Friday, January 31, 2014

Land Management Review - Ft Pierce Inlet State Park

By Lynn Sweetay,  Palm Beach Chapter of F.N.P.S.

We met with representatives from various
organizations to review the park's management plan
A wonderfully sunny, cool Monday morning found me at my second land management review on the beach!  On January 13, I met with representatives from the Florida Park Service, DEP, FWC, Forestry, Soil and Water Conservation, South Florida Water management district, and other local government officials. Our purpose was to review the previous management plan written for Ft Pierce Inlet State Park and see if the park was meeting its management goals as written in 2006. Ft Pierce Inlet State Park is located on the North side of the Ft Pierce Inlet in St Lucie County just on the south tip of Hutchinson Island. The park is approximately 1140 acres including parts of the Indian River-Vero Beach Ft Pierce Aquatic preserve as well as Atlantic Ocean frontage. The five prevalent natural communities within the park are beach dune, maritime hammock, marine tidal swamp, estuarine grass bed and ruderal.

Sea oats, cabbage palms, and other natives
After introductions we jumped into assorted cars and trucks to tour the park. We drove through a huge parking area with plenty of parking spaces, passed several well kept pavilions for picnickers then stopped at the new bathhouse and walked a crushed coquina path to the beach. Blue sky, pristine sand and small whitecaps greeted us as we walked through the opening in the dunes. The dunes were covered with sea oats, beach sunflower, railroad vine and much more native vegetation with sea grape at the top of the primary dune. A group of terns was resting at the water's edge. This beach is a haven for sea turtles which are highly productive here due to the great beach conditions and the lack of nest-raiding raccoons. That's right - no raccoons in this park. It seems that early settlers in the area eradicated the raccoon population, probably to eliminate competition for sea turtle eggs. As cute as raccoons are it was kind of nice not to see any begging for handouts here.

The park was probably originally acquired due to the efforts of local surfers! Yes, this park boasts the best surfing beach in Florida and hosts surfing competitions. A few surfers were suiting up as we arrived on this Monday morning. The park is right next to The Navy Seal Museum and historically the park's Atlantic shoreline was utilized by the U.S. Navy for underwater demolition training during WW II.

Laurel wilt :(
Next our caravan moved across the parking lot to the maritime hammock trail. We could immediately see 3-5 large bay trees that were covered in brown leaves due to laurel wilt. According to the USDA Forest service, "Laurel wilt is a deadly disease of redbay (Persea borbonia) and other tree species in the Laurel family (Lauraceae). The disease is caused by a fungus (Raffaelea lauricola) that is introduced into host trees by a non-native insect, the redbay ambrosia beetle (Xyleborus glabratus). The fungus plugs the water-conducting cells of an affected tree and causes it to wilt. Laurel wilt has caused widespread and severe levels of redbay mortality in the southeastern coastal plain."  The park has taken a lead position in the state in treating redbay trees in the maritime hammock for laurel wilt. The use of macro injection of fungicide has saved about 50% of the bays in the hammock with young bay trees responding much better than older ones. Aside from our stop to watch the injection process, during which fungicide was basically pumped into the redbay trees’ roots, the maritime hammock trail was shady and made a very nice short hike.

Coinvine, Dalbergia ecastaphyllum
Photo by Walter K. Taylor
We moved on past the new enclosed playground area to the ruderal area. This area, recently burned, had been overgrown with coin vine (a nuisance native) and patches of Cogon grass (the new invasive in town for this park). We were able to see an area where the restoration of mangroves had improved the shoreline in the Indian River lagoon portion of the park. Black mangrove, white mangrove and buttonwood are present in the marine tidal swamp. Further back toward the lagoon is the park's Boy Scout camp. Between its state-of-the-art composting toilet, fire pit, and accessible tent site and pavilion, it is clearly one of the nicest I scout camps I’ve ever seen.

Surrounding the Indian River lagoon portion of the park are many mosquito impoundments. These are basically mangrove forests surrounded with earth dikes which can be artificially flooded during mosquito breeding season. Salt water mosquitoes will not lay eggs in standing water - they need moist soil.

Florida Manatees; photo by Paul Nicklen
Notable species seen in the park include Florida manatee (Federally-designated Endangered), osprey (State Species of Special Concern), gopher tortoise (State-designated Threatened) and sea turtles (Federally-designated Endangered) along with shorebirds of all types, otter and bobcat. We watched an osprey eating its catch and spotted 2 gopher tortoises just inside the gate.

This park offers fantastic recreational opportunities including, surfing, kayaking, swimming, canoeing, boating, fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing, picnicking and camping. We were impressed with the amount of parking and the number of picnic shelters as well as bathroom facilities. That which was missing was certainly not missed - we saw few exotic species, and the problematic feral cat population noted at the previous review was absent this time around.

The park has surfable waves and much more!
At least three of the reviewers had actually grown up in Ft Pierce and were very familiar with the area. They added a lot of very good background information and made the visit more interesting. After a great fresh fish lunch in Ft Pierce, we reconvened, completed our evaluation, and gave the park high marks for maintenance, exotic removal and treatment of redbays.

This is definitely a park worth visiting! Bring water and food as there is no concession in the park (it is in future plans) and of course your camera, surfboard and fishing gear.

photos by Lynn Sweetay unless otherwise noted
posted and edited by Laurie Sheldon

Friday, January 24, 2014

A New Chapter

Starting over
I recently relocated from the northeast corner of Florida to my hometown of sunny Miami. As such, I had to leave the Ixia chapter, which had become something of a family to me. Most of what I've learned over the past several years is the byproduct of being involved with that small, warm group of people. I am sincerely grateful that they were able to tolerate my obnoxious sense of humor long enough to identify specimens for me on field trips and during meetings. Nonetheless, the landscape in Atlantic Beach (where I'd lived for the past 4 years) is dramatically different than that which is found in "the 305," and I'm discovering that I’m not quite back to square one regarding my knowledge of local natives, but I'm far back enough to recognize that there's a whole lot more to know. I've always found that if I really want to learn about AND remember new species of flora, doing so in their respective natural settings is the best way to go. That said, on Saturday, January 11, I grabbed my notebook and camera and headed to F.I.U. for my first field trip with the Dade F.N.P.S. Chapter.

Group photo c/o Linda evans
Preserve map
Unbeknownst to many, the campus contains a 14 acre nature preserve which is managed by Ryan Vogel of F.I.U.'s Office of Sustainability. Established in 1978, Jack Parker and Joel Hynan are largely responsible for preventing development on the site, which is currently used by the Biology department (among others) as a living lab for students to learn in and from. A floristic survey of the site indicates the presence of 452 species of plants and animals, including 30 endangered and threatened plants. Historically speaking, much of the site was once a Freshwater Wetland similar to that which is found in the Everglades. Situated between runways at what had previously been the Tamiami Airport, the only ecological disturbance that the airport brought about was to clear cut the area to improve visibility for the ingress and egress of planes. After the airport closed, the substrate gave rise to what is currently a 35 year old Tropical Hardwood Hammock. The preserve also contains fragments of Pine Rockland - a habitat type that was once prolific in southern Dade County and, according to the Florida Natural Areas Inventory, has since become, "one of the most endangered habitats in the world.”

Oliver, Vogel's dog, loves the tire path
Vogel has put an enormous amount of energy into making the preserve a popular destination for non-science folks as well. He was instrumental in getting the thumbs up to install a 6' wide path around the site, whereby encouraging recreational use and bringing students and faculty up-close and personal with nature. The path, made of recycled tires, is both aesthetically pleasing and easy on the joints. Further, he cleared an area of Schinus terebinthifolia (Brazilian pepper/Florida holly) that was literally 30' deep around one side of a previously hidden borrow-pit turned retention pond. Because of its steep dropoff, he had to add soil to create a sloping edge upon which he could plant littoral species. The pond is now the tranquil backdrop for numerous large, outdoor events held on an adjacent field.

Speaking of Brazilian pepper (boo hiss), the preserve is in no way devoid of invasive species - a fact that Vogel is very aware of. When we spotted and called his attention to Ardisia elliptica (shoebutton), he told us that pest plant removal on the site is targeted, largely because if he disturbs the areas containing invasives by removing them and doesn’t have anything to replace them with, the invasives will most likely make a repeat appearance. He has been actively girdling four large Australian pines in the preserve as a means of eventually killing them.

Chromolaena odorata
So… What new natives did I add to my knowledge base? Thanks to Gwen Burzycki, Mary Rose, Patty Phares, and our tour guide (whose brains I relentlessly picked), I can now identify:
Left: L. latisiliquum; right: D. regia
  • Chromolaena odorata (jack-in-the-bush)
  • Heliotropum polyphyllum (pineland heliotrope)
  • Physalis angustifolia (coastal groundcherry)
  • Tetrazygia bicolor (Florida cloverash) - this one is listed as threatened in the Preservation of Native Flora of Florida Act.
  • Lysiloma latisiliquum (false tamarind) - I thought this was Delonix regia (royal poinciana), which I knew/know is a non-native introduced to Miami by David Fairchild after one of his plant collecting trips to Asia. The Kampong, his former residence (in the Coconut Grove area), is presumably the site of that original accession. The leaves on both are bipinnately compound, with leaflets of about the same size. Their fruits, however, are significantly different (see image) and a good identifying feature for distinguishing one from the other.
  • Chrysophyllum oliviforme (satinleaf) - disclosure: I already knew and loved this species from my volunteer days at Fairchild, where they have a long allee of satinleaf trees leading to an overlook. I did not, however, realize it was native.

Round two
I imagine that the shady path at Secret Woods
Nature Center would feel great on a warm day.
My second field trip with the group was just one week later. Camera and notebook in hand, I set out for Secret Woods Nature Center, a 57-acre park in Dania Beach. Even at 10am it was still unseasonably cool (50-something degrees) for a south Florida winter, so I kept a brisk pace to try to stay warm. I was happy to see Richard Brownscombe from the Broward chapter in the crowd, and felt downright popular. Okay - who am I kidding?! He, Patty Phares and Mary Rose were the only folks with familiar faces, but that didn’t stop me from borrowing a pencil from a woman whose name I didn’t (and still don't) know when I discovered that my pen was out of ink, and promptly running off with it when the tour was over (oops!). Whoever you are - I have it in my car and I’ll bring it to the next meeting - I promise! Back to the trip… The site had a lovely boardwalk that ran through a laurel oak hammock, a cypress/maple wetland, and a pond apple/mangrove community. There were LOTS of familiar natives this time (YAY), which made me feel very plantsmart (yes, I just made that word up). I recorded the following species list with my semi-permanently borrowed pencil and didn’t pay attention to much else because I turn purple and become distracted at 55 degrees (how's that for a Miami native?!):

Plants I correctly identified
Osmunda regalis
  • Annona glabra (pond apple)
  • Ardisia escallonioides (marlberry)
  • Avicennia germinans (black mangrove)
  • Bidens alba (beggarticks)
  • Callicarpa americana (beautyberry)
  • Chromolaena odorata (jack-in-the-bush) - I learned this one the week before; go me!
  • Chrysobalanus icaco (cocoplum)
  • Coccoloba uvifera (seagrape)
  • Eugenia axillaris (white stopper)
  • Ficus aurea (strangler fig)
  • Ilex cassine (Dahoon holly)
  • Osmunda regalis (royal fern)
  • Pleopeltis polypodioides (resurrection fern)
  • Poinsettia cyathophora (paintedleaf)
  • Psychotria nervosa (wild coffee)
  • Rhizophora mangle (red mangrove)
  • Sabal palmetto (cabbage palm)
  • Sambucus canadensis (elderberry)
  • Taxodium distichum (bald cypress)
  • Tillandsia usneoides (Spanish moss)
  • Vitis rotundifolia (muscadine)
  • Zamia pumila (coontie)

Plants I incorrectly identified
Red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) propagules

  • Myrsine cubana (colicwood) - thought this was wax myrtle

Plants that were new to me and those I had seen before but couldn’t identify
  • Acrostichum danaeifolium (giant leather fern)
  • Blechnum serrulatum (swamp fern)
  • Heliotropium curassavicum (seaside heliotrope)
  • Ipomoea indica (oceanblue morning-glory) - knew the genus; specific epithet, not so much
  • Pluchea sp. (camphorweed)
  • Psilotum nudum (whisk fern)
  • Psychotria sulzneri? (shortleaf wild coffee) - leaf is dull and more blue-green than that of P. nervosa
  • Rhabdadenia biflora (rubbervine)
  • Rivina humilis (rougeplant)
  • Sarcostemma clausum (white twinevine)
  • Zanthoxylum fagara (wild lime) - at least I knew it was in the Rutaceae because of the winged rachis

That’s about it. Starting a new chapter (in my life and in F.N.P.S.) has been pretty exciting so far!
Signing off from the south end of the state-

Laurie Sheldon
all photos by author unless otherwise noted

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Plant a native tree to celebrate Florida's Arbor Day!

Pileated woodpeckers work a red bay ( (Persea borbonia)
before it was killed by the laurel wilt disease.

Trees are so important!

And to receive the maximum benefits with the least amount of effort, plant a tree native to your region and one that's been bred from local stock.  Here is a post to help with this: Natives for your landscape: an FNPS tool for you.

In addition to being beautiful and supporting local wildlife, here are a few of the more quantifiable benefits.  
- clean the air. In 1991, Chicago's 51 million trees “removed an estimated 17 tons of carbon monoxide, 93 tons of sulfur dioxide, 98 tons of nitrogen dioxide, 210 tons of ozone, and 234 tons of particulate matter. They [also] sequestered about 155,000 tons of carbon. ... where trees were large and lush, they could improve air quality by as much as 15 percent during the hottest hours of midday. More trees and bigger trees meant cleaner air." (What Is a Tree Worth)

- absorb water. A full-grown oak tree can absorb 400 gallons of water on a summer's day. In the article cited above, a study of New York City's 592,000 "...street trees reduced stormwater runoff by nearly 900 million gallons each year, saving the city $35.6 million it would have had to spend to improve its stormwater systems. The average street tree intercepted 1,432 gallons, a service worth $61, a figure large enough to impress cost-conscious city managers." In Jacksonville, a beautiful bioswale designed to absorb stormwater has attracted some positive attention. Pollution Solution: Lasalle Bioswale Project. But you don't have to be a big city to build a rain garden, see my rain garden articles starting with this one: Rain lilies for my rain gardens., which includes links to other articles on this topic.

- cool the air in two ways. The most obvious method is the shade that trees cast. Proper placement of trees can save you significant money in your utility bills. In the "What is a Tree Worth" article mentioned above, a study in Sacramento, California "revealed that a tree planted to the west of a house saved about three times more energy ($120 versus $39) in a year than the same kind of tree planted to the south." The trick is to use a groups deciduous trees that will be large enough and close enough to shade the building, but not so large or close so that they could cause damage.

Secondly, much like when you sweat, a tree cools the air around it when water evaporates from its leaves. Of all the water absorbed by trees only 5 to 10% of of it is actually used by the tree in photosynthesis and other cellular activities. The vast majority of the absorbed water evaporates into the air via the pores (stomata) in the leaves and in some cases young stems that are green. This process is called transpiration, which is a passive process driven by the big suck of the evaporation from the leaves. For more information on transpiration see my post Water Science for Gardeners.

Red maples (Acer rubrum) really stand out in the fall. Early spring the red maples are red again with seeds.

Plant provenance 

Red maples are excellent trees for your landscape, but they are native up the east coast all the way into Canada. Those Canadian trees will NOT do well in Florida even though they are the same species. So purchase your trees from nurseries that sell only locally-bred plants. Go to to find a nursery near you or to find a specific plant.

Trees support the wildlife in your ecosystem.
If possible, leave the remnants of forest on your property. Failing that, try to build a new patch of forest made up of compatible species that would have been there if development had not occurred.

Florida's Arbor Day

While most of the country celebrates Arbor Day in April, both Florida and Louisiana celebrate Arbor Day the third Friday in January. It’s much better to plant a tree now because deciduous trees are dormant and others are less active, so they can withstand the shock of transplanting better. One thing to keep in mind is that January is right in the middle of our 7-month dry season. Extra irrigation over and above the rain and general landscape irrigation will be needed until the trees become established.  Larger trees take longer, so if you are not willing or able to provide all that extra water for several months and in dry periods for a couple of years, purchase smaller specimens.

We've written about Arbor Day before on this blog. See Florida's Arbor Day: the third Friday in January for Arbor Day history and more information trees and their care. Also read When you plant a tree, you believe in the future that we posted just before the world was predicted to end. Spoiler alert: It didn't end because so many people planted trees. Isn't that great? Thanks for doing your part.

Live oaks (Quercus virginiana) and resurrection ferns (Pleopeltis polypodioides var. michauxiana) provide beauty and habitat for for other plants and many animals.
So celebrate with us and plant a tree.  Mother Nature will thank you.

Written and posted by Ginny Stibolt
Photos are by Ginny Stibolt