Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Paddling with Skeletons

Paddling with Skeletons
Shirley Denton

Twice in the last two months, I have joined friends on multi-day paddling trips in southern Florida. The first (in late December, 2017) was to the shoreline southeast of Goodland.  We were in the area in the quadrant of the storm with the strongest on-shore winds. The second was the Florida Keys near Big Pine Island in April, 2018. We paddled at Cudjoe Key where the eye of Hurricane Irma passed over the Florida Keys and 6 other places the quadrant of the storm with the strongest winds up to Marathon. 

Just this week, this week (April 17), several preliminary reports from NASA on Hurricane Irma damage in the Everglades were released, so it seems like a good time to share some general observations with you.

On both trips, I was particularly interested in the hurricane damage, variation in degree of damage, and in any signs of recovery. Some things were apparent: red and black mangroves in the Keys appeared to have suffered the most. On the Atlantic side, almost all were dead.  The area had few white mangroves. Buttonwoods, where present, appeared to have had better survival than red or black mangroves. On the bay side, exposed mangrove islands had near total mortality. Sheltered mangrove islands and shallow mangrove flats with small trees had good survival. Hammocks adjacent to the beach had little to no regrowth. Hammocks in higher, inland areas seems to have survived fairly well.

Coastal shallows along Big Pine Key. Both red and black mangroves were mostly dead.  
The coastal hammocks, common on the islands near Goodland, were also very hard hit, and at least in December, seemed to have near total mortality. While mangroves near Goodland had substantial mortality, there were usually a few live trees even on the coast and more on islands inland from the coast.

Beach with erosion and badly damaged coastal hammock near Goodland

Beach with dead black mangroves and significant erosion near Goodland

The beaches in the Keys had taken a different hit – the beach sand had been swept up and dumped inland often leaving exposed rock along the former beach and the beach sands piled inland forming new dunes. Most of these dunes were clearly not welcomed as they had buried roads, buried coastal hammocks, covered former landscaped areas, and wreaked havoc in parks, natural areas, and seaside residential and commercial areas. 
NASA has done some overflights of the Everglades in recent weeks doing aerial photography and using LIDAR, some of their initial results have been published. Their results show broad patterns of damage consistent with the casual observations that we made on our paddle trips.

In some cases, the cause of mortality was obvious. In areas where the trees were likely exposed to storm surge and strong waves, many mangroves had been toppled or uprooted. But in many others, the trees were denuded of leaves but still standing – and very dead. Along these same coasts, there was little evidence of new mangrove recruitment.
Even slight shelter from the winds, however, apparently provided significant protection even in areas that had clearly experienced high water.   

In the Keys, we went to an area (near Marathon) where there is an extensive, mostly red mangrove, swamp with tunnels running through it that provide access for kayaks. On the exposed edges, mortality was nearly total. However, there were areas inside of the swamp where there was almost no mortality and many young healthy recruits. Around the islands on the Florida Bay side of the keys, the islands where there was little wind protection had much greater damage than in areas where there was some protection.  Areas where all of the mangroves were small and better described as shrubs than trees, often had many live and apparently healthy red mangroves.

Small, apparently healthy short mangroves in a shallow area on Florida Bay just east of Cudjoe Key

At Buck Island (a mangrove swamp with an open center), tall and exposed trees were dead. Short interior trees appeared to be healthy

This led me to look at easily accessible scientific studies on causes of mangrove mortality from hurricanes.   I found lots of studies on patterns of mortality – after Andrew, Wilma, and other major storms. Only a few looked at mechanisms of damage and factors that will likely affect recovery. Those few focused on red mangrove. 

There is some data on some physical factors likely related to mortality. It is limited since equipment has a high failure rate when exposed to the extreme conditions of hurricanes.  Unbeknown to me, storm surge heights are apparently difficult to measure (for instance, see Miami Herald, Sept. 21, 2017, http://www.miamiherald.com/news/weather/hurricane/article174681556.html), and the water height varies with location – a water level on one side of an island would not be the same as the level on the other side.  

In the Florida keys, the area between Cudjoe Key and Marathon likely had the highest storm surge (Needham, Sept. 12, 2017, http://wxshift.com/news/blog/irmas-wild-coastal-floods-storm-surge).  Both cited articles suggest a storm surge between 4 and 6 ft in the Cudjoe to Marathon area, but I saw no data for the Florida Bay side of the islands.  

Various reports for Goodland (observations but no data), suggest a 2-3 ft storm surge.  Wind gauges break, and most mangrove swamps don’t have gauges in them. This storm moved sand and reshaped islands. Depths of blown away and deposited sands are measured only in a few places, and even less would be known about redistribution of finer materials. Definitive studies have not yet been published, and it is likely that NASA’s LIDAR data will be the best available in terms of above-water land surface changes.

So, some thoughts –

1. Most of these mangrove forests will not recover quickly.   The scientific literature suggests that red mangroves cut or broken near the bottom do not resprout.  Salinity control and aeration in red mangrove roots depend on energy produced by photosynthesis.  With no leaves, there is no source of energy, a factor that likely leads to lack of internal salt control and mortality.  Roots can also be smothered by fine materials.

2. Lack of propagules will slow recolonization.  

3. There may be more mortality over the next few years.

4. Locations of mangrove forests may shift.  Several studies, in particular (Cahoon et al., 2003, https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1046/j.1365-2745.2003.00841.x) have found that in areas of mass mortality and significant organic content in the mangrove swamp soils, the soils experienced subsidence after mortality, while in areas where survival was high, accretion occurred.  On Big Pine Key, our group also observed that some bays had silted in which could lead to new areas suitable for mangrove colonization (or not, depending on silt content).  Large areas near Cudjoe Key and Boot Island (near Marathon) have the potential to become centers of recruitment since they were dominated by small mangroves with good survival.  Some reports suggest that some of these same areas may have developed initially as an aftermath of the 1935 hurricane which apparently eliminated extensive areas of black mangrove swamps.

5. Indirect effects, such as pollution and sea level rise will likely affect regrowth.  A 2004 Smithsonian sponsored study in the Indian River Lagoon after it was hit by hurricanes Francis and Jeanne found that pollution increased growth rates of black mangroves but made them more susceptible to wind damage.  Sea level rise will likely affect the distribution of areas with appropriate water level ranges for mangrove establishment.  
6. The coastal hammocks looked like they might recover fairly quickly where the majority of the trees were still standing.  We saw new leaves on many trees in coastal hammocks in the Keys.  However, there could be shifts in species composition especially if there was extensive soil erosion or sand deposition.  Where large numbers of trees were blown down, recovery will be a long process.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Purplish-Blue Delights Waving in the Breeze

During a recent six-mile hike in Julington-Durbin-Preserve in S.E. Jacksonville, I stopped suddenly, next to a prescribed burn area, noticing over 100 thin stemmed, six petaled bluish purple flowers swaying in the breeze. 

Gathering my thoughts, the tumblers in my brain lined up to think 
“Bartram’s Ixia”!

Calydorea caelestina in an Endemic, Endangered Iris 
that only grows in 8 counties in Zones 9a and 8b 
in Northeastern Florida.

This Ixia’s habitat includes wet to mesic pine flatwoods that are maintained by prescribed fires. This short-lived perennial blooms in the spring. The flowers open early around sunrise then close within a few hours.

Named after William Bartram who discovered the Ixia during his Florida travels in 1774.

Blog and Photos by Ixia Chapter member Bill Berthet

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Going Natural: The Importance of Home Composting for Native Plants

Going Natural: The Importance of Home Composting for Native Plants
By Jackie Edwards

Native plants aren’t by any means demanding...all they require in order to flourish is a natural environment. No need for chemical fertilizers, irrigation systems or complex programs of management. That’s great news if you’ve planted native species of Central Florida in your yard. The local climate will serve your plants well, and the soil will be matched to their requirements. However, to ensure you maintain optimum soil conditions, especially important with sandy soils typical of the Florida region, it’s a good idea to use home compost. This is the natural, environmentally-friendly way to replenish nutrients.

Making environmental sense
According to the EPA, 20 to 30 per cent of our waste is organic material that should be composted. This would keep these materials out of landfills where they release methane into the atmosphere, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

Boosting soil quality
Home composting is the natural way to enrich your soil, helping it retain moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests. By adding compost, you will promote the healthy growth of native species and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers that degrade soil quality over time and make it vulnerable to invasive non-native plants.

Money in your wallet
There are inevitable financial benefits to home composting: no need to invest in fertilizers, potting compost or mulch. The only cost involved is an initial investment in a compost bin; however, you may prefer to construct one yourself or, as Florida’s warm climate allows, you could use an open air compost pile.

Easy as mud pie!
The rules of good composting are very simple. Always ensure you use organic material, with a good mix of green materials, rich in nitrogen, and brown materials, rich in carbon. Green materials may include garden waste, such as plant trimmings, grass and leaves, and kitchen waste, such as fruit and vegetable scraps, and coffee grounds. And brown materials may include shredded newspaper, cardboard and paper towels. Avoid meat, dairy, dog and cat litter and invasive plant trimmings which can survive the composting process. Try to aim for a ratio of 1 to 3 of green to brown materials and rotate your compost every few days. Within a few months, you will have a dark, crumbly, humus-rich product.

Are YOU home composting?
As can be seen, there are numerous benefits to the simple art of home composting, and yet a survey sponsored by the National Waste & Recycling Association found that 67 per cent Americans currently don’t compost but would be willing to do so. So what can be done to encourage more take up?
In Hillsborough, the UF/IFAS Extension runs free ‘Compost Happens’ workshops with the aim of encouraging more people to get involved in home composting. They also host valuable teaching resources on their website. So, if you’re keen to grow native plants in your yard and give them the very best nourishment in an environmentally responsible way, then there’s really no excuse...get started on your home compost. 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Nature in Broward: The Silent Crisis of Local Rare Species Extinction

Nature in Broward: The Silent Crisis of Local Rare Species Extinction
by Richard Brownscombe

A recent review of vegetation maps and firsthand knowledge of Broward natural areas reveals that less than 3.5% of metropolitan land remains for nature. Some ecosystems, such as Scrub, Pine Flatwoods, and Wet Prairie, are now 1% of their size in 1943. Late conservation efforts enabled by Preservation 2000 and Forever Florida gave us a patchwork of small, isolated preserves. Each is important and valuable as a last remnant of a unique subtropical ecosystem. Some have an evolutionary history tens of thousands of years old. Five hundred plant species are living in these metropolitan parks and preserves. By comparison, two hundred plant species live in the large western wetlands, the Everglades Wildlife Management Areas. Therefore, our greatest biodiversity is within metropolitan Broward.

Largeflower false-rosemary, Conradina grandiflora, is endemic to scrub habitat in Florida (a species that exists nowhere else in the world).  Broward's last remaining scrub habitat is now 1% of the scrub land that existed in 1943. Photo by Bob Peterson.

Broward is Florida's second most populated county, so its urban density surrounding these parks and preserves makes conservation a new challenge. We are facing widespread local extinction sooner than other counties. To grasp the conservation problem—and opportunity—it might be useful to think of our small preserves as the outdoor rooms of a living natural history museum. As caretakers of the last remaining wild places in Broward with a responsibility to protect rare and valuable living collections, we get a failing grade. The community is blind to the rapid deterioration underway, the small size of these rare populations, and the relatively cheap price of saving wildlife and wild places for science, for public education and enjoyment, and for the future.

Snake on Spatterdock, Nuphar lutea subsp. advena in Fern Forest

No funded studies of rare flora and fauna in Broward or publications about them have accurately declared Broward's current conservation status. We know from the Institute for Regional Conservation (IRC) that 21 plant species are extirpated (locally extinct). An additional 16 plant species were historical in Broward (probably locally extinct). In other words, one in 20 of all native species is likely already lost. Broward County has additional records, but I am not aware that they have been scientifically reviewed to improve and update the IRC data. It is tragic that we haven't yet published a report of all plant and animal species on the brink of extinction in Broward so that the public, conservationists, foundations, and county commissioners could be sufficiently alarmed.

Summer farewell, Dalea pinnata var. adenopoda – lost from Broward County

The worst threat to indigenous species in Broward is invasive plants. By definition an invasive species is an exotic plant that displaces (kills) native species in the wild. In the photo below, Air-potato vine smothers a forest. There is no food for wildlife here. It silently starves trees and nearly all beneath until County Park employees or contractors come to free them. The county invasive removal program is underfunded and no match for the pace of invasive growth. Each season is an increasing threat to fragile rare plants and animals, the most exciting elements of our wild places.

Above: Common air-potato, Dioscorea bulbifera, a Category I invasive plant from Africa and Asia, usurps sunlight, moisture, and nutrients, eventually killing even large trees.

Below: One month later, a Broward Park staffer gives thumbs up to hard-won success. Different highly invasive plant species require different scientifically tested methods of removal to protect rare indigenous species and habitats.

No media attention, no political speech, no commissioner, few conservationists, and no Marjory Stoneman Douglas asks the people of Broward to commit $1,000,000 (the county budget is $3.7 billion) to invasive plant removal as a one-time cleanup effort and then further commit to doubling the annual invasive removal budget from the current $300,000 to $600,000 (more in line with the per acre budgets of Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties). Look through Broward's budget line items to ponder why so many other priorities are more important than saving nature in Broward. The public and charitable community are not yet aware of the silent invasive plant crisis, the relatively low cost to control it, or the value of remaining wild places.

While urgent, invasive removal is not a sufficient vision for Broward natural areas. Each preserve needs fencing and signage that expresses the importance and value of what it contains. Each needs to educate unobtrusively (museum technologies provide high-quality video or captioned photography on smartphones as you walk by and without the clutter of signage). Broward natural parks and preserves could be exciting educational portals to understanding South Florida's alluring and unique subtropical ecosystems, not as dusty display-case exhibits, but within living nature, telling the history of life and its current adaptation. Scientific research should be a constant to discover what is unknown, monitor conservation, excite the public about nature, and further understanding about how nature is responding to urbanization and climate change.

Hillsboro Pineland, Coconut Creek

But to enjoy natural places in Broward we must do the most basic and essential step of controlling the invasive plants that are now rapidly destroying these places. Join me in sounding the alarm. My voice is not enough to awaken the community.

Spider on native Mexican primrosewillow, Ludwigia octovalvis, in Hillsboro Pineland Natural Area

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Citizens to the Rescue!

Members of the Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS) have sure been busy this hurricane season – rescuing Florida native plant communities – some from the hurricanes but mostly from the bulldozers! From the Panhandle to south Florida, FNPS and our partners have been racing to rescue native plants, and plant communities.

As of October 23rd, we have rescued 1,000s of plants in the Panhandle, countless rare Tillandsias in south Florida, and in central Florida more than 3,200 plants from a rare Sandhill parcel with many more collection days still ahead of us. 

Words cannot adequately express how grateful we are for the outpouring of financial and volunteer support from our members, concerned citizens, and our conservation partners. 

There are so many to thank and not enough room for here for everyone’s name, but let’s start: our 81 generous financial donors, our 100+ volunteers, and our partners from Oakland Nature Preserve, St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Koreshan State Historic Site, Green Isle Gardens Nursery, Florida State Parks, Lake County Water Authority, St. Johns River Water Management District, and Lake County Parks and Trails.

Thank you all for supporting our mission in action and helping to conserve our native plant communities for future generations! 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

1,000’s of endangered plants were rescued in the Panhandle from a roadside trail development.  

Among the species rescued were Ruellia noctiflora (Nightflowering Wild Petunia), and Asclepias lanceolata (Fewflower Milkweed).

The Koreshan State Historic Site, located just north of Hurricane Irma’s peninsular Florida landfall, took quite a hit. Many trees, covered in endangered Tillandsias (Air Plants) were toppled.  

As soon as they could, volunteers from the Coccoloba Chapter joined park staff to rescue endangered Tillandsias from the downed trees.

Before being rescued from their Sandhill home, seeds were collected from the endangered Bonamia grandiflora (Florida Bonamia) plants.  

Other endangered plants seen in this photo are Polygala lewtonii (Lewton’s Polygala), 
and Stylisma abdita (Showy Dawnflower)

All plants and seeds will be used for nearby restoration projects on public lands.

Chris Matson, a biologist with District 3 of Florida State Parks, is shown driving a UTV to move the rescued plants to the trailers for transport off property.

From left to right: Mark Kateli, Will Kluzowski, Jackie Rolly, and Cecie Catron, 
removing plants from the Sandhill rescue site in Lake County.

Green Isle Gardens owner Marc Godts is shown moving plants into shaded enclosures at Green Isle Gardens to offer them protection from intense summer sun, and heat.  

After recovering for a few months from the stress of removal, all plants will be planted at nearby public lands as part of their Sandhill restoration projects.

Author/photos: FNPS Conservation Committee

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Wildflower Wednesday ~ Chapman's Blazing Star

Chapman’s Blazing Star is one of 16 species of Liatris listed in the Florida Atlas of Vascular Plants. It has a patchy distribution throughout the state in scrub, sandhills and dunes 

The basal rosette appears in the early spring and flowers begin to appear in late August several weeks before other blazing stars start to flower.  By early October most of the flowers of this short-lived perennial have gone to seed and the leaves have withered and turned brown.

Liatris chapmanii is fairly easy to recognize because the flowers grow down stalk and are often interspersed with the upper leaves.  The stout flower stocks are usually about three feet tall.  Dense clusters of bright lavender flowers and buds cling tightly to the flower stalk. During its month of blazing glory, L. chapmanii is a magnet for butterflies and bees.

Chapman’s Blazing Star is only offered for sale by a few native plant nurseries, or at native plant sales.  To succeed in a wildflower planting, it must be in a very well drained, sunny location. 

Author/photo credit: Jean Evoy

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Summer Farewell (Dalea pinnata) - a Titan among nectar plants for N.E. Florida Pollinators in September and October

When scheduling Butterfly Holiday trips to all parts of the world, I always leave open the months of September and October. During this time, the greatest diversity and number of butterflies and many other N.E. Florida pollinators are attracted to  flowering plants in the Genera: Carphephorus, Liatris, Dalea, Vaccinium, Dioda, Elephantopus, Bidens, Lachnanthes, and  others.

Southern Dogface on Liatris pauciflora

When conditions are right, in the dry pinelands and sand hill areas in Julington-Durbin Preserve, Ralph E Simmons and Jennings State Forests, acres of Summer Farewell (Dalea pinnata) can be in bloom attracting multitudes of butterflies and other N.E. Florida pollinators.

Summer Farewell (Dalea pinnata)

There are eight native Dalea species growing in Florida. Three are vouchered in N.E. Florida, D. carnea, D. carnea var. albida, and D. pinnata, with D. pinnata being the most common.

Summer Farewell (Dalea pinnata)

Summer Farewell (D. pinnata) is a gangly 2-4 foot tall herbaceous perennial wildflower, with branching stems that are smooth and slightly woody. The white flowers are 8-9 mm in length, with 5 petals, and 5 stamens. Leaves are alternate; blades are once-divided, with 3-9 needle-like leaflets 5-8 mm long. Inflorescence is somewhat flattened with domed terminal heads having numerous leaf-like bracts.

Summer Farewell (Dalea pinnata)

Summer Farewell, also called Whitetassles and Florida Prairieclover in other parts of the state, is the host plant for the Southern Dogface (Zerene cesonia) butterfly.
Migrating butterflies such as the Monarch, Long- tailed Skipper, Cloudless Sulphur and Gulf Fritillary depend on the nectaring power this wildflower provides.

Summer Farewell (Dalea pinnata)

Butterflies love to perch on the flower head continually stabbing their proboscus probing for nectar. Because of the weak stem structure swallowtail and other large butterflies need to constantly flap their wings to balance themselves for the nectaring opportunities this flower produces.

Monarch at Summer Farewell (Dalea pinnata)

The thick clump-like nature of this wildflower also provides cover for pollinators to hide.
Summer farewell requires high levels of sunlight to bloom properly and good drainage; otherwise its taproot will rot.

Female Tiger Swallowtail Dark Phase at Summer Farewell (Dalea pinnata)

The weather conditions this year in N.E. Florida have been highly favorable, providing acres of white flowers swaying in the breeze.

Eastern Black Swallowtail at Summer Farewell (Dalea pinnata)

Now is the time to get out and enjoy what Mother Nature has to provide. You can spend hours lurking around, marveling at the number of pollinators this wildflower attracts. Wait for a sunny to partly cloudy day with little to no wind for easier photographic conditions, as this plant can sway back and forth even in a light breeze.

Gulf Fritillary at Summer Farewell (Dalea pinnata)

Make sure to tuck your pants into your socks, spray with insect repellent around the sock and waist areas, along with other parts of the body. Wear a hat, use high ankle and double tie the laces on your boots. Use a high SPF sunscreen. Be aware of uneven terrain, gopher tortoise burrows, ground debris, fire ants, along with plants and vines that have thorns.
Bringing along a pair of binoculars will greatly enhance your in the field experience. Be sure to take a shower and check for  ticks when you get back home.

Text and Photos by Bill Berthet, Ixia Chapter, FNPS

Resources used:
Atlas of Florida Plants
Wildflowers of Florida and the Southeast: David W. Hall and William J. Weber

Native Wildflowers and other Ground Covers for Florida Landscapes: Craig N. Huegel