Spreading Pogonia (Pogonia divaricata), also known by the prettier name Rosebud Orchid, is a rare terrestrial orchid found in Charlton and Ware counties in Southeast Georgia (other small populations likely exist). The Okefenokee region is one of the most biologically diverse in the state and spring is a great season to observe its abundant flora.
Tag Archives: South Georgia Natural History
As a boy fascinated by occasional visits to the Okefenokee Swamp, I was in awe of the name Hamp Mizell (1884-1948). Dr. Delma Presley told stories of his legendary two-mile swamp holler in Okefinokee Album [this recording is of another famous swamp family, the Chessers]. Coincidentally, I knew his daughter Montine Mizell Mathhews, whose husband Harold worked with my father on the railroad, but did not know at the time that she was a Mizell. I regret missing the opportunity to talk about her father with her.
It was wonderful to visit Suwannee Lake, on the edge of the great swamp, since it has always been associated with Mr. Mizell. It’s not a big fishing hole, but nonetheless revered by fishermen in the know. Judging from satellite images, I believe it’s an oxbow of Suwannee Creek which runs from the west into the swamp. A. S. McQueen noted in his History of Okefenokee Swamp, 1932: [Mizell] is the owner of the beautiful Suwannee Lake, on the north side of the Okefenokee Swamp, one of the most famous fishing places in Georgia. A record was kept of the fish caught in this lake, and one season, 41,618 fish were caught by the hook and line method. During one day 35 fishermen caught 1,471 fish by actual count.
70,000 gallons of water issue from the underground caves at Radium Springs every minute, making it the largest springs in the state. It’s considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia and is located just outside Albany. Over a quarter mile of the underground caves encompassing the springs were mapped by Deloach, Young, and Exley, for the National Speleological Society. Features of the caves have names like Fat Man’s Misery, Mermaid’s Tunnel, Hall of Giants, and Neptune’s Trident. Only the most experienced divers have ever seen these wonders and though rare, permits are occasionally still issued to experts wishing to explore the area. Guy Bryant has shared some nice footage on YouTube.
It was a revered ceremonial site first known as Skywater to Native Americans. After encroachment in the 1830s it came to be known as Blue Springs and was a popular swimming hole with pioneer settlers of Albany and surrounding areas. Standing near the cave entrance/springhead today, one is likely to see numerous fish schooling, including Gulf striped bass which wouldn’t be here without the cool temperature of the springs.
By the early 20th century, its prominence as a commercial recreational site was ensured and developers constructed a restaurant and guest cottages to meet the needs of day trippers who enjoyed bathing in its waters, which were a constant 68 degrees. Traces of radium were found in the water in the 1920s and the name was changed to Radium Springs to reflect this discovery. Mineral springs were all the rage in the era as they were thought to have healing powers and this only added to the popularity of the site.
The Radium Springs Casino was completed in 1927. It rose above terraced stone walls and featured a cavernous dance hall and elegant dining room.
A fire in 1982 and devastating floods in 1994 and 1998 damaged the casino beyond repair. The remaining structure was removed in 2003.
A courtyard stands today on the site of the casino and features interpretive signs detailing the history of Radium Springs.
The stonework surrounding the springs and pool is one of the most significant remaining architectural features of the site.
These features are generally not accessible today, though, as they are beginning to crumble and in serious need of restoration.
This is one of two gazebos that were located along the beach.
The spring run which empties into the Flint River is known as Skywater Creek.
The ruins of the main gazebo are being restored.
They’re located just inside the historic gate. Both structures date to the 1920s, when the casino was constructed. At the peak of the site’s popularity, a nearby golf course was equally popular as the springs and attracted notables, including the great golfer Bobby Jones.
The entrance gate is a monumental Colonial Revival landmark.
It features two ticket booths.
Known today as Radium Springs Gardens, it’s operated by the City of Albany and admission is free. It’s a wonderful green space that everyone should see at least once. Though swimming or fishing is no longer allowed, it’s a wonderful place to unwind.
John Abbot was one of the most important naturalists and artists working in early America, but because he generally eschewed publication and most of his work was only available to wealthy patrons and collectors, he has not been as appreciated as other notables of his era, including Alexander Wilson and John James Audubon. Credit is due the Georgia Historical Society for commissioning a delightful memorial marking Abbot’s burial place*, installed at the old McElveen Family Cemetery in Bulloch County. Publication of a collection of his ornithological paintings, John Abbot’s Birds of Georgia, by the Beehive Press in 1997, has done much to advance his reputation.
*-[detail, above]. Mary Stuart. Bronze Relief, after the circa 1804 self-portrait “John Abbot of Savannah, Georgia, America”. 1956. It is the only known image of the naturalist.
Born in London in 1751 to James and Ann Abbot, John was influenced from an early age by the impressive art collection of his lawyer father. Though the elder Abbot expected his son to read law, he also encouraged his interest in art and natural history, hiring the noted engraver Jacob Bonneau to instruct him. In his late teens, John Abbot clerked for his father’s law office but was far too distracted by his passion for natural history and art to give it serious consideration as a career.
He set out for Virginia aboard the Royal Exchange in 1773 and upon arrival resided briefly with Parke & Mary Goodall. By 1775 rising unrest in the colony prompted Abbot to leave, settling with Parke Goodall’s cousin William and his family in St. George Parish, Georgia (present-day Burke County). Sometime during the Revolutionary period he married a young woman named Sarah (maiden name unknown) and their son John, Jr., was born around 1779. During this time Abbot was actively collecting and illustrating Georgia’s insects and a large number were acquired by Sir James Edward Smith, founder of London’s Linnaean Society. Smith commissioned hand-colored engravings of the original Georgia watercolors and published them in 1797 as the Natural History of the Rarer Lepidopterous Insects of Georgia Collected from Observations by John Abbot. It is considered the first major publication devoted to American entomology.
Spicebush Swallowtail on Sassafras, John Abbot, from the Natural History…, 1797. Public Domain Image.
The Abbots remained in Burke County, where John likely taught at Waynesboro’s Burke County Academy, until moving to Savannah in 1806. He was often in transit throughout the central Savannah River area in pursuit of specimens and new material. Sarah’s death in 1817 sent Abbot into a deep state of grief and poor health consumed him for at least two years, during which he was inactive. He finally settled in Bulloch County in 1818 and resumed collecting and drawing for patrons. He lived out his last years on the property of his friend William E. McElveen. His exact date of death is unknown, but thought to be 1839 or 1840.
In what has to be some of the most inspring language on any memorial in the state, the Georgia Historical Society notes of John Abbot: Talented artist and searching naturalist of birds and insects. – As a tribute to him and his work may you who stand here find pleasure in protecting the natural beauty of Georgia. – John Abbot lies buried in this woodland cemetery because of his love of nature and his long friendship with the McElveen family.
In Lone Hill United Methodist Cemetery near West Green, you can find an Eastern red cedar as big as a Live oak. [Maybe a younger Live oak, but you get the point]. Its age is unknown, but since red cedars are notoriously slow growers, it’s likely it was already of respectable size when some of the early congregants of Lone Hill buried their loved ones in its shade. As it has grown, it has begun to gently displace some of those graves.
American Forests, the non-profit organization that certifies big trees, has declared this Eastern red cedar*, [Juniperus virginiana] the National Champion. This means it’s the largest known example of the species. Recorded dimensions are: Height-57′. Crown spread-75′. Circumference-234″.
*- Also written as redcedar or red-cedar.
Wolf Creek Trout Lily Preserve is one of the true natural wonders of South Georgia (all of Georgia, really). And about ten years ago, it was almost turned into a real estate development. It’s located just off US Highway 84 near Whigham and there’s no admission charge, though donations are accepted. A new sign at the entrance indicates the bloom time as being between late January and early March, though the lilies seem to almost always bloom in the middle of February. It’s essential to follow the Preserve’s Facebook page to get updates on the bloom time, as they can be quirky and sometimes bloom en masse and at other times be quite sporadic.
Trout Lilies (Erythronium americanum) are primarily an Appalachian species, favoring filtered sunlight on mountain slopes. So how did they end up here? Though there are a few anomalous populations in Southwest Georgia and North Florida, the Wolf Creek population is the largest in the world and thought to have appeared sometime during the last Ice Age.
If you came here and the Trout Lilies weren’t blooming, you’d still love this place. The gentle slope of the riparian forest makes for a good walk. I came this year about a week after the mass bloom and there were still quite a few scattered around the site.
Add to that the beautiful Spotted Trillium (Trillium maculatum) interspersed throughout and you basically have a mountain walk in deepest South Georgia.
The volunteer who greeted us at the entrance was so delightful and informative and we enjoyed talking with her. Grady County should be applauded for recognizing the importance of this resource and sharing it with the public. Instead of waiting for the state to recognize it and all the time that would take, Grady County took it upon themselves to promote and protect it. Highlighting important local resources like this isn’t just a win for the environment but a win for the local economy. We had lunch at a restaurant in Cairo, so yes, there is an economic impact, however small it may be.