But let me start again....
A while back, I discovered a promising book on Amazon.com, Finding Home in the Sandy Lands of the South: A Naturalist's Journey in Florida, by Francis E. "Jack" Putz. Despite having absolutely no extra room for books in the house, I convinced myself that I truly needed this addition to my library. After all, we were talking about an author from the north (who was a naturalist!), living in the same general ecosystem we've just moved to, writing about what he's discovered about the plants and animals of the area since he moved here. Of course I bought it.
Then, equally "logically", Sandy Lands stayed on my bedside bookshelf "maturing" for a while until the time seemed right to read it. That time came a few days ago, as the weather and my schedule started to coalesce, making gardening seem more possible after our move.
As I delved into the book, I enjoyed Dr. Putz's tales of botanical and other adventures immensely, reading some of them aloud to Greg so that he could share them too. Both of us decided that we would love to live in an environmentally focused, land trust based, community neighborhood like Flamingo Hammock, the spot near Gainesville that Dr. Putz has called home for many years now. I know many of the species that were mentioned in his vignettes, so I could accurately picture them as I read, but I learned all sorts of additional, interesting bits and pieces, creating a much fuller understanding of our new habitat.
If you live in the southeastern coastal plain region, this is an enjoyable and informative read - I highly recommend it. Actually, it's an enjoyable and informative read even if you don't live in this region!
Getting back on topic, I highly recommend this book, in fact, despite the fact that it has made me feel like a total dunce about my basic plant identification skills.
The problem started when I read the chapter on "Liberating Live Oaks". Our neighborhood is lucky in having many, many live oak (Quercus virginiana) and sand live oak (Q. geminata) trees, draped with Spanish moss, defining the landscape. The original developer's daughter apparently loved the trees and convinced her father to save as many as he possibly could when he was building the homes. Truthfully, the live oak trees were what drew our daughter to the neighborhood, when she moved to Ft. Walton Beach almost 5 years ago. (She and our grandson were what drew us to the neighborhood...but the live oaks certainly helped clinch the deal.)
Putz, however, was talking about the decline of these beautiful old live oaks due to the encroachment of other hardwood trees, and he listed several species of particular concern that tend to grow fast and tall, overtopping established live oaks and causing their decline. The problematic trees he mentioned specifically were laurel oak (Q. hemisphaerica), water oak (Q. nigra), and sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua).
Suddenly I remembered an earlier essay where he had mentioned that laurel oaks and live oaks could be difficult to tell apart, with similarly sized and shaped leaves. And he was constantly, constantly talking about having to cut out laurel oaks that freely seeded and grew - fast - to crowd out all sorts of other plants.
I guess the best lesson to take away from this humbling experience is to keep learning and to keep questioning my own assumptions. I am truly glad that I realized my mistake now, and not 5 years from now, when the young laurel oak seedlings were well established and hard to pull out. Now I need to decide whether to find tiny live oak seedlings to transplant from neighbors' yards, keeping the local ecotype going, or whether to buy commercially grown young trees for planting. I want to use live oaks for their longevity and wind resistance, even though we'll be long gone before they mature.
One thing's for sure: I'm glad I read Jack Putz's book and I'm glad I questioned my original identification. I'd much rather know the truth than believe in a comfortable lie. In the long run, as my son says, "It's all good."