Nature Notes and Fun Facts by Frank

Coastal Carolina Spider Lily

Hymenocallis Crassifolia

Each Spring thousands of people tour the Catawba River at Lansford Canal State Park to see the Rocky Shoals Spider Lilies (Hymenocallis Coranaria).  These rare lilies are found also on the Congaree and Broad Rivers and Stephens Creek in the midlands.  But we here along the coast have our own Spider Lily, the Coastal Carolina Spider Lily.  Perhaps even more rare than the Rocky Shoals Spider Lily, the Coastal Carolina Spider Lily blooms from late April through mid June, depending on rainfall.  Its flower is more delicate than the rocky shoals bloom, with the long petals that resemble a spider's legs extending about twice the size of the Rocky Shoals species. - Article credit: Frank Eaton

Muscovy Duck

Cairina moschata


This month's article deals with a non-native species that was introduced as a domesticated animal.  The Muscovy Duck, Cairina moschata, came from wild ducks indigenous to Central and South America.  Although there are many possible reasons for the "Muscovy" name it could be related to the country of Muisca, which is now an area in Colombia, or the Miskito Coast, whose native tribes relied on domesticated flocks of these ducks for food.  Another possibility is that the name came from the Muscovite Company, who some historians claim traded these ducks to Europe and the New World after 1550.   The most likely reason for the name is a corruption of "Musky Duck", as the males have a strong odor.


The Muscovy Duck is a large and hardy bird.  It is not a migratory bird, prefering to live all year in a hospitable habitat.  Feral colonies are now found in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, New Zealand, Mexico, Australia, some parts of Europe, and even in Canada!  The color of these feral birds can vary greatly, from white to black to any combination of the two.  Even brown and mottled brown and black have been documented.  The red caruncles are present in both sexes, but the male has the crest of feathers that can be raised and lowered at will.   Muscovy ducks can interbreed with Mallards, but the resulting offspring are sterile (and hence are called "Mule ducks").   The Muscovy is considered a nuisance bird in many places, but in actuality, it does have some positive effects on its environment.  They eat mosquitoes, centipedes and millipedes, flies and gnats, and also graze on vegetation in wet areas.   Legislation has recently passed that does not allow the sale or trade of these ducks, but a person can raise domestic stock for food (but not for hunting).   In some states, plans are being considered to eradicate the ducks because they are thought to be an invasive species.  The irony of this is that, even as they thrive in these new areas, they are being overhunted and their numbers are declining rapidly in their native lands.


Photo and Article Credit: Frank Eaton





Water Tupelo Nyssa aquatica


    Most of us are familiar with and can identify the trees we see on the Waccamaw River such as the Cypress, Pine, River Birch, Live Oak, and Willow.  There are others we may not recognize, such as the Water Tupelo or Nyssa Aquatica that grow in stands in swampy areas.   The Water Tupelo may also be known as the Cottongum, Sourgum, or Wild Olive.  The name Tupelo comes from the Creek Indian language, a combination of “ito” tree, and “opilwa”, swamp.  The genus Nysaa comes from the Greek name of a water nymph, or possibly Mt. Nyssa, the home of the water nymphs. 

    The tiny greenish-white flowers of the Water Tupelo appear in April or May, sometimes even before the leaves appear.  The flowers are a good source of pollen for bees, and Tupelo honey, mostly from the related White or Ogeechee Tupelo, has been gathered by Native Americans, who then passed the process on to European settlers.   

    The fruit of the Water Tupelo, which is produced in late summer and ripens in early fall, is easily spotted and can help identify the tree.  In other seasons, the rough, light grey bark and wide base, and the large oblong shaped leaves, can help.  The fruit of all the Tupelos is edible and is a food source for deer, raccoons, and many birds.  Humans can eat it as well, though it is bitter and not very palatable.  Right now the fruits will be turning a dark purple, so they can easily be seen.   They are a little larger than a ripe olive, only more oblong and will have a hard ribbed seed pit that takes up most of the size of the fruit. 

     Mature trees can grow as tall as 100 feet with the swollen base tapering upwards to a diameter of as much as 3 feet.  Most of the stands I have encountered rarely exceeded 50 to 60 feet, probably because the wood, which is very straight and evenly grained, has been harvested for making boxes and crates, as well as some furniture.  



Photo Credit: Frank Eaton

Article Credit: Frank Eaton, Yakkity Yakers





Buttonbush, Cephalantis occidentalis


    From June through August the common Buttonbush will be seen blooming along the Waccamaw.  It is a Native plant and is found throughout the Eastern United States.   Buttonbush is thriving on the river this year because it loves flood conditions, and the floods of October and high waters for long periods of time after were beneficial to the plant.  
    When all the lovely Spring flowering plants have quit blooming, the Buttonbush continues to offer pollen gatherers such as bees and wasps nectar.  And in Fall its seeds will supply geese and ducks, especially mallards, with food.  Wood ducks particularly like to nest in mature Buttonbush plants.  It is unique in wetland plants in having whorled leaves and spherical flowers.   
    Although Native Americans used it medicinally, making poultices from its bark and roots, the Buttonbush contains a very toxic poison, Cephalathin.  Never ingest any part of it, or breathe in fumes from burning plants.

Photo Credit: Frank Eaton

Article Credit: Frank Eaton, Yakkity Yakers