History of Tosohatchee WMA

 

Liatris-spWorkingWebSharp

For the past two years I have been conducting a site-inventory of the Wildflowers of Tosohatchee WMA (TWMA) under the supervision of Steve Myers, professor of biology at Valencia College in Orlando. What once started as an independent study in botany has since blossomed into a life-long passion.

Although traditionally trained as a herpetologist, Steve Myers has always been fascinated with plants, especially those traditionally used by people. Steve inoculated me with the botany bug back in 2012 on a field trip to TWMA to look for amphibians and reptiles with Jason Hickson, then a technician at TWMA and a graduate student of biology at the University of Central Florida. It was that day that I first participated in the collection of a herbarium voucher specimen.

I had just read One River: Explorations and Discovery in the Amazon Rainforest by Wade Davis, a colorfully written novel about the life of Dr. Richard Evans Schultes, Father of Ethnobotany, juxtaposed between the life of his Harvard students and that of the 19th century plant explorer Richard Spruce. During his 12 years leave of absence from Harvard Dr. Schultes collected over 30,000 voucher specimens over 200 of which were new to science all the while documenting indigenous use of plants in the Neotropics. My immediate impression having read the book was appreciation for Schultes courage, field expertise and passion that cultivated generations of scientists that were driven by the love of nature. I had never laid eyes on a plant press before, and therefore, had not fully appreciated the process of pressing plants, which can generate artistic results if tactfully executed.

Nemastylis-floridana-2webSharp

Tosohatchee is quite expansive, roughly 33,000 acres altogether, and has a vibrant history to match its dynamic and heterogonous landscape. TWMA is located in Orange County about 20 miles east of Orlando nestled between state road 520 and the St. Johns River and hosts a variety of habitats including cabbage palm hammocks, slash-pine flatwoods, freshwater marsh and the largest expanse of virgin cypress trees in the state of Florida. Within this biological corridor, many endangered and threatened botanical treasures reside, most notably the Celestial Lily (Nemastylis floridana), and Cutthroat Grass (Panicum abscissum), both of which are endemic and endangered, only known only from a few counties in Central Florida.

Paleo-Indians have inhabited the St. Johns River for nearly 6,000 years when saber-toothed tigers, wooly mammoths, mastodons and giant sloths still roamed the land. These were complex cultures that built ceremonial temples and mounds for which people gathered religiously. The remains of these spiritual epicenters can be found throughout TWMA today.

The Timucua Indians of Southern Georgia and Peninsular Florida are believed to be the first people to see the Spanish when as they arrived in the 16th century. The Timucua thrived along the St. Johns River, hunting and feeding on an abundance of fish, turtles and alligators that occupied the region. In the late 1600’s, violence and Eurasian disease for which the Timucua had no immunity severely affected their population reducing their numbers from 200,000 to about 5,000 eventually wiping them out completely.

In the 18th century, naturalist William Bartram explored the St. Johns River jotting down notes about the Indians, wildlife and distinguishing features of the land in perfect prose, embellishing his accounts with copper plates. Bartram’s vessel likely passed through present day TWMA property. I often ponder what Florida must have looked back then, and the thoughts its beauty must have provoked in the minds of the naturalists who explored its lands for the first time. A read through Bartram’s Travels will undoubtedly precipitate this reverie.

Ophioglossum-palmatumwebSharp

Tosohatchee etched its place in history in 1837 during the Second Seminole Indian War when General Jesup sent Cherokee delegates to Tosohatchee Creek on orders to convince the Amerindians to surrender. When the unit arrived, they soon discovered the Amerindians had abandoned the site for Taylor Creek. Shortly after, the Cherokee delegation arrived at Taylor Creek. The Cherokees tried to convince the Seminole Chief Micanopy to surrender, a command that Micanopy desperately responded to by stalling. A month later, under the command of General Eustis, a regiment of cavalrymen dispatched from Fort Christmas and built a stockade along Taylor Creek, which was later named Fort McNeil. Thereupon the Seminoles arrived waving the white flag of surrender where General Jesup seized 78 warriors and 3 chiefs under truce.

In the early 1900’s, many acres of TWMA were bought and sold for lumber and ranching rights until most of it was sold to Tosohatchee Game Preserve. Many roads and landmarks in present day Tosohatchee received their name from George McColloch’s hand-drawn map, which is extremely accurate when layered over a topographic map. George McColloch was the manager of the Tosohatchee Game Preserve in the mid 1900’s. In 1977 Tosohatchee property rights were sold again, this time to the State, thus allowing the William Beardall Tosohatchee State Reserve to become official.

Bumby-Camp-2workingWebsharp

Photo credit: Hannah F. Wooten

The landscape of Tosohatchee still resonates with the spirit of former life. Those with an adventurous heart and an interest in relics of the past might be lucky enough to stumble upon Indian mounds, cattle-dipping vats, abandoned homesteads, artesian wells and the remains of an old railroad built for hauling timber out of Jim Creek. The precise location of some of these historic treasures remains a mystery today, even to the park supervisors. I have personally visited the remains of the old Bumby Camp with the help of the receptionist, Patsy. She was extremely helpful, highlighting trails and circling landmarks of interest on a map of the park. The brick chimney is all that remains of the Bumby Camp but photographs hardly do it any justice. I highly suggest you visit this historic landmark in person.

Tosohatchee will forever be ingrained in my memory as being one of my favorite parcels of land and one of the few places where I honestly feel like I belong. Having seemingly mastered every nook and cranny of the park, my words can not adequately explain why I have dedicated so much time and energy on documenting the flora of Tosohatchee WMA, or why I continue to return, so I must borrow a sentence from Richard Schultes graduate advisor, orchidologist and former director of the Harvard Botanical Museum, Oakes Ames in an attempt to explain myself.Calopogon

“Most people are unable to rest content with a limited area of country in which to study nature, but after
all the truest enjoyment comes from knowing one spot of ground well, even though we limit its extent to a few acres of wood-land.”

My hope is that one-day I will think of the words to properly thank Professor Myers for providing me with the inspiration that served as scaffolding from which I have built my career and positive outlook of the Earth around me. Unfortunately, proper thanks might take words more eloquent than mine. Until then, I will thank him through my actions by dedicating my life to the study and stewardship of the land and the organisms it encompasses.

Leave a Comment