The Briarlake Forest has some colorful flora this time of year. The native Cranefly orchid (Tipularia discolor) is blooming in several places in the forest, usually near a large oak tree.
These orchids are native to most states east of the Mississippi, and are threatened or endangered in several states including Florida (see USDA Plants Database for more information). Some may be seen to the left of the trail leading from Castleway Lane, and a cluster of them can be seen to the left of the trail bisecting the park midway between the Castleway Lane entrance and Briarlake Road.
Cranefly orchids bloom in late summer and early fall. The stalks appear only at this time. During the late fall and winter the plant shows only green leaves with purple spots. These plants thrive especially where the soil has not been disturbed, and where trees such as white oaks are well-established. They need the leaf litter and dead twigs from the oak trees to have the right nutrients to live.
Adding to the color of the forest at this time of year is the native mushroom called Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus). This mushroom lives on trees or fallen logs and is so called because it “tastes like chicken.”
According to the following video from LearnYourLand.com, a distinguishing feature of this mushroom is that it has pores instead of gills. It is one of the easier mushrooms to identify because of its color, and there are few other species that resemble it in any way. Learn Your Land’s Adam Haritan explains how to identify this mushroom and some of its medicinal uses:
NOTE: DeKalb County Park Rules prohibit removal of any plants or plant materials from the park.
Native ginger (Hexastylis arifolia) is also visible throughout the year in the park. This plant makes a flower that resembles a little brown jug. According to Walter Reeves, the seeds of this plant are distributed by ants.
There are many other interesting plants in the forest that depend on the old-growth soil to sustain them. They will thrive best with the least disturbance to the soil possible and with careful removal of invasive species that deplete the soil of the nutrients they need.