Sunday, September 30, 2018

Field Trip to Ashton Biodiversity Research and Preservation Institute

On January 20 2018 several members of the Paynes Prairie chapter traveled to Ashton Biodiversity Research and Preservation Institute (ABRPI). Chase Pirtle, the animal care specialist and habitat manager met us at the gate. Chase is an authorized Gopher Tortoise Agent and an instructor and private land manager for the Eastern Diamondback Conservation Foundation. He also holds a FWC venomous license.

We drove in to the Headquarters and met Maggie Curtis, also a biologist at Ashton who assists Chase in the management of the facility. The headquarters also serves as an incubator, nursery and cold weather shelter for the tortoise collection. In large tubs and kiddy pools filled with pine needles and turkey oak leaves are several Radiated Tortoises (native to Madagascar) and a Yellow Footed Tortoise (native to South America). 

Radiated Tortoises are critically endangered in Madagascar and these are the descendants of individuals collected for the illegal pet trade and confiscated at airports. Chase told us
that they move the smaller tortoises into the building when the weather turns really cold. 

They keep the lights off and the temperature cool to simulate winter so the tortoises behave normally as if they were outside. It seems to work since they were all hunkered down and not trying to escape. We toured the nursery room in which several bins hold young Radiated Tortoises of different sizes. They remain in the nursery from hatching until they reach 150-200 grams and are too big to become lunch for crows and
other predators outside. 

After reaching this threshold they get to live outside, unless the weather gets too cold. There is also a small incubator room where Leopard Tortoise eggs were hatching even as we watched. While the females will lay eggs outside, the hatching rate is very low and the few that do hatch rarely survive. Hatching and survival is much improved by incubating the eggs. 

From the incubator they go to the nursery and then outside. Sadly, there isn’t enough intact habitat on Madagascar to return them to the wild so at some point in time they may be exchanged with other certified organizations elsewhere. Just outside are the outdoor holding pens which are delineated by 2 foot tall fencing. They are mostly open with some natural vegetation. Tucked away in corner shelters are large adults (Radiated Tortoises, Leopard Tortoises and one Bolivian Red Footed tortoise) who can tolerate the temperatures. FYI, Red Foot tortoises like to have the rear of their carapaces scratched and Radiated tortoises like to have their bellies rubbed. One female followed Chase through the paddock after a nice belly rub.

We had a quick look at the raised garden in which Chase grows vegetable for the tortoises. Some beds are in very large basins and some were in refrigerators which Chase acquired for free and hollowed out and drilled holes in to make a perfectly fine raised bed for the vegetables. He intends to plant native fruiting plants around the perimeter of the garden and the holding pens to supplement their diets. 

We then piled into vehicles to tour the Preserve property as well as some of the adjacent property. Naturally it is all longleaf pine and scrub oak sand hill ecology. Chase has negotiated with some of the surrounding property owners to purchase the land or have the land designated as conservation easements. Ultimately he is trying to create a natural corridor from Goethe State Park to Watermelon Pond Wildlife Management Area.

There are roughly 500 gopher tortoises on the Preserve and the adjacent properties, all of which were hunkered down waiting until the temperatures rise to a reasonable 70° or so. If temperatures remain cold for extended periods the tortoises go into a hibernation-like stage called brumation. Gopher Tortoises are a keystone species and at least 411 other animal and insect species are known to use their burrows. Chase is fortunate to live in one of the facilities on the property. There is another facility for long term volunteers and researchers.

After our trip through the woods we returned to headquarters and took a quick look at a drift fence which is used for catching reptiles for collecting census data. This was an excellent trip. ABPRI does great work.

Ashton Biological Research and Preservation Institute, inc. (ABPRI) is a private, non-profit conservation area and research facility encompassing nearly 100 acres in North Central Florida. Information and a mission statement can be found at: 

Tours can be arranged and donations are always welcome.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Who Doesn't Love a Cocoplum?

Who Doesn't Love a Cocoplum?
By Ellen Broderick

Photo by Ellen Broderick

Easy to grow here in Martin County with dark purply-blue plums, occasionally white, or unusually pink. Wildlife hide and feast among the offerings of Chrysobalanus icaco. In the planned landscape cocoplum's full leafy branches work well as screens, or they can be shaped within garden islands, and even survive buzz-cuts in parking lots. Naturally they grow in South Florida swamps, moist forests, coastal beaches and thickets. Post hurricane their naked branches re-bud and grow new leaves without much fuss. 

If you've been around for a while you might know us as the "Cocoplum Chapter." The name was always Martin County but somewhere along the way we picked up the Cocoplum tag. For clarity and with a nod to the Martin County difference we've reclaimed our true name. But it's no big deal if you want to keep calling us cocoplums. They are, after all, very sweet in so many ways.

Photo by Linda Eastman

Photo by Linda Eastman

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

FNPS Citrus Chapter Member Honored

The Citrus Chapter awarded chapter member, Barbara McCormick the 2018 Green Palmetto Award for Education at our Sept. 4th chapter meeting. The nomination letter was read to the audience. The chapter also gave Barbara a gift card as a thank you for all she does for our chapter along with a bouquet of native bloomers. Barbara's nomination letter is below.

March 14, 2018
Citrus County Florida

Barbara McCormick, a native Floridian, veteran and former Army officer, joined the
Citrus Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society in 2003. She brought with her many
years of experience as a Master Gardener and horticulturalist at Walt Disney World’s
University of Disney Garden program while attending Valencia College.

In 2002 Barbara started her own nursery named Nature by Design which specialized in
native plants as well as Florida friendly plants. Unfortunately the nursery was
destroyed by the back to back storms of 2004. Since then, while working as a private
consultant for the landscape planning and maintenance of a small number of very
exclusive Citrus County estates, she has dedicated herself to the expansion of knowledge
and appreciation of Native Plants in Citrus County.

She volunteers at the Extension Service educating both adults and youth about Florida-
friendly landscapes. In 2016 she was awarded a grant from Keep Citrus County
Beautiful (KCCB) to put in a native plant demonstration landscape at the Extension
office in Lecanto, FL. It is one of the small jewels in Citrus County and would not have
happened without Barbara’s dedication to the planning, layout, planting and
continuing maintenance to have this showplace for others to enjoy. She also volunteers
at a monthly plant clinic at one of the big box stores and is active in the Chazzahowitzka
River Keepers dedicated to the restoration and care of the River. She also co-founded a
4-H youth group with a focus on environmental education through experimental
learning and she created a Native Plant Spotlight program where she shares
information at the monthly Master Gardener meetings.

One of her biggest contributions to the world of Native Plants is her monthly program
called “Barbara’s Bits” prior to each Citrus Chapter meeting. She packs over an hour’s
worth of information into her thirty minute interactive program each month to the
thrill of the twenty-five to thirty Native Plant enthusiasts, both members and guests,
who come early to the Chapter meeting for Barbara’s informative program. This is a
major draw for the Citrus Chapter and she continually receives rave reviews for her

Her knowledge about plants in general is spectacular and her willingness to share her
knowledge is immeasurable.

The Citrus Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society proudly and enthusiastically
nominates Barbara McCormick for the annual Green Palmetto Award for Education.

Gail Taylor, President - Citrus Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society

Thursday, August 23, 2018

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

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Florida Native Plant Society: Faithful Friends of Florida’s Flora

Anyone who considers themselves to be the least bit knowledgeable in a field pertaining to plants will tell you that Florida holds some of North America’s finest examples of natural flora. While many explorers of the southern-most state will more often return home with stories of alligators, manatees or Disney World, it is truly the towering trees, radiant flowers and tranquil wetlands that are deserving of awe and admiration. What accompanies such attention however, is a constant need for protection, preservation and education where the many multitudes of Floridian plant species are concerned. With a focus on those species that have been growing naturally in the region since before the founding of America, the Florida Native Plant Society fights on the front lines for the rights of the region’s native flora, be they land or water based.

From Seeds to Trees: The Early Years

Founded in early in the summer of 1980, the creation of the non-profit Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS) was headed by Bill Partington. At the time, Partington was already the director of the Florida Conservation Foundation in Winter Park, but felt the need to do more to assist in the protection of Florida’s unique native plant species. In collaboration with numerous other Floridian environmentalists and groups, the one hundred and fifty member organization went on to host its first conference in February 1981, as well as publish its first newsletter and a year later in 1982, Dr. Henry Whittier was the FNPS’s first active member to publish a book on Florida’s native flora species. Since the organization’s official incorporation in 1985, the Florida Native Plant Society has gone on via its dedicated members and volunteer support to publish a multitude literary works on the state’s native plants, and has created several grant programs to promote research, conservation and restoration of Florida’s native plants and plant communities, and the lands which play host to the plants that the group works so hard to protect. To this day, the core mission of the FNPS has remained the same: to support the acquisition and management of conservation land, to educate of the public, to further research and conserve native plants, and to encourage landscaping practices that promote the conservation of Florida’s native plant species, both rare and common.

Acres of Success

Since its inception over thirty eight years ago, the members of the Florida Native Plant Society have worked hard to promote the acquisition and management of Florida’s natural lands. FNPS has consistently supported Florida Forever and the programs which came before it.  These state land acquisition programs have been an astounding success. Do date, these efforts helped to protect over 610, 270 acres of conservation areas with strategic habitats, 696, 240 acres of ecological greenways, and 713, 420 acres of Florida’s significant water bodies. Additional achievements can be found on the FNPS official website. 

Within the numerous acres of protected native flora in Florida, one of the primary management problems is the prevalence of invasive, non-native plant species. According to the FNPS, an invasive plant is, typically, a species of plant alien to the local geography. Either on purpose or by accident, these non-native plants will proceed to thrive, subsequently putting a strain on or even endangering native plant species with their ever-spreading populations. With the help of community volunteers and local chapter members, the FNPS takes issue with invasive vegetation, and continues to go to great lengths to weed out the problem.

Generous Grants for Community Success

Surprisingly enough, the Florida Native Plant Society is one of the few Floridian environmental organizations that consistently provide funding for the research, conservation, and restoration of the state’s native plant species and natural areas. In addition to providing grant support throughout the state, the FNPS is also a resource to local students of ecology, should they require either a grant or simply an additional source of native plant knowledge. Grants, when given, are provided with enthusiasm to those individuals whose work in their particular field shows potential to rejuvenate native Floridian plant life. Research funding is made available from the interest earned from the Florida Native Plant Society’s Endowment Fund and annual donations to the research awards. So far, more than seventy citizens, organizations, and government agencies have been granted funds that have allowed them to work towards a greener Florida with as great a number of native plants as possible.

Mindful Landscaping

Widespread public knowledge of native plants in Florida has always been one of the primary goals of the Florida Native Plant Society. In particular, the organization has made a point of promoting landscape developments which assist in creating habitats wherein native flora can be planted. For the benefit of communities great and small all around the state of Florida, the FNPS has completed a model landscape ordinance, the intended use of which is to provide guidelines that will help communities save water and create more plant-friendly urban environments. The FNPS routinely organizes tours of those areas which play host to a wide variety of native plants, giving visitors a taste of rich Floridian flora, or assisting in the vegetation education of locals. In addition, the Florida Native Plant Society also partners with native plant growers of the Florida Association of Native Nurseries to provide and sell native plants at local plant sales.  These plant sales benefit local gardens both private and public, as well as providing helpful planting demonstrations and technical skills to gardeners who wish to improve the population of native plants with their own green thumbs.

The Native Plant Network

With a statewide coverage of over thirty-seven chapters, the Florida Native Plant Society is not short on assistance in its constant fight to ensure that the roots of local plants are strong as those of an ancient tree. Still, the organization invests numerous hours into its array of educational programs with the intention of rallying many more Floridians to assist in the process of native plant restoration. The programs, held by each chapter at their individual monthly meetings, span a number of environmentally-based topics and range from native plant conservation to local wildlife rescue. The FNPS also organizes over two hundred field trips yearly, offering its members the chance to stop and smell the “roses.” In giving those who would volunteer with the FNPS a chance to fully experience the native plants within the state of Florida, the organization believes that a deeper connection to nature can be made, as opposed to one only forged through words and images. However, there are those who prefer to have an online view into the world of the Florida Native Plant Society, or are simply too far away or otherwise unable to become part of one of the organization’s chapters. For those individuals, the FNPS has, in addition to its primary website, created profiles of its activities on numerous social media platforms. Engaging, educational material is readily available on the group’s Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and public blog, and is kept up to date with new information on the Florida Native Plant Society’s efforts to promote the growth, protection and longevity of all native Floridian flora.

The Florida Native Plant Society ( can be reached via telephone at 321-271-6702 or email at

Letters can be addressed to FNPS, PO Box 278, Melbourne FL 32902-0278. 

A complete list of chapters, chapter heads, and board of directors can be found at

Article by Tony McLellan -- April 29, 2018

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,, 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,  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, 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