Orange Lake Native and Exotic Flora Activities

By Buford C. Pruitt, Jr.
In the summer of 2010, I approached Florida environmental agency staff at a Little Orange Creek Working Group meeting about volunteering to cut down and poison several species of invasive exotic trees (paper mulberry, Chinaberry, and Chinese tallow) that had colonized four spoil islands within the marshland in McIntosh Cove on the west side of Orange Lake. I also wanted to transplant from my yard some volunteer seedlings of black cherry, sweetgum, live oak, sugarberry, and cabbage palm in order to provide competition to discourage the three Chinese exotics from re-invading. I also wanted to provide some forested habitat on the islands that might possibly be used for nesting by the lake’s water birds. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staff member Bruce Jaggers responded that the spoil islands were a byproduct of FWC’s effort to scrape down muck sediments from an adjacent area of Orange Lake. This would expose sandier sediments that would provide better spawning habitat for native fishes such as crappie, bream (pronounced ‘brim’) largemouth bass, and chain pickerel. Contrary to my intentions, I learned that the islands might be used in the future for additional muck disposal, so FWC did not want me to plant native trees on them.

Disappointed at first, I let them know that, if we as a society are going to create upland habitat within the biodiverse marsh that surrounds this magnificent lake, we as a society owe it to native flora and fauna to eliminate invasive exotics that colonize the islands and threaten the natives. Bruce agreed with me, and it is to his credit and that of FWC that they agreed to remove the invasives and, furthermore, plant native wetland trees in a couple of patches within McIntosh Cove. Subsequently, he directed a spraying program on the western spoil islands, although it was limited to only two of the four due to the lateness of the season.

Sapium sebiferum Orange Lk Spoil
Is 04 Roundup Treated 03

For best results, these invasive Chinese species should be sprayed in late autumn when the trees are drawing sap and nutrients from leaves and branches down into their roots for winter storage. It concentrates the herbicide in the root system and more effectively kills the trees. This photo shows how damaging the herbicide Roundup can be to a Chinese tallow tree:

On March 1st of this year, Bruce took me on a tour of three other cypress sapling planting areas that he and FWC had created on the east side of Orange Lake. In each instance, the saplings were planted on private property with landowner permission, and which also enjoy the protection of Florida’s trespass law. This is an example of one of the three eastern shore plantings:

Taxodium distichum Planting Essen Run
 Although leafless in early spring and despite stiff competition from a thick growth of maidencane (Panicum hemitomon), these cypress saplings were healthy and robust. Exotic trees are not the only concern of FWC. Two of their three spoil islands on Orange Lake’s eastern shore also are infested with balsam apple (Momordia balsamia), and obnoxious exotic herbaceous vine. In trying to eliminate balsam apple from the third eastern spoil island, FWC convinced a local hunt club to volunteer to remove the vines physically using tractors. FWC then applied herbicide to the remains of the weed. The following photograph shows how densely it can grow over and smother native plants such as this wildlife-valuable elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) on one of the other two eastern islands:

Momordia balsamia Orange Lk Spoil Island
 Although initially taken aback by FWC’s reluctance to allow tree plantings on ‘my’ spoil islands, I wound up being quite mollified by their proactive program to control nuisance exotics on all the lake’s spoil islands and plant native wetland trees in nearby areas. If I remember correctly, the eastern shore plantings were exclusively bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), but the two planting areas in McIntosh Cove also got two native hardwood species, popash (Fraxinus caroliniana) and swamp tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica var. biflora). This photo shows a stand of popash and bald cypress that were planted a few weeks ago within a non-persistent herbaceous marsh habitat:

Tree Plantings at McIntosh Cove
 And another pic showing bald cypress planted within a persistent herbaceous wetland habitat:

Tree Plantings 5 Trees

There are five cypress planted in that last photograph. Can you see all five? Unfortunately, some local fellows have gone into the marshland planting area and mowed a small area plus created an ATV trail through it, destroying a few of the plantings. We are not happy about this development.

These native tree plantings have several important ecological benefits. First, they will eventually shade out some of the herbaceous marsh flora so that native fishes will have improved spawning grounds. Secondly, they will provide nesting birds with additional island habitat secure from non-native predators such as coyotes, cats, and dogs. Third, they will provide additional fire protection to lakeside residents by replacing herbaceous marsh with a fire-resistant forest within a band along the lakeside adjacent to an area of dense residential dwellings. Herbaceous marsh vegetation in that area dries out thoroughly in winter, forming a thicket of tinder that would create a conflagration that would doubtless endanger the homes of many people. Oh, it would be spectacular, but too hellish for enjoyment.

The following two photos show the dense, dry fuel, some of the planted seedlings, and how the mowing and an ATV trail have created a large gap within the plantings:

Tree Plantings at McIntosh Cove Mowed

I consider this unfolding story as an example of how private citizens can successfully work with a government agency towards conservation ends. Had I been an angry man, FWC may not have addressed my concerns. By cooperating with FWC, the hunt club gains additional fish and wildlife habitat for recreational use. In allowing FWC to plant wetland tree seedlings on their properties, private landowners receive visual amenities, fire protection, and enhanced fish and wildlife habitat for themselves and their customers. Importantly, by liaising with the public and do-good volunteers, FWC gets more opportunities to perform their job of enhancing fish and wildlife habitat. But most importantly, native species of flora and fauna benefit through enhanced habitat mitigation, relief from competition and predation by invasive exotic species, and opportunities for additional biodiversity.


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