Conference Field Trip Preview: Fabulous Florida Forever

The 31st Annual Conference is offering outstanding field trips, as always. We will be highlighting some of them for you on the blog. Put the conference on your calendar today; you will be so glad you did! One trip we will be taking this year is to a place called Florida Forever. Here is what one Florida Native Plant Society spokeswoman, Loret, has to say about it:

 "When I have out of town visitors, I never take them to Disney…as a matter of fact I have never been to the Disney theme parks. I take my guests to the Forever Florida conservation area in my neighborhood that I learned about a few months after I moved to Osceola County in 2006. They have a quaint restaurant and offer an EcoSafari tour of "Real Florida".

My first trip to this wonderful nine-ecosystem playground was with a couple of friends and because we visited on a weekday, we were treated to a coach safari where only the three of us were onboard. The "swamp buggy" offers a unique perspective from 5 feet off the ground and is capable of going through some interesting terrain.

On that trip, Ken, the manager, was willing to stop at a moment’s notice when I called out as I spotted many wildflowers in bloom and sought his guidance in helping to identify them. You see, I live close enough that we share many of the same native plants, and at the time so much of Florida’s native flora was a mystery to the New York me. That trip took place during September, where I was enthralled by the beauty of the Pine Lily (Lilium catesbaei) that was blooming just about everywhere. At a later time when I saw a meeting notice for the local FNPS chapter, I immediately thought about that flower and it piqued my interest since the organization had chosen that name.

On another trip, taken with a man who was as interested in the wildflowers as I was, a different guide, with excellent knowledge in the local plants, pointed out all the various species contained in the various ecosystems. We entered into the boardwalk area…that travels over tannin-laden waters…to enter into a floodplain forest where you can often be greeted by otters. More importantly, you can see airplants and resurrection fern. On that trip the guide introduced me to Walter Taylor’s’ book The Guide to Florida Wildflowers as a great resource to ID wildflowers by color. I was not familiar with Walter’s work or FNPS at that time.

I’ve learned about prescribed burns on the various tours I’ve taken over the past 5 years and each time I visit I learn something new or see something I haven’t seen before. You find out firsthand how invasive pigs can cause havoc with the grounds…there are traps around to keep them in line. You can watch quail race in front of the buggy, hawks landing in the trees or see marsh rabbits along the paths and I’ve encountered white tail deer on just about every one of the dozen or more visits that I’ve been there.

I toured one time, sitting in the front of a coach filled with very young children who were so enthralled by the birds and palm branches that swooped low, that I had to keep turning around to see if the kids were still there. They just spent the relaxing trip taking in all that nature had to offer. On that trip, a "real cowboy" was the guide and he shared his knowledge of the Crescent J Ranch, which is adjacent to the conservation area, and a big part of the reason that the owners slated the area for conservation.

You see, their son was a wildlife ecologist who wanted to preserve the old Florida habitats that he frequented as a youth next to the ranch. When he passed away due to illness, they decided to keep his memory alive by setting up a conservancy and saving old Florida piece by piece. You can learn all the details of their efforts in the short movie that starts every tour from the Owl Room. The movie gives you a good feeling, knowing that people care about Florida’s environment and visitors to Forever Florida make a positive impact on the environment as a substantial portion of proceeds go toward the purchase of additional lands to be conserved.

On my most recent trip this past September, Pine Lily President Jenny Welch and I got a special tour to see the threatened Hooded Pitcherplants (Sarracenia minor) and Pine Lilies which were available in quite large numbers considering their State status. Liatris and deertongue abound, as did so many other wonderful natives for as far as the eye can see.

The restaurant is housed in a wooden lodge-like structure with the gift shop. Rocking chairs are available on the veranda where you can watch purple martins zipping in and out of their house, if the season is right, or take in the natural beauty of a butterfly garden. There is the fish deck where you feed the plentiful Blue Gills from the twenty-five-cent food machine. Sometimes the alligators will swim close enough to the deck that you can practically touch them. You can enjoy watching Great Blue Herons and other wading birds standing in among the pickerelweed and water lilies. Across the parking lot there is a petting area that has various farm critters, from ponies to cows to sheep and goats. Keep an eye on the llama; he can spit pretty far.

I never tire of the Forever Florida tour and the reaction from my visitors has always been positive. My cousin, who initially seemed reluctant to do something outside of the Theme Parks comfort zone, thanked me profusely for introducing her and her family to this wonderful experience. She said that’s all her family talked about when they returned north. The expensive Disney vacation seemed to take second seat to "Real Florida".
Florida Forever promises to cater to the native plant enthusiast in all of us and I can’t wait until May to partake in this outstanding adventure…then again…I live so close I’ll probably squeeze in a trip before then."

Loret is doing a fantastic job blogging over at BeautifulWildlifeGarden, where she covers Florida as part of a nation-wide team. The Florida Native Plant Society's conference is announced at the end of each of her posts there. Thanks for your help in both places, Loret.

The conference will be featuring many kinds of field trips for every level of interest and ability. Canoe trips in Blackwater Creek, hiking along the Econolockhatchee River, Birding trips, Native Plant Yard Tours...Check out the list your self, it's just amazing!

Of course there will be keynote speakers such as Rick Darke and Rutherford Platt, along with programs, workshops and social events. Registration is open now, and you can register online from the above page, or top right of this blog. Just do it!

sue dingwell

Loret is doing a fantastic job blogging over at BeatifulWildlifeGarden, where she covers Florida as part of a nation-wide team.

sue dingwell


Anonymous said…
Next time I go through the State I will make this stop. Great article. I can't wait to visit Forever Florida
So glad you enjoyed the article! Maybe you could "go through" the state right around Conference time and take advantage of the great tour they are going to provide for us!

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