The Black Creek Form of R. chapmanii
J. Patrick Tatum, Chemistry Department Indiana State University
Terre Haute, Ind.
Noel R. Lake. Landscape and Grounds Supt.
University of Florida Gainesville, Fla.
From January to April, 1978, I was a visiting professor at the Quantum Theory Project, University of Florida. During this brief stay in Gainesville, Florida it was my good fortune to meet two men who are very knowledgeable about the flora of North Florida, Mr. Bob Simons and the other coauthor of this article, Noel R. Lake.
One day during a conversation I had with Bob Simons, Bob said"...there is a stand of R. chapmanii on Black Creek not too far from Jacksonville on the grounds of Camp Blanding." This was a great surprise because any reference book on rhododendrons will usually give the natural range of R. chapmanii as restricted to the area around the Apalachicola River in the Florida panhandle. Camp Blanding is about 180 miles east of the Apalachicola River and only about 40 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, as the crow flies.
About two weeks after the conversation with Bob Simons this information was confirmed by Noel. The presence of this stand has been known locally for some time. Noel first visited the site as an undergraduate student at the University of Florida during the 194950 academic year. At the time he was told a stand existed there but didn't believe it. However he and some other students visited the site and found it exactly as described. I have never visited this site.
Soon after Noel visited this site, Dr. Sam McFadden (retired) visited the site and collected some small plants, seeds and cuttings. These were planted and nurtured by Mr. Paul Emory (deceased) at the University of Florida, Milhopper Horticultural Unit. All of the existing plants of R. chapmanii presently on the University of Florida campus originated in some way from the stand near Black Creek. Through the years Mr. Emory gave plants of R. chapmanii to various people in the Gainesville area.
The general area where this stand of R. chapmanii grows supports a rich variety of ericaceous plant life besides rhododendron. Various species of Lyonia, Vaccinium and Kalmia occur in the same general area as R. chapmanii. The immediate area where this stand of R. chapmanii occurs is highly overgrown with briars which compete with R. chapmanii.
During World War II Camp Blanding was an active military base but soon after the war was over it was closed; it has been completely closed until rather recently. At the present time the Florida National Guard uses it for their summer training exercises. It is unclear to the authors who actually owns the land now, Florida or the federal government. The Florida Field Office of the Nature Conservancy has been contacted concerning this matter and the preservation of this stand.
At the 1978 meeting of the ARS, I had the opportunity to talk to Dr. August Kehr and Dr. Fred Galle about this matter and neither one had heard about a stand of R. chapmanii outside of the Apalachicola River area of Florida. To the authors knowledge this is the first written account of this stand of R. chapmanii or of any stand of R. chapmanii occurring outside of the Apalachicola River area of Florida.
Upon the confirmation of Bob Simons' story by Noel, I wrote a letter to Dr. August Kehr giving him this information. Dr. Kehr wrote back almost immediately to Bob Simons, Kay Ogle and the authors requesting seed from this stand of R. chapmanii for the ARS seed exchange; seeds will be available in the near future.
When I left Gainesville to return to Terre Haute Noel encouraged me to stop by a small nursery near Madison, Fla. owned and operated by Mr. Charles Salter. Mr. Salter is retired from the Forest Service and runs a small nursery that specializes in plants native to North Florida. The Salter Tree Farm is a fascinating place. For instance Magnolia ashei and Magnolia fraseri both grow there.
Among other things I learned a great deal about R. chapmanii from Mr. Salter. For instance R. chapmanii is relatively fire resistant which is certainly helpful for survival in the pine forest area where it usually grows. Of course if the fire gets hot enough the top will be burned to the ground but the plant is stoloniferous and the fire doesn't seem to bother the roots. After a fire, or clear cutting of the forest, nothing in the forest grows faster from a "standing start" than R. chapmanii. The increased light allows seed to germinate; so fire and clear cutting actually increases R. chapmanii in its natural habitat.
Mr. Salter had heard "rumors" for many years that a stand of R. chapmanii existed near Black Creek but he did not believe these stories. However if Noel and Bob Simons agree that such a stand exists he is willing to believe that it does exist.
The authors wish to thank Dr. August Kehr and Mr. Lloyd Partain for the encouragement necessary to get this article written. The authors wish to thank Dr. Sam McFadden and Dr. Tom Sheehan for providing information on the history of R. chapmanii on the University of Florida campus. The authors are especially grateful for the assistance of Mr. Charles Salter for providing information on the ecology of R. chapmanii.
[Editor Note: What follows are excerpts from a letter written by Noel Lake to Pat Tatum dated November 20, 1978.]
On Tuesday, November 14, 1978, Bob Simons and I made a trip to the Camp Blanding Military Reservation in quest of R. chapmanii. The week before I had telephoned their resident forester, Mr. John Greene for permission to hunt these plants. Mr. Greene led us directly to them. According to Mr. Greene there is only one small stand of R. chapmanii remaining in eastern Florida and it is confined to the south banks of the North Fork of Black Creek about a mile from where it begins as an overflow from Kingsley Lake. The embankment where we found them is about a three to one slope approximately 50 feet wide by 150 feet long. I counted 20 plant clusters with approximately 10 to 30 stems arising from a common root system and stretching through considerable competition to a height of 4 to 6 feet. Bob and I gathered as many seed pods as we could find, I have planted a few and enclosed the remainder for your distribution including some if not all for the Rhododendron Society as suggested in Dr. August Kehr's letter of March 8, 1978.
Bob and I searched both sides of Black Creek from this stand of R. chapmanii almost to the confluence of the creek and Kingsley Lake but to no avail. Also, we checked another likely creek bed outside the Camp Blanding Reservation, but again with no luck.