And on to Florida…

After a wonderful lunch on catfish and other seafood, we said our goodbyes to MaryO and Lonnie and headed for the Okefenokee Swamp.

This is a huge National Wildlife Refuge with the swamp covering 438,000 acres, or about 700 square miles – 38 miles in length at its longest point by 25 miles in width at its widest point.

The swamp is about 7000 years old, a vast peat-filled bog inside a huge, saucer-shaped depression once part of the ocean floor.

The Suwannee River is the principle outlet – I wondered if this was the ‘Swannee River’ that we had sung about at school. I learned that the word Okefenokee is from the Choctaw Indian words meaning “quivering earth” or “Land of the Trembling Earth” because the unstable peat ground trembles!

The water was the colour of dark tea colour, due to tannic acid from dissolved vegetative material and peat.

We learned that in the Okefenokee Swamp it takes about 50 years for one inch of peat to form at the base of the swamp! The peat ranges in depth from thin layers at the edges of the swamp and islands to more than 15 feet in places.

We didn’t see any dangerous wildlife in the short time we were there – just oodles of butterflies. The further south we travelled, the more common the butterflies were, a wide range of unidentified beauties.

I phoned Zane, to let him know where we were. We estimated our arrival time and got on our way again. Mrs Tom Tom tried to direct us along some tracks in the swamp – we thought better of it and stuck to the highways. They were long stretches of straight road between small towns, and eventually taking us to the Greathouse Butterfly Farm.

Zane and Maggie were there to greet us and gave us a short tour of their wonderful facility. Then they gave us directions to their wonderful lakeside home and we got into the airconditioned comfort to unpack and relax.

It wasn’t long before we were whipped out to dinner. This was Labor Day in the USA, so sadly the chosen restaurants were closed, but they found a diner in the next town. We relaxed and giggled over huge helpings.

Zane is President of the International Butterfly Breeders Association, and very professional about not only the family business but also the aims and objectives of the Association. We are lucky to have someone like him in the chair – his knowledge was extraordinary and he gave us many tips about how we could boost our Monarch population in NZ, and provide better educational opoprtunities for wildlife protection.

We slept soundly that night, and looked forward to a visit to the amazing Butterfly House at the McGuire Centre, Gainesville, the next day.

After a full tour of the Greathouse Butterfly Farm and enjoying the treasures for sale in the gift shop, the educational facilities and the butterfly gardens, we were whisked off in Zane and Maggie’s car for lunch.

“For lunch, is there anything you haven’t tried, that you’d like to?” Zane asked. I was quick to speak up, as Mary still hadn’t had her waffles. They smiled and took us to the Waffle House. The waffles were delicious!

Then it was on to the butterflies. Built in July 2004, the main building of the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity is 50,000 square feet in size.
The McGuire Center is said to be the strongest, largest, most secure and most permanent structure ever constructed to house major Lepidoptera collections and their associated research programs, and preserve them indefinitely for posterity.

The Butterfly Rainforest, the living public exhibit facility next door, is a steel-mesh-screened facility built to withstand 170 mph winds (F-3 tornadoes). At the centre they have a collection of over 8,000,000 Lepidoptera specimens, as well as the living cultures of endangered species in our laboratory facilities and the living tropical butterflies in the public display!

We had a great time exploring their living butterfly exhibit featuring tropical butterflies from all over the world. I was annoyed, though, as my battery on my camera suddenly chose to go flat. Disappointing, but Mary’s photographs proved to save the day.

But there was more in store for us that afternoon – we hadn’t been to many botanic gardens, and Zane and Maggie told us about the wonders of the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens. My energy levels were flagging – I had had an ear infection, and it was getting worse, so what with the heat and regular hot flushes, I was exhausted. So Maggie and I would hit the shops at the mall and do my last minute shopping, while Mary and Zane walked the gardens.

Maggie was a wonder – she had my list down to a T. It was in to Maceys to get the suitcase I wanted to take home for James, and then nearby to the candle counter, then next door to find a kettle. I also found my salt and pepper, and numerous other treats. We were done in 45 minutes! Amazing. Thanks Maggie.

Back to Kanapaha, and we found Mary and Zane had stormed right around the gardens.

The gardens are set on 62 acres operated by the North Florida Botanical Society. Lake Kanapaha (Timucua Indian words for “palmetto leaf” and “house.”) is adjacent.

There are 14 major collections seen from a 1½ mile concrete walkway, including the state’s largest public display of bamboos and the largest herb garden in the Southeast.

Mary was impressed by the Chinese royal bamboo (Wong Chuk), the giant Victoria water lilies and Asian snake arums.

I could picture Mary identifying everything. They had even found a Black Something Snake, and Mary hadn’t flinched. A true Kiwi! Brave and fearless.

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