRP are currently being used across the southeastern U.S.”
Nearby Torreya State Park , (north of the Bluffs and Ravines Preserve) and also at Bristol, makes for a great side trip.
The 3.75 mile trail leads to Alum Bluff overlooking the Apalachicola River. If you’re new to Florida, or live in the peninsula region, the sheep head ravines, longleaf pines, and sand hills are a sight to see.
Fortunately, a lot of restoration work has been going on there, including the introduction of wiregrass plugs and pine seedlings. Ensuring the preservation of the endangered Florida torreya and Florida yew trees is still in doubt. I hope we don’t lose them.
I took a dim view of the park and the Eden theory when I was growing up in nearby Tallahassee. However, as a writer of a trilogy of magical realism novels set near the trail, the site and and its potential symbolism have been a great way to add myths and local color to the novels. And, as an environmentalist, I’m happy with the Nature Conservancy’s protection and proactive restoration work on behalf of this unique environment.
In addition to the conservancy, groups like the Torreya Guardians are also working to save the Torreya tree. Among other things, experiments that appear to have promise include planing seedlings in a variety of environments (not necessarily in Florida) to see if healthy trees can be created and subsequently returned to their natural environment.
If you live in the Florida Panhandle or are going there for a visit and want to see visit the trail, Florida Hikes as a brief overview here.
We hear that books in series tend to sell better than standalone books. But, we also hear that if the first book in a series is well liked, the author might have trouble keeping readers’ interests in subsequent books.
Early reviewers who liked “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” said they though book two, “Eulalie and Washer Woman” was even better. The readers were happy and I was relieved that I hadn’t botched up the whole thing by writing a sequel.
The odd thing is, the sequel has sold fewer copies than the original and has a fraction of the reviews. Go figure.
So, I had mixed feelings writing a third book. On one hand, I thought that with the declining interest shown for book two, it was kind of silly to write book three. However, I had a few things left to say. Or, perhaps, the characters did. Book three was harder to write than the previous books. So, it took longer.
But finally, Lena is almost ready to send to my publisher. We’ve already been having conversations about the cover. As far as the cover goes, our artist for books one and two has moved onto other things. So, we’ll need somebody new.
What’s left to do? Well, this is the polishing the manuscript phase. That means going through the story page by page to get rid of any inconsistencies, typos, continuity problems, or stupid mistakes I can find before sending the DOC file to Thomas-Jacob Publishing. Fortunately, we have a great editor who will catch 99 and 44/100 percent of the mistakes I miss.
I have no idea how long it will take to get everything squared away. Several months, perhaps. Like most authors who get to know their characters throughout a series of books, I will miss these people. But, I suspect it’s time to move on to other themes and other stories. (I reserve the right to change my mind.)
For years, I wondered if I would ever find the characters and story lines to write about the racism in Florida during the years when I was growing up. For prospective readers, I hope I did.
My Florida Folk Magic series novel Eulalie and Washerwoman has been available on Kindle this spring for only 99¢. However, we’re wrapping up this Kindle promotion soon, so this is a great time to get your copy before we return to the regular price.
Description: Torreya, a small 1950s Florida Panhandle town, is losing its men. They disappear on nights with no moon and no witnesses. Foreclosure signs appear in their yards the following day while thugs associated with the Klan take everything of value from inside treasured homes that will soon be torn down.
The police won’t investigate, and the church keeps its distance from all social and political discord. Conjure woman Eulalie Jenkins, her shamanistic cat, Lena, and neighbor Willie Tate discover that the new “whites only” policy at the once friendly mercantile and the creation of a plantation-style subdivision are linked to corrupt city fathers, the disappearing men, rigged numbers gambling, and a powerful hoodoo man named Washerwoman. After he refuses to carry Eulalie’s herbs and eggs and Willie’s corn, mercantile owner Lane Walker is drawn into the web of lies before he, too, disappears.
Washerwoman knows how to cover his tracks with the magic he learned from Florida’s most famous root doctor, Uncle Monday, so he is more elusive than hen’s teeth, more dangerous that the Klan, and threatens to brutally remove any obstacle in the way of his profits. In this follow up to Conjure Woman’s Cat, Eulalie and Lena face their greatest challenge with scarce support from townspeople who are scared of their own shadows. Even though Eulalie is older than dirt, her faith in the good Lord and her endless supply of spells guarantee she will give Washerwoman a run for his ill-gotten money in this swamps and piney woods story.
Editorial Review: Told through the narrative voice of Lena, Eulalie’s shamanistic cat, the fast-paced story comes alive. The approach is fresh and clever; Malcolm R. Campbell manages Lena’s viewpoint seamlessly, adding interest and a unique perspective. Beyond the obvious abilities of this author to weave an enjoyable and engaging tale, I found the book rich with descriptive elements. So many passages caused me to pause and savor. ‘The air…heavy with wood smoke, turpentine, and melancholy.’ ‘ …the Apalachicola National Forest, world of wiregrass and pine, wildflower prairies, and savannahs of grass and small ponds… a maze of unpaved roads, flowing water drawing thirsty men…’ ‘…of the prayers of silk grass and blazing star and butterfly pea, of a brightly colored bottle tree trapping spirits searching for Washerwoman…of the holy woman who opened up the books of Moses and brought down pillars of fire and cloud so that those who were lost could find their way.'” – Rhett DeVane, Tallahassee Democrat
My Kindle novel Mountain Song will be free on Amazon April 5-April 7, 2018.
Description: David Ward lives in the Montana mountains where his life was impacted by his medicine woman grandmother and his utilitarian grandfather. Anne Hill suffered through childhood abuse and ultimately moved in with her aunt on the edge of a Florida swamp. Their summer romance at a mountain resort hotel surprises both of them. But can they make it last after the initial passion wears off and they return to their college studies far apart from each other especially after an attack on a college street changes Anne forever?
This story begins and ends in the high country of Montana where David and Anne meet as college students working as seasonal employees at a resort hotel. In today’s terms, they would probably call themselves soul mates. Yet summer romances are usually fragile, almost as though they’re a part of the places where they occur.
Add to that, an attack on a dark street corner while Anne is walking from a movie theater back to her dorm. She won’t let David help her because she believes that to become whole again, she must recover on her own. Both of them make mistakes at an emotional time when there’s no room for making mistakes,
I know this story well because–other than changing names, locations, and moments, it’s true.
While writing my two Florida folk magic novels, I suddenly became immersed in some of the dialect and slang that was popular when I was a child in the panhandle part of the state. If you lived somewhere else, you probably thought we talked funny. Truth is, we thought you talked funny.
A few examples. . .
Able Grable – 1940s’ slang for an attractive and available woman, based on the name of the actress Betty Grable, 1916-1973. Okay, this one isn’t Southern, more of of World War II expression.
Aunt Hagar – According to myth, Blacks are descendants of Abraham and Hagar and Whites are descendants of Abraham and Sarah, making Hagar the first ancestor of all African American slaves. This myth is behind the 1920s W. C. Handy/J. Tim Brymn blues song “Aunt Hagar’s Blues” (also called “Aunt Hagar’s Children”). You still hear Aunt Hagar mentioned sometimes.
Beelutherhatchee – An imaginary place. Seldom heard these days unless one’s referring to the home of the late Florida folklore collector Stetson Kennedy.
Big moose comes down from the mountain – Something important is happening, perhaps personal, perhaps judgement day. I haven’t hear this for ages.
Bogot people – Descendants of the Lower Creek Apalachicolas who sought refuge near present-day Blountstown, Florida when Indians were sent westward in the years following President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal act of 1830. You’re more likely to come across this term in historical and cultural articles than everyday conversation.
Boiled Peanuts – Raw peanuts boiled for a while in salt water in their shells until they have a soft, Lima bean consistency. Used to be sold everywhere along highways in penny nail sacks. In the old days, these were called goober peas.
Chamber Lye – Urine used as a detergent. In folk magic, female urine brings luck in gambling, especially when it’s used to “feed” (adding various liquids to keep ingredients active and powerful) a mojo bag.
Chewing John – One of three roots named after the mythic John the Conqueror who was purported to be a Black slave who knew how to outwit and/or cast spells upon his master without getting caught. To say his name would protect a person from being hexed. Chewing John, Alpina galanga, is chewed like tobacco for luck in court cases. A hoodoo term.
Coast – Floridian’s word for “the beach” or “the shore.” The cops and rangers will arrest you if they catch you picking sea oats (see photo).
Cooper Book – A Sacred Harp tunebook first published by W. M. Cooper in 1902, and popular in the Florida Panhandle, Georgia, Texas, Alabama and Mississippi. A 2012 revised edition is available.
Diddy-Wah-Diddy – A mythical town dreamt about by slaves and those conscripted into turpentine camps, chain gangs and orange grove labor in which ready-to-eat food presented itself to those who were hungry and sat on the curb waiting to be fed for free. Seldom used except in folk tales these days.
Dominicker – While the word generally refers to a breed of chicken, it’s an old pejorative term indicating a person of mixed blood, often used for an individual of African American and American Indian parentage.
Fat ’round de heart – Slang for “scared” or “worried.” A bit out of date.
Florida Water – A floral scented toilet water used by hoodoo practitioners for spiritual cleansing, the protection of a place or person, and for luck in gambling.
Floy Floy – Slang term for venereal disease that can also refer to trash talk. Slim Gaillard, Slam Stewart, and Bud Green popularized the term in their 1938 jazz song “Flat Foor Floogie (with a floy floy)”
Four Thieves Vinegar – Purportedly originating in 15th century Italy as a preventive medicine, the varied recipes for this preparation were later adopted in magic for personal protection. Root doctors’ clients would drink it or put it in their bath water.
Goofer Dust – A mixture of ingredients, including graveyard dirt, snake skin and sulfur, used to harm or kill another person who walks through it or is hexed via a sachet. Places where goofer dust has been spread are said to have been goofered. The term is sometimes used to refer to hexes or hexed places in general. A hoodoo term.
Hoodoo – A varied system of folk magic primarily of African origin. Practitioners, also called conjurers or root doctors, often included Kabalistic and Christian influences, Native American and European herbal knowledge and a variety of other occult beliefs in work on behalf of their clients. Hoodoo is not a synonym for the Voodoo religion.
Hoyt’s Cologne – An inexpensive perfume that, in folk magic, was used as bring good luck in gambling. You can still buy it today, though dedicated conjurers prefer to make it from scratch.
Hush Arbor – A secret, out-of-the-way place where slaves would congregate to practice their religion, one that tended to combine Christian teachings with traditional African practices and beliefs. Many songs grew out of these meetings and were passed down as spirituals.
Jick – Whiskey, often moonshine.
Jick Head – A drunk.
Joe Moore – Pronounced, Joe Mow (JOMO), the term is used by some conjurers to refer to objects used as charms, often related to gambling or personal protection. The term has also been used as a synonym for MOJO and for conjure work in general.
Jook – Also known as a juke joint or a barrelhouse, a bar offering food, drink, dancing, gambling and socializing. The word rhymes with “took.”
Judas eye – A belief that a conjurer can harm a person by looking at him.
Mister Charlie – An out-of-use pejorative term used by African Americans. Originally, it meant any white man. Later it came to refer to whites in power.
Mullet – A Floridian’s view of this fish showed where he or she was coming from, class-wise. Upper class people considered it a bait fish to be cut up for deep sea fishing trips. The rest of us thought it was very tasty and ordered it at restaurants down on the coast with slaw and a plate full of hush puppies.
Rosin Baked Potatoes – Potatoes cooked in a large pot of rosin, usually outdoors over a cook fire. When they rise to the top, they’re done. We’d wrap them up in twists of brown paper cut from old grocery store sacks when we took them out of the pot.
Scrub Chicken – An old wiregrass region name for the gopher tortoise which was once hunted for food. During the Depression, the tortoise was also called a “Hoover Chicken.” The tortoise lives primarily in pine woods habitats and is considered endangered. According to Florida folklore, the gopher tortoise resulted when the Devil tried to make a turtle to impress God, the result being a land-based reptile without the turtle’s love of water.
Sculpin – One name of the Scuppernong grape, a variety of Muscadine found in the Southern Unite States. The light, greenish bronze grapes work well in baked goods, jelly and wine. As they say, all Scuppernongs are Muscadines, but all Muscadines are NOT Scuppernongs.
Shine – Moonshine.
Shoo-shooing – Whispering.
Shug – An endearment meaning “sugar.” Rhymes with “hood.”
Steppin’ back on my abstract – Collected in Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men as “Standing in my tracks/stepping back on my abstract,” meaning standing one’s ground. Haven’t heard this for years.
Squinch Owl – Screech Owl.
Sugar Cane – Used to be easy to get at street corner vendors. Kids would buy short stalks and chew on them for hours; or, you can get the juice in small Dixie cups. Harder to find these days than boiled peanuts.
Titi – A flowering plant, Cyrilla racemiflora, also called Swamp Titi, Black Titi and Myrtle, that grows in dense thickets in pine woods, swamps, wet prairies and bogs. Pronounced tie-tie.
Torreya – A rare and highly endangered conifer found along the Apalachicola River near Bristol, Florida. Also called “Stinking Cedar,” the tree was said to be the same gopher wood from which Noah’s ark was built. For years, Bristol resident E. E. Callaway promoted the area as the actual Garden of Eden. The Garden of Eden trail is in the Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve.
Trick – A form of natural magic, often consisting of a spell with a powder or symbol, that’s placed (laid down) where the intended victim is expected to walk. A tricked place is a spot that has been hexed in some way. A hoodoo term,
Tush hawg – Used in various ways, the word often refers to a rough and tumble man. Haven’t heard this for years.
Two-Toed Tom – A huge, legendary alligator feared by residents along the Alabama-Florida border in the early 1900s, and said to be still on the prowl many years later. It was reportedly fourteen feet long, suspected of eating cattle and mules, and assaulting women. His left front foot was missing all but two of its toes, the result of being caught in a steel trap.
Swamp Booger – North Florida’s version of big foot.
If you grew up in the South, but outside of Florida, you probably heard some of these words and expressions as well. But, I’ll always associate them with my childhood.
This post first appeared on “The Sun Singer’s Travels”
I suppose most authors have favorite scenes from each of their books. We hope our readers like them, too. Here are a few from Eulalie and Washerwoman, from Thomas-Jacob Publishing.
Publisher’s Description: Torreya, a small 1950s Florida Panhandle town, is losing its men. They disappear on nights with no moon and no witnesses. Foreclosure signs appear in their yards the following day while thugs associated with the Klan take everything of value from inside treasured homes that will soon be torn down. The police won’t investigate, and the church keeps its distance from all social and political discord. Conjure woman Eulalie Jenkins, her shamanistic cat, Lena, and neighbor Willie Tate discover that the new “whites only” policy at the once friendly mercantile and the creation of a plantation-style subdivision are linked to corrupt city fathers, the disappearing men, rigged numbers gambling, and a powerful hoodoo man named Washerwoman.
So Eulalie woke precariously from the blues of her dreams into the jaundiced light of the kerosene lantern when a frightful pre-dawn bedlam was visited upon our back porch by a man named William Ochlockonee Tate, a blue-nosed hinny named Minnie, and a Florida water moccasin named Nagaina. I’m Lena, the cat. Before my conjure woman was awoken by Minnie’s flailing hooves, I dozed blamelessly behind the pot marigolds until they were kicked into the yard.
“Sergeant told me they’d study on it after they get the crime wave under control.”
Eulalie spat a shower of juice against the busted marigold pot. “Crime wave? I hadn’t heard.”
“It’s so scary, you won’t sleep on this lumpy old sofa on the back porch no more. Officer Moe, he claims the Bellamy Bridge haint came to town to hex us up one side and down the other. Officer Larry took a posse and rode south to apprehend a swamp booger pissin’ in front of that new white people’s church on the Estiffanulga Road. “Preacher man was damn well pissed off.” Willie couldn’t help but grin at that. “Sergeant Curly’s been on the trail of Two-Toed Tom for a month of Sundays; says if he don’t close in for the kill soon, he’ll jump Jim Crow.”
“Bless their shiny badges and pea-pickin’ hearts,” said Eulalie as matter-of-factly as one could make such a tongue-in-cheek pronouncement with a good chew in the way.
“So, what do we do first? Gather herbs. Light candles. Boil water?”
“We ain’t midwifin’, old man.”
“Don’t drink nothin’ out of that pan, Lena,” she said. “That’s the leavings of blackberry root, alum and turpentine, not a cure for anything you got. You saw ol’ Bill Carver walkin’home with the cure because he rolled too many hot biscuits at the jook and got a personal disease”—she clapped her hands twice and glared at me like this was a warning—“one that makes it hurt to pee.”
“‘Negroes and Whites have been coming here for years no hint of a problem, Mr. Ivy. Why do I need a sign now?’ Little Poison leaned across the counter close enough for me to smell the cheap bourbon on his breath. ‘Listen good, Lane. When Niggers and Whites are together, somebody’s out of place. If I go inside that praise church, I’m in the wrong place. That’s a Nigger place. If a Nigger walks in my church, he’s out of place. Out of place people have a way of getting hurt, hurt bad sometimes, and then they’re found floating face down in the Apalachicola after falling off Alum Bluff, hurt bad when their necks get caught in nooses or their houses blow up or burn down. Civilized people grieve when people of any race, including you bagel-dogs get hurt. The Liberty Improvement Club wants a happy town where nobody gets hurt. You might say, we’re the Nigger’s best friend because we help him see the places he belongs, places he can have a comfortable life. When he makes a mistake, we punish him because we believe in spare the rod, spoil the child. You can see that, can’t you? That sign keeps people in the right place like saying keep off the grass or no parking. That sign will make you rich. Yeah, I thought your Jew-boy eyes would grow wide when you heard that. Mr. Smith will come by in an hour and explain it to you.’ He tossed another hundred dollar bill on the counter and left the store with a grin wide enough to show every rotten tooth in his mouth.”
“Gives us time for a quickie behind the brush pile, brown sugar,” said Billy “We’ll pop your clutch and see how fast you scream ‘Lordy Lordy’ and beg for more.”
Billy was in the process of massaging her bottom and leaning in close enough to lick the frown off her lips when he froze, froze like time looked away, then screamed, “Holy shit,” and stumbled back holding his neck, and for Hank it was the same even though his greedy fingers hadn’t quite reached Eulalie’s blouse, freezing though as the good Lord covered his eyes, wailing then like a stuck pig before stumbling backward over a keg of nails.
“Yellow jackets don’t believe in paramour rights,” said Eulalie.
She winked at me and walked off down the street. I stood there and watched Billy and Hank shoving their heads into the icy slush in the Coca-Cola cooler until they ran out of fresh profanity.
Told through the narrative voice of Lena, Eulalie’s shamanistic cat, the fast-paced story comes alive. The approach is fresh and clever; Malcolm R. Campbell manages Lena’s viewpoint seamlessly, adding interest and a unique perspective. Beyond the obvious abilities of this author to weave an enjoyable and engaging tale, I found the book rich with descriptive elements. So many passages caused me to pause and savor. ‘The air…heavy with wood smoke, turpentine, and melancholy.’ ‘ …the Apalachicola National Forest, world of wiregrass and pine, wildflower prairies, and savannahs of grass and small ponds… a maze of unpaved roads, flowing water drawing thirsty men…’ ‘…of the prayers of silk grass and blazing star and butterfly pea, of a brightly colored bottle tree trapping spirits searching for Washerwoman…of the holy woman who opened up the books of Moses and brought down pillars of fire and cloud so that those who were lost could find their way.'”
– Rhett DeVane, Tallahassee Democrat
“A simply riveting read from beginning to end, ‘Eulalie and Washerwoman’ is very highly recommended for both personal reading lists and community library General Fiction collections. – Julie Summers, Midwest Book Review
Progressives in Florida registered 100,000 new African American voters in 1951 and branches of the NAACP challenged Jim Crow laws at swimming pools, libraries, golf courses and libraries. The legislature passed an anti-mask ordinance.
As PBS notes, “The Klan responded with a rash of cross burnings and floggings from the Florida Panhandle to Miami; Hendrix [who chartered the latest iteration of the Klan] declared war on ‘hate groups,’ including the NAACP, B’nai B’rith, the Catholic church, and the Federal Council of Churches of Christ; and then declared himself a candidate for governor. By the summer, the Klan began trying to roll back progress with sticks of 60 percent dynamite, with so many bombings, or attempted bombings, that the northern press dubbed it ‘The Florida Terror.'”
In many communities, the sheriffs, police chiefs and city fathers were members of the Klan. Meanwhile, the same people associated with themselves with policy gambling operations aimed at African Americans because–in exchange for protection and looking the other way–they got rich from their cut of the action.
The KKK was a fact of life in the Florida Panhandle as well as the peninsula when I was growing up. I saw burning crosses, knew people who were threatened, and sat in my car in down town Tallahassee waiting for their disgusting parades to get off the streets. And, unfortunately, I knew influential people whom I strongly believed were members of the Klan.
The state advertised itself as a paradise, but that reality didn’t extend to everyone. “The Ku Klux Klan was at least as violent in Florida as anywhere else in the nation, and the sheriffs, juries, judges, politicians, press, and citizens, for the most part, as culpable in its murderous history,” Michael Newton wrote in his 2001 book The Invisible Empire: The Ku Klux Klan in Florida.”
“The bed sheet brigade is bad enough, but the real threat to Americans and human rights today is the plain clothes Klux in the halls of government and certain black-robed Klux on court benches.” ― Stetson Kennedy, author of “The Klan Unmasked.”
My novels Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman focus on the dark era of the 1950s. The first novel tells the story of a white-on-black crime that the small town police force refused to investigate. In the second, the police turn a blind eye toward policy gambling and the threats against those who couldn’t pay their gambling debts. In my fiction, I have a powerful conjure woman named Eulalie with a very helpful cat named Lena.
I didn’t have the grit to tell these stories years ago, but I’m hoping that the better-late-than-never axiom is true.
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” – John Muir
If you live in Florida, you probably already know that–other than Hawai’i–the state has more species of native trees than any other. My easy-to-use tree guide was published in 1956, so I can only consider it as a starting point since some of the nomenclature has changed since then.
For example, the Chinkapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii) used to be mixed up with the Pin Oak and the Chestnut Oak. Confusing matters more is the fact that one of the popular names for a Chinkapin still is “Chestnut Oak” even though the Chestnut Oak (Quercus montana) is another species. Both are in the white oak group. There are so many popular names for Florida’s trees, shrubs and flowers that it’s often difficult to be sure what another author is talking about, especially when names change from region to region. Many of those names figure into the state’s old stories.
I refer to trees a lot in my novels, so I’m constantly reading about them, looking them up, verifying habitats, and enjoying myths and legends about them. Florida has a lot of species because of its diverse habitats. That’s a lot to keep up with. Fortunately, there are plenty of sites available on line. When I first started writing, one had to call or send a letter to get the kind of information that can not be found with a few good Google search words.
There are 50 species of oak in the eastern U.S. and that means you’ll find a lot of them in Florida in addition to Tupelo, Cypress, Slash Pines, Longleaf Pines, and Palm trees if you know where to look. Longleaf pines are a sad story because the original forests covered so much of the southeastern U.S. (a 140,000-mile swath through nine states). Naturally, most were logged off and the land was converted to other uses or replanted with the faster-growing Slash Pines. Not the forest service and others are trying to re-educate landowners about the value of Longleaf Pines, especially their important wiregrass habitats that are sustained by fires that clear the unwanted and choking invasive shrubs and trees out of the forests. See the Longleaf Alliance’s page.
The Torreya (also called Gopher Wood) and the Florida Yew are endangered and may well disappear except in managed arboretums. That’s sad to see. Look for those still around on the Garden of Eden trail near Bristol in the Florida Panhandle.
According to exploresouthernhistory.com, “Because the Torreya is one of America’s most endangered trees, a major effort is underway to save it. The Florida Park Service is working with the Atlanta Botanical Garden in a commendable effort to grow new Torreya trees. Using seed obtained from living trees, the agencies are growing seedlings that are being planted in the ravine habitat at Torreya State Park. Perhaps over time, the Torreya will once again thrive along the Apalachicola.”
Always nice to see people using native trees in their yards rather than stuff that really doesn’t belong there. (If you’re not sure and there’s no native nursery when you live, check this link and this link for names and pictures.)
In case you were going to ask: no, I don’t hug trees. Yet, I agree with Hermann Hesse, who wrote: “Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”
My upcoming e-book short story “En Route to the Diddy-Wah-Diddy Landfill While the Dogwoods Were in Bloom” obviously focuses on the dogwood (Cornus florida), not to be confused with the imported Jamaica Dogwood that’s often called the Florida Fishfiddletree or Florida Fishpoison Tree.
Coming soon from Thomas-Jacob Publishing, a new Kindle short story in the Stories from Tate’s Hell series.
Background of the Story
Diddy-Wah-Diddy is, perhaps, the best known of Florida’s mythical places. The original story about a hidden-away town with unlimited food was among the folk tales collected by Zora Neale Hurston while working with the Federal Writers Project in 1938. Hurston wrote that Diddy-Wah-Diddy was “reached by a road that curves so much that a mule pulling a wagonload of fodder can eat off the back of the wagon as he goes.”
Bo Diddley further popularized the legendary town in his song “Diddy Wah diddy” recorded for Checker Records in 1955. You can find an unadorned re-telling of the original folktale in Kristin G. Congdon’s Uncle Monday and other Florida Tales. “En Route to the Diddy-Wah-Diddy Landfill While the Dogwoods Were in Bloom” is a re-imagining of the town in modern times.
Every spring, fast food junkie Peter Martin packs his wife, Mary, and son, John, into his SUV and crisscrosses the back country of the Florida Panhandle searching for Diddy-Wah-Diddy, a legendary town offering travelers all the free food they can eat. Mary thinks they’ll never find it. John draws maps to show where they’ve been in years past. John has more hunches than fleas on a hound dog about the town’s location. More often than not, they get lost.
This year, they find Diddy-Wah-Diddy. It’s better than they expected. They begin to eat more than they should. Then Peter has a horrifying accident and disappears. While the powers that be treat Peter’s fall from grace as business as usual, Mary and John wait for him, and while they wait they keeping eating all they can eat.