Beautiful crisp fall day for a paddle and 8 of us braved the dip in the temperature for one of the “funnest paddles” in Florida – the Juniper Creek Run in the Ocala National Forest.
Unlike most rivers in Florida that are great for relaxing float trips, Juniper Creek is a narrow, shallow, twisting stream through a designated wilderness area that, depending on recent storms and water level, can include overs, unders, arounds, and throughs. All on seven miles of crystal clear water through amazing plant life and even a tiny bit of a “rapid”. We sometimes describe it as a roller coaster for adults. Since the first 7 miles fall within a designed wilderness area only hand tools are allowed for its maintenance and the maintainers only clear what is essential for keeping the stream open. And that means it looks different every time you paddle. So we try to get out and paddle it a few times every year.
This trip Juniper held a very special treat for us. We ran across a small patch of Large-leaved Grass-of-Parnassus. (Parnassia grandifolia) It’s a Florida native, rare, and an Endangered Florida species and it is NOT a grass. It only occurs in 4 dispersed counties in Florida and we’d never seen it before. Very distinctive with its 5 white petals and green patterned veins. It blooms in October/November and there was only one small patch of them.
We also had a couple of visitors at lunch time. A Jumping Spider (Phidippus audax) and a nymph Preying Mantis (Mantodea spp.) decided to take a break with us on our boats. Jumping spiders don’t spin webs, they find their prey with their big eyes, then catch them by jumping on them. They can jump up to 50 times their body length! I guess ours was tired because he hung out on a hatch cover throughout lunch. The Preying Mantis was on a drooping stream-side plant. We must have shot 30 pics of the little guy (about 3 inches long) but since he wouldn’t hold still we only got 2 shots in decent focus.