Starting in 1998, The Nature Conservancy assisted the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) with the purchase of this critical wetland along Tarkiln Bayou, known as the Perdido Pitcher Plant Prairie. Adjoining wetlands had already been bulldozed for housing.
While the old forest roads of Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park provide a place for amateur botanists to roam, the easiest hike is to follow the Tarkiln Bayou Trail, which crosses a spectacular pitcher plant bog adjoining the bayou. In April, rubbery red blooms complement the lacy white tops of the white-topped pitcher plants (Sarracenia leucophylla). The preserve also is home to the rare sweet pitcher plant (S. rubra) and Chapman’s butterwort (Pinguicula planifolia). You’ll also find more common wildflowers like wild bachelor’s button and bearded grass-pink.
Length: 1.5 miles
Lat-Long: 30.372647, -87.403058
Fees / Permits: none
Bug factor: Moderate
Tarklin Bayou Preserve State Park is open from 8 AM until 1/2 hour before sunset, and offers a shaded picnic bench and composting privy at the trailhead. The Tarkiln Bayou Trail, an interpretive trail, is fully wheelchair accessible.
West of downtown Pensacola, from the junction of Business US 98 and US 98, drive west. After 10 miles, CR 293, turn left. After 1.6 miles, you reach the park entrance on the right.
I arrived under dark skies on a morning after a swarm of tornadoes left Tennessee and Mississippi reeling in their wake. Dark clouds scudded against a distant deep blue sky. I packed my blue rain jacket, expecting water—of course you expect that en route to a bog. At the Tarkiln Bayou State Park trailhead kiosk, I looked at the rough map of the park. I was surprised to find a sidewalk leading into the woods. And indeed, that’s exactly what it is: a sidewalk. It parallels a forest road.
It started to rain. I considered turning back, as I hate walking on sidewalks through forests, but I let curiosity win. I got off the sidewalk and started poking around off the forest road nearby. Could there be pitcher plants in this depression? Nah. But the sundews were a good sign. It rained harder. I returned to the boardwalk. And then I saw it: a white-topped pitcher plant, just off to the left after 0.4 mile. This must be the right place!
Sure enough, a few moments later, I reached a sign: “Emma Claire Boardwalk of Hope.” I’d hoped for pitcher plants, and here they were in profusion. Red blossoms dripping from the pouring rain, rubbery red blooms and lacy white tops on the trumpets. At 0.7 mile, the boardwalk ends at a spectacular overlook on Tarkiln Bayou, the sweep of needlerush meeting the edge of the forest. A bench provides a place to enjoy the view. But the real reason to come here is the pitcher plant bog and its showy but deadly delights.
In addition to the Tarkiln Bayou Trail (which is not a loop), there are two more trails on site: the Perdido Pitcher Plant Prairie Trail (6.5 mile loop), which branches off the Tarkiln Bayou Trail, and the Wet Prairie Trail (2 mile loop), which starts across the street from the parking area. We plan to return during spring bloom season to check them out!