Tag Archives: Florida native plants

Not the hammock you swing in, plus bird #216

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Hey, let’s go for a walk!

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Pet leashed, we set off into the Captain Forster Hammock Preserve, reached via the dirt road Jungle Trail along the Indian River Lagoon in Vero Beach.

If you move to Florida and you like venturing into the outdoors beyond your pool, patio and probably-tiny backyard, you quickly learn that “hammock” isn’t just that nice thing to laze around in…

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(The Dream, 1844, by Gustave Courbet, from Wikipedia hammock)

A hammock is also a term for a landscape feature. Think “hummock” but bigger.

 Hammock is a term used in the southeastern United States for stands of trees, usually hardwood, that form an ecological island in a contrasting ecosystem. Hammocks grow on elevated areas, often just a few inches high, surrounded by wetlands that are too wet to support them.

It can be a nice place for a walk too, if there are trails.

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In this hammock the first living creature we got a good look at was this Zebra Longwing.

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They are notable for their long life (compared to other butterflies) and their consumption not just of nectar but of protein-packed pollen too… and the two things seem to be connected.

Zebra Longwings live an unusually long life, and can survive more than a month as adults rather than the typical 1–2 weeks as most butterflies. This is partly because they ingest pollen as well as nectar, giving the Longwings an extra source of protein.

(Inspired, I added whey powder to my breakfast smoothie while writing this blog post.)

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This 110-acre preserve is owned by Indian River County.

The Preserve contains one of the largest remaining coastal maritime hammocks on Orchid Island. The site was home to Captain Frank Forster, one of the first Orchid Island residents who homesteaded on the barrier island growing winter vegetables and fishing along the Indian River Lagoon.

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Water and dry land were close together in the preserve, as is true in most of Florida… especially in the wet season.

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The ubiquitous saw palmetto, Serenoa repens, with its fan-shaped fronds.

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I almost didn’t post about this walk because this is a bird blog and we didn’t really see many birds that day, despite what we were promised. 153 species have been sighted at this eBird hotspot… by others.

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But I decided to share the photos anyway because of the unique habitat. We found great examples of native plants that are recommended for planting in your Florida yard to support birds, like the beautiful American Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana.

From the Florida Wildflower Foundation

American beautyberry is a woody shrub found in pinelands and hammocks throughout Florida. The plant’s foliage offers cover for small wildlife. Its flowers are a nectar source for butterflies and bees, while its dense clusters of berries provide food for birds and deer in late summer and fall.

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I also posted because of this fuzzy photo, which I would normally discard but it’s the only image of a new-to-me bird.  We spotted it oddly walking along – not hopping, like most little birds – in the leaf litter.

It’s an Ovenbird! (Confirmed on What’s This Bird, my favorite online double-check and bird identification crutch.)

The Ovenbird‘s rapid-fire teacher-teacher-teacher song rings out in summer hardwood forests from the Mid-Atlantic states to northeastern British Columbia. It’s so loud that it may come as a surprise to find this inconspicuous warbler strutting like a tiny chicken across the dim forest floor. Its olive-brown back and spotted breast are excellent disguise as it gleans invertebrates from the leaf litter. Its nest, a leaf-covered dome resembling an old-fashioned outdoor oven, gives the Ovenbird its name.

It wasn’t singing, just quietly foraging here in what may be its winter home. Are the snowbirds returning already?

The Ovenbird is species #216 for this blog.

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John goes ahead. We were the only people on the trails for an hour that morning. Good heeling, Radar.

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Another favorite bird-friendly native plant, Wild Coffee, with the somewhat disturbing Latin name Psychotria nervosa.

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Trees were mostly live oaks and cabbage palms.

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Partridge pea, a wildflower and legume that tolerates poor soil and feeds butterfly larvae. And provides pretty color along the trail, eye food for humans.

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More Beautyberry.

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Berry time for Wild Coffee. But don’t get too excited about harvesting your own morning cuppa.

Shiny-leaved wild coffee, Psychotria nervosa, is in the same plant family as the stuff you find at Starbucks, but so are at least 5,999 other plants. There are something like 103 species of coffee worldwide, but only three are used to make a cup of Joe. This is not one of the three.

You can indeed make a beverage from wild coffee berries but it A) won’t taste good, B) won’t resemble coffee and C) will lack any caffeine kick. Might even give you a headache.

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Almost the color of the wild coffee berries: a Northern Cardinal. We noticed a few males but couldn’t spot the females. Kinda the whole cardinal idea.

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We were surprised to find quite a few citrus trees in one part of the woods. Probably leftover from some old groves, maybe even old Cap’n Forster’s?

I believe the historic Jungle Trail was a dirt road originally built to connect the citrus growers in the 1920s on Orchard Island/ Vero Beach.

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John tasted one. He rated it “not that great.”

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Hello again, cardinal.

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From Wild South Florida

They’re common anywhere you might care to go, deep into the woods, around town and all points in between as long as there are bushes or thickets to provide cover. Florida even has its own subspecies, C. cardinalis ssp. floridanus, found throughout most of the state.

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Orange butterfly, maybe a Gulf Fritillary?

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We were here.

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Here’s the online version, much more readable: Special Places on the Trail & Lagoon.

An hour north of home, we will return to explore along the Jungle Trail one day again soon.

Grassy Waters Preserve

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Common Gallinule at Grassy Waters Everglades Preserve, in West Palm Beach.

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John looks out.

On Sunday my husband and I drove 45 minutes south of our Stuart home to the monthly Cars & Coffee event at Palm Beach Outlets to look at cool vintage and custom cars. Afterwards, we went to a place that is the opposite of crowds, cars, noise and sunbaked parking lots.

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“Moorhen.” An old guy with a big camera and a practical wide-brimmed hat pointed to the gallinule and called it the old-timey-birdwatcher name.

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Mostly we had the place to ourselves. Thank you, whoever built this boardwalk. It’s the only way I’m ever going to travel through such wet woods and fields, in Florida, in August.

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We skipped the nature center in favor of getting right out in nature.

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I think this is a Common Arrowhead flower, Sagittaria latifolia, aka duck potato.

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Lovely pond cypress trees, rooted in a few inches of water and a lot of inches of the finest Florida muck. Air plants grow on them quite decoratively.

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Dahoon holly bore fruit abundantly.

Here is a helpful post on the Florida Native Plant Society blog, for those of us who know more about birds than plants: Discovering Grassy Waters Preserve.

This wetland is an example of doing the right thing to build a sustainable urban environment. The naturally clean waters of the preserve are supplying the drinking water for West Palm Beach and helping keep the aquifer healthy. At the same time, all these wetland plant and wildlife species have a place to thrive and townsfolk have easy access to this beautiful place.

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Walking out into the “grassy waters” you can see how this was (is?) part of the original northern Everglades. From the Grassy Waters Conservancy

Historically, the Grassy Waters area was part of the northern Everglades watershed and headwaters of the Loxahatchee River. In the 1890’s, approximately 100 square miles was purchased by Henry Flagler to supply water to West Palm Beach and Palm Beach. In 1955, the City of West Palm Beach purchased what remained of that system. In 1964, the Florida Legislature recognized the area’s uniqueness and importance, and created the Water Catchment Area affording 19 square miles special protection. The U.S. EPA has identified portions of Grassy Waters as an Aquatic Resource of National Importance.Today the Water Catchment Area along with other adjacent lands make up Grassy Waters Preserve, an approximately 24 square mile natural area located in and owned by the City of West Palm Beach. It remains the principle source of the water for West Palm Beach, Palm Beach and South Palm Beach, and is unique in that it is a surface water supply.

The Preserve is almost 50 percent of the land area of the City and contains miles of hiking and biking trails, a boardwalk, and a nature center which is currently being expanded, where the City provides environmental education programs.

The Preserve remains a pristine remnant of the original Everglades ecosystem and critical component in maintaining water levels for environmentally sensitive areas. In addition to its historical significance and key role in the regional water supply, it is one of the largest areas of undisturbed wetlands in Palm Beach County, allowing it to be a refuge for many threatened and endangered species including the Bald Eagle, Wood Stork, and Everglades Snail Kite.

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Peace of the Everglades.

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View over grassy waters.

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Zoom to: Great Egret.

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I’ve been seeing these swallows for about a week now, over parking lots, airports, open fields. I’ve gotten a good look at them, but not a good photo – they are too fast! I’m pretty sure they are Barn Swallows, migrating through.

Glistening cobalt blue above and tawny below, Barn Swallows dart gracefully over fields, barnyards, and open water in search of flying insect prey. Look for the long, deeply forked tail that streams out behind this agile flyer and sets it apart from all other North American swallows. Barn Swallows often cruise low, flying just a few inches above the ground or water.

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American waterlily.

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Yet another crappy bird photo. Endure.

Cool story at Audubon: Ken Kaufman’s Notebook: The Barn Swallow Is Slowly Conquering the World.

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This bigass grasshopper is actually a fine fat example of an Eastern Lubber Grasshopper.

The Eastern lubber grasshopper (Romalea microptera (Beauvois)) is a large colorful flightless grasshopper that often comes to the attention of Florida homeowners.

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Shrubbery along the boardwalk: I noticed cocoplum and wax myrtle, both of which I admire. We planted some cocoplum in our backyard last year. I just bought a couple of wax myrtles for the front yard (and the birds) a couple of days ago.

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Wax myrtle and saw palmetto, among other lush green things. Not to bitch (and we’re as guilty as the next Florida homeowner) but it’s really nice to take a break from the flat-topped hedges, emerald lawns, tropical ornamentals and constant grinding whine of landscaping machines and see how native, wild Florida plants arrange themselves and grow (so quietly).

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“Ah, you may sit under them, yes. They cast a good shadow, cold as well-water; but that’s the trouble, they tempt you to sleep. And you must never, for any reason, sleep beneath a cypress.’ He paused, stroked his moustache, waited for me to ask why, and then went on: ‘Why? Why? Because if you did you would be changed when you woke. Yes, the black cypresses, they are dangerous. While you sleep, their roots grow into your brains and steal them, and when you wake up you are mad, head as empty as a whistle.’ I asked whether it was only the cypress that could do that or did it apply to other trees. ‘No, only the cypress,’ said the old man, peering up fiercely at the trees above me as though to see whether they were listening; ‘only the cypress is the thief of intelligence. So be warned, little lord, and don’t sleep here.”  – Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals (A favorite book! It’s set in Greece. I first read it when I was 12 or 13 and I love it still.)