One of the more stunning plants that graces historic #Charleston each year is the Lycoris Radiata. This perennial is native to Japan, and was introduced to America in the 1850’s and thrives in warm Southern climates. The flower contains toxins that are potentially harmful and to the Japanese, it became a symbol of death, which is especially ironic considering that the blooms are prevalent in Charleston graveyards. Another irony is that because it re-emerges from bulbs year after year, that among its notable nicknames is Resurrection Lily. Most Charlestonians call it Red Spider Lily because of its dramatically protruding stamens, but because it also comes up typically in September, it is also known as Hurricane Lily. Like many plants in the Amaryllis family, the Lycoris Radiata blooms on top of an empty stalk after foliage has died away to expose its radiant color, and for that, the flowers are also known as Naked Ladies. <img.src=”Charleston Gardens” alt=”Hurricane Lilies”
The colorful crustacean that swarms in coastal creek beds each Summer gets its name from its habit of waving claws much like a violin player sweeping strings with his bow. This behavior is actually a mating routine, in which males, who have the bigger claws, are making themselves appealing to females in fiddler crab fashion. Besides sitting near the bottom of the salt marsh food chain as a tidbit for fish, birds and larger crabs, the fiddler provides a valuable service with its tunneling into mudbanks for habitat, which great helps aerate the creek beds and promotes growth of other plant and animal species. <img.src=”Charleston Nature and Wildlife” alt=”Fiddler Crabs”
The deer population has exploded in coastal #South Carolina, so the annual deer hunting season that begins in mid-August is largely sanctioned by the state Department of Natural Resources to cull the herds so that they do not over-populate to the point of starvation. Still, I would hope there is a better way, and any close encounter for me would make it difficult to do any harm to such a delicate creature. <img.src=”South Carolina Wildlife” alt=”Deer Hunting Season”
It may come as a surprise to find out that not far from the flat #South Carolina coast, there are a wealth of underground rock caves. Forty million years ago, the Coastal Plain of South Carolina was a sea bed, and the many centuries of calcium deposits from decaying sea life left the receding ocean front filled with limestone. Now a full hour’s drive from #Charleston, Santee State Park features this incredible rock formation that has passages that wend their way deep below the surface with ice-cold water trickling through them. The caves are ideal habitat for the Rafinesque big-eared bat, which thrive in the cold, dark caverns and give them a creepier nature. However, like all bats, the creature’s diet is primarily insects, and provides a helpful pest control along the banks of Lake Marion, where the park is located. <img.src=”South Carolina Natural History” alt=”Santee Limestone Caves”
Many years before it emerges from the sea as a hulking 300-pound creature, the loggerhead sea turtle begins its odyssey as a tiny hatchling barely larger than a person’s finger. The Cape Romain Wildlife Refuge near #Charleston, SC, is one of America’s largest nesting and hatching grounds for this amazing creature, which comes ashore on Summer nights in dark, remote beach areas to dig nests and deposit clutches of about 60 ping-pong sized eggs . The loggerhead is an air-breathing reptile that lives its life in the sea, but must drag its massive carapace and land-clumsy flippers on to remote beaches to lay its eggs in the sand, where they hatch about six weeks later and dash into the waves to renew the cycle. Because Cape Romain is the longest stretch of unspoiled coast line in the Atlantic U.S., thousands of loggerheads lay eggs here each Summer and this is crucial to keeping the species alive in the South Atlantic. <img.src=”South Carolina Wildlife” alt=”Loggerhead Sea Turtle”
A repeat visitor to #Charleston gardens in the late Summer and Fall is the radiant Gulf Fritillary. This creature is part of the insect family known as Lepidopterans, from the Greek “lepi”, which means scale, and includes butterflies and moths. The wings of the Fritillary are filled with fine scales that absorb heat from the sun for energy, as well as providing a visual attraction for mating, and a natural warning to potential predators with the various patterns of rings and spots mimicking poisonous plants. The Fritillary migrates north from the Gulf of Mexico each year after emerging from cocoons in the Spring, and will typically only live a matter of weeks before mating and restarting the life cycle. They feed on flowers by probing with a needle-like probiscis and are usually attracted to bright reddish/orange colors, so planting Pentas or Lantana this time of year is a good Fritillary magnet. I can sometimes catch a fritillary on the walking tour to explain the creature’s details -they can be handled gently without hurting them,<img.src=”Charleston Nature and Wildlife” alt=”Gulf Fritillary Butterfly”
A common sight along the coastline of #SouthCarolina this time of year is the helmet-shaped shell of the Horseshoe Crab. This unusual creature, whose real name is Limilus Polyphemus, is actually not a crab at all, but closely related to spiders and other arachnids. Scientists have evidence that Horseshoe crabs have existed for millions of years and benefit from having no natural enemies. The outer shell, called a prosoma, has two eyes, but the creature is mostly nocturnal, feeding and mating in shallow ocean beachfronts. It also displays a long sharp tail, or telson, that is used primarily for flipping the crab over if waves turn it upside down in sand. The unusual look is not the only thing odd about the Horseshoe crab. It’s rare copper-based blood contains elements that are extremely important in human medicine, and are commonly used to test sterility of syringes and surgical tools. <img.src=”Charleston Curiosities” alt=”Horseshoe Crab”
The stunning flower of this summer-blooming tree was first introduced to #Charleston in 1785, with the arrival of French botanist Andre Michaux, who brought a number of exotic species to America, including the Crepe Myrtle and Camellia. Although not a true Mimosa, the name adds flair to a tree which is actually related to soybeans, chickpeas, and peanuts, and who scientific name is a mouthful – Albizia Julibrissin. Michaux was royal gardener under Louis XVI, but instead of losing his head to the guillotine as did his former employer, he was sent by the French Revolutionary government to America as an naturalist emissary, and would find a home in Charleston for more than ten years, exploring the Southeast for other species, such as the one from the mountains he named the Rhododendron. <img.src=”Charleston Gardens” alt=”Mimosa Tree”
We have always talked about “blue bloods” here in Charleston, referring to distinguished, long-time families who have kept names and traditions intact. Yet, the truest blue-blood found in #Charleston these days are the Horseshoe Crabs floating up on area beaches and sand flats.
The Horsheshoe crab is not actually a crab or crustacean, but a sea-dwelling anomaly closer related to spiders. Its circulatory system is laden with copper that turns the crab’s blood blue, and this blue blood is very valuable to modern science for its ability to bind to harmful bacteria and help prevent toxic reactions in various medicine.
The striking feature of the Horseshoe crab is its helmet-like carapace, from which extends a fierce-looking spiked tail called the telson. What looks
dangerous is actually very harmless, as the telson is simply used by the crab for leverage when flipping over. Underneath, the Horseshoe crab has five pairs of legs, used for eating, propulsion and, in the case of the males, for grabbing and holding females during summer mating.
Although the Horseshoe crab has ten optical appendages, it really can’t see very well, as I have found personally. I joined some biologists some years back who were collecting the blue blood from Horseshoe crabs who are easiest to find during mating season when they herd by the thousands into shallow water. In the near-sighted males’ frenzy to connect, they will latch on to anything, including human feet like mine, and I spent most of the adventure pushing the herd of helmets away.<img src=”natural wildlife” alt=”Horseshoe Crab”>