FNPS 2013 Conference Field Trips: UNF's Sawmill Slough Preserve and Biological Sciences Building

By Chuck Hubbuch and John Boozer, respectively

Sawmill Slough Preserve

The University of North Florida (UNF): a finely blended fusion of academics and nature; students across the country and world come here to relish its evergreen serenity. Students, during their busy bustle going from class to class and desperately trying to remember the freshly implanted principles from the previous day, can find themselves retreating their minds to the harmonic synthesis of the wind, trees, and animals in order to ‘get away’ for just a moment. The University of North Florida is the perfect place for the nature lover, and equally so, the rigorous student.

Since the campus’s construction in the early 1970’s, it was widely recognized that UNF’s location was uniquely positioned in the middle of forest; therefore, UNF has striven to maintain its commitment to nature and the environment. The University has been continually recognized as a sustainable campus by institutions such as the Princeton Review and the Sierra Club Magazine. Furthermore, UNF has been recognized by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education as a STARS Bronze Institution based on the University’s accomplishments in campus sustainability.

To help preserve the campus natural setting, UNF President John Delaney designated 382 acres in 2006 to be conservation land, named the Sawmill Slough Preserve. Although the Sawmill Slough Preserve already existed as a smaller conservation effort, the newly designated preserve included different types of habitats and prohibited new building construction on the premises. The Sawmill Slough could rightfully be deemed a sanctuary for all types of native Northeast Florida plants and wildlife.

The Sawmill Slough Preserve includes swamps, streams, a lake, wet prairie, mesic forest, upland scrub and pine forest.  Because of this habitat diversity, the Preserve supports a large variety of plant and animal species. The plant inventory of the Sawmill Slough Preserve includes over six hundred native plant species. A prescribed burn plan was initiated in 2009. Except for pauses during severe droughts of 2010 and 2011, the burns have continued to recent months.

The tour of the Sawmill Slough Preserve will take you into the upland pine forests through recent burns. These uplands are home to a healthy gopher tortoise population. Thanks to the burns, wildflower populations are increasing. You will see swamps, streams and lakes and associated wetland plants. If the tour moves quickly enough and participants have the endurance, this walk will include wetland prairie and scrub habitat, areas that are off the recreational trails. May should be an excellent time to see wildflowers, birds and other wildlife.

Ready to tour Sawmill Slough? Sign up for field trip X, which will take place on the Sunday morning following the conference.

Biological Sciences Building

Aside from the Sawmill Slough Preserve, UNF’s main campus has mirrored its commitment to nature and the environment through sustainability by retrofitting and constructing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings. The second tour offered at UNF is of the Biological Sciences building, which is one of the newest LEED certified buildings and is a sort of hidden gem for Florida botanical enthusiasts.

Florida native plants were the theme for the building’s landscape from inception. The intent was to provide educational opportunities for Biology students. In the year since the landscape’s original installation, UNF’s Grounds staff has greatly increased the plant diversity. Today, over one hundred native plant species in at least seventy plant families can be found in this landscape. Beds of native wildflowers add a splash of color to the entrance. Native crossvine and Carolina jessamine have climbed as high as two stories on the green walls. A “beach garden” was added to display coastal species that cannot be seen in the campus natural areas. Also included are native plants that are not expected this far north. A warm microclimate created by the building’s courtyard is home to several subtropical species like gumbo-limbo, sea grape, cocoplum and buttonwood. Work will begin this year in an adjacent courtyard to add more Florida native plants. The tour will take place on paved surfaces and will include discussion about the landscape development, the various native plants and the on-going plans to add to the diversity of native plants on campus.

Does that sound like something you might enjoy? Sign up for field trip L to check it out on the Thursday morning before the conference or for field trip M to see it Thursday afternoon.
Posted by Laurie Sheldon


Unknown said…
There is a unique patch of gopher tortoise habitat at UNF, where the student government is trying to build a Greek housing complex. Check the link below for more info. Let as many people know about it, so we can keep the tortoises safe.

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