South Mississippi swamp shootout

Florida anise has become one of my favorite old friends to see whenever I go hiking in swampy areas. Sometimes in low areas it grows so densely that you can’t help but crush some of it underfoot or brush against it and soon the whole swamp has that luscious licorice smell.

The most distinctive parts of the plant are the woody 13-pointed star-shaped seed pods that show up in the autumn after the buds have lost their haloes of red petals.

A while back I heard a great story from a retired forester that taught me something I didn’t know about Florida anise.

It seems that when this old-timer was a little boy he was playing in the woods and found an anise bush with lots of the interesting-looking seed pods. So he did as any boy would, and put a handful of the pods in his pocket.

When he got home he put the anise pods in a tin cup on his window sill and promptly forgot about them.

Some days or weeks later he was lying in his bed at night about to go to sleep and he heard a gunshot outside his window and heard something hit the window.

He rolled off the bed and dove for cover but there was no more gunfire so eventually he crept to the window and peeked out. He couldn’t see the perpetrators and couldn’t even find the hole in the window so he shook his head and went back to bed figuring he’d dreamt it.

But just about the time he was getting settled back in bed he heard another gunshot and something hit his window so he rolled off onto the floor again.

This cycle of gunshots, hiding, confusion, and returning to bed repeated throughout the night but he never saw hide nor hair of the shooter that was keeping him awake until the sun finally came up.

In the light he discovered that his anise pods had dried out and that night they had been audibly bursting and explosively expelling their seeds, some of which were pelting the window or the sides of the tin cup!

I had known that anise reproduced through these woody star-shaped pods, and I’d figured that they had to open up somehow, but I had no idea that the expulsion of the seeds was explosive and audible!

I’m going to have to repeat his little experiment with anise pods in a metal cup and see if I can reproduce that!


boardwalk leading through cypress swamp on the Natchez Trace Parkway

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Categories: Hiking, Nature