The Resurrection Fern, also known as. the Miracle fern lives on branches and trunks of trees. Live Oaks and Cypress Trees are their favorite hosts. They have been seen growing on rocks and on the sides of buildings. Resurrection Ferns are air ferns that attach themselves to a host plant or rock and will get moisture and food from the air and rain. They will also gather nutrients that collect on the outer part of their host. The fern does not steal any nutrients from its host and therefore will not harm the host.
Have you seen ferns that are curled up, brown, and appear to be dead? Simply add water and they miraculously uncurl and resurrect to a live, healthy, green fern.
Resurrection Ferns can lose up to 97% of their water content and still come back to life when water returns. In contrast, most plants can only lose 10% of their water content before their cells collapse and they die. Like all ferns, Resurrection Ferns reproduce from spores.
These ferns can be found from Florida to as far north as New York and as far west as Texas. They are so fascinating that in the late ’90s, NASA sent a Resurrection Fern on the space shuttle Discovery to watch it miraculously come to life in zero gravity.
The Halloween Pennant Dragonfly (Celithemis eponina)—- This not-so-spooky dragonfly gets its name from it’s orange and black coloring. Yellow markings can be found on females and juvenile males. As males mature their coloring starts to turn a more vibrant color of orange. This is the largest species of pennant dragonfly in eastern North America. They can commonly be found around lakes, streams, or other wetland areas and are most active in the morning.
Native to South Florida, the Gumbo Limbo tree, Bursera simaruba, is a striking addition to landscapes south of Tampa Bay. Also known as the West Indian Birch or the Turpentine Tree, Gumbo Limbo Trees quickly grow to 50-60′ tall with a round canopy. They are extremely wind tolerant and are recommended as a hurricane-resistant species. Gumbo Limbo trees can be grown simply by sticking sprouts in the dirt.
Gumbo Limbo trees prefer sun but quickly adapt to shady, moist, dry, and slightly salty habitats. They are easily recognized by their reddish-brown bark which peels to reveal a beautiful green wood beneath. Vireos and Mocking birds dine on their deep red fruits during summer and fall. Gumbo Limbo trees are naturally found in coastal hammocks, tidewater areas, and mixed forests.
Fiddler Crabs, genus Uca, live in the tidal sands of mangroves and salt marshes. They are experts at sensing the ebb and flow of the tide because their survival depends on it. Although they have gills, Fiddler crabs can drown if there is too much water. At high tide, they retreat to their 12″ burrows in the sand and seal the burrow with mud or sand.
During low tide, colonies of Fiddler Crabs get down to business doing their part for the ecosystem when they come out in the hundreds to work and eat. To build and maintain their burrows, they use their small claws to move sand to their mouths where they strain and extract nutrients. Clean sand pellets are spat out. Although their diet consists of algae and decomposed matter, Fiddler Crabs are tasty meals for shorebirds, fish, and land mammals such as raccoons and foxes.
Female crabs incubate eggs for 2 weeks. During high tide, the female will release the larvae who will float away. In a few weeks, the surviving young crabs will drift back to shore and join a Fiddler Crab colony.
Male Fiddler Crabs have one oversized claw that looks like a fiddle. While it is sometimes used to defend against other male crabs, the large claw is primarily used in courting rituals. To woo his desired female, the male Fiddler crab will dance while waving his giant claw until the lady agrees to join him in his burrow.
J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge -Sanibel Island
Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling convinced President Harry Truman to protect environmentally valuable land on Sanibel Island from developers. In 1945 President Truman signed an Executive Order, and J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge was created. Today, it is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States.
J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge offers refuge to countless animals, including those who are threatened or endangered. There are over 245 species of birds in its 6400 acres of mangrove forests, open waters, tropical hardwood hammock, seagrass beds, freshwater marsh, and Mudflats.
Federally and State listed species seek haven at Ding Daring Wildlife Refuge. Piping Plovers, Black Skimmers, Roseate Spoonbills, Burrowing Owls, West Indian Manatees, Sanibel Island Rice Rats, and Loggerhead Sea Turtles make their homes here. Aboriginal prickly-apple and Barbed wire cacti are protected from development within the refuge. Visitors from all over the world travel to Sanibel to catch a glimpse of and photograph The Big 5: the American White Pelican, Mangrove Cuckoo, Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, and the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.
Calusa Indians once made their home in the hardwood hammock among Gumbo Limbo trees, Strangler Figs, and Sea Grape trees. Take a short walk down the Shellmound Trail and discover remnants of shells which along with other waste, grew into mounds. The change in soil chemistry and height created a subtropical maritime hammock.
The 4-mile wildlife drive offers visitors the opportunity to drive, bike, or hike along the paved road. There are plenty of spaces to park and get out of your car for wildlife viewing. Four walking trails: the Indigo Trail, the Wildlife Education Boardwalk, Shellmound Trail, and Wulfert Keys Trail are accessible from the wildlife drive. A 90 minute guided tour aboard a tram is available. Walk or bike the Bailey tract to enjoy freshwater plants and wildlife. Launch your canoe, kayak, or boat or take a guided canoe, kayak or paddleboard tour at one of the designated sites.
Cormorant is derived from the Latin word corvus which means raven and marinus which means sea.
Cormorants, Phalacrocorax auritus, are brownish-black with black webbed feet and legs and a reddish-orange face and beak. You will often find them floating low in the water or with their wings outstretched along the shores of coastal areas, rivers, swamps, and lakes. Because their oil glands do not waterproof their rings, cormorants will find a sunny spot to dry their wings.
Cormorants may feed alone or in flocks. Finding their favorite foods, fish and invertebrates like shrimp and crabs, may require them to dive up to 60 feet and remain submerged for more than a minute. Cormorants are not picky eaters and their diets vary by season. They enjoy treats such as eels, plants, frogs, and an occasional snake.
Courtship is a big deal for Sea Ravens. A Male will use his wings to splash, swim in zig-zag patterns, and dive for vegetation to present to a female. He will crouch at his chosen nest site and call out to his desired female while vibrating his wings. Nesting usually takes place in a large colony which is sometimes shared with other wading birds. Using twigs, sticks, seaweed, and grass collected mostly by the male, the female constructs most of the nest in a tree or on the ground near the water. Cormorants incubate their 3-4 eggs with their webbed feet. Both the male and female will feed the chicks until they are about 10 weeks old and ready to leave the nest.
Before 1966 populations significantly decreased from hunting and pesticides such as DDT. Today, cormorants are once again widespread and abundant. This heartwarming story of the Sea Ravens who not only survived persecution from humans but who are now thriving can be repeated with today’s endangered and threatened animals. It’s up to us to teach folks of all ages to #connect, #respect, and #coexist with our wildlife and within our shared ecosystems.
White-tailed deer are found throughout Florida. They are most often seen at dawn, dusk, or on overcast days near the edge of a forest where they browse vegetation and can quickly run back into the forest to avoid a predator. Some of their favorite foods include twigs, leaves, acorns, mushrooms, and fruit. Deer are herbivores and enjoy many of Florida’s native plants including buttonbush, tupelo trees, beautyberry, and persimmons.
In northern Florida, male deer can reach weights of 190 pounds although the average weight in Florida is 115 pounds. The average weight for a female is 90 pounds. White-tailed deer in Florida are smaller than their northern relatives because their bodies have adapted to the steamy temperatures. Their smaller bodies allow deer to use less energy to regulate their body heat. Adults are 55-80″ tall.
Male deer, known as bucks, grow antlers to establish dominance and attract does. Their antlers begin growing in the spring and will grow a velvet-like tissue. The tissue will dry up and the buck will scrape it off by rubbing his antlers against a tree. The smooth, hard antlers are then ready to be used to fight if another male is pursuing the buck’s desired doe. Antlers are shed in late winter or early spring. They will regrow within 6 – 8 weeks which is perfectly timed to the beginning of the breeding season.
Deer breed from September to March. Gestation lasts approximately 200 days and the doe will give birth to 1-3 fawns. Fawns will start foraging with their mother at 3-4 weeks and are weaned at 2-3 months old. They will set out on their own when they are 6-18 months old
White-tailed deer get their name from the white on the underside of their tail. To alert other deer of possible danger, white-tailed deer will raise and wag their tails like a flag. You may also see them stomp a foot and hear them snort. Their predators are panthers, bobcats, coyotes, dogs, and humans.
Fun Fact: Fawns are born with no scent. To keep her fawn safe from predators, the doe will hide her fawn in tall vegetation. She will visit the fawn several times a day to nurse but will leave quickly so her scent does not attract predators. If you find a fawn hidden among the brush, leave it alone and know that mom will soon return. #NatureKnowsBest!
There’s a secret garden in Winter Park with magnificent cypress trees, 8 benches for you to pause and immerse yourself in the beauty of Nature, and sunsets at The Excedra on the shore of Lake Maitland.
Kraft Azalea Park, located near Orlando, is a 5.22-acre public garden open to the public year-round from 8 am until dusk. The garden was designed in 1938 by Martin Daetwyler who was hired by Winter Park residents George and Maud Kraft along with Mayor Frederick Cady and other Winter Park residents.
While you are there, be sure to look for the banyan tree. Banyan trees, native to Sri Lanka and Pakistan and sacred to Buddhists and Hindus, have been planted throughout the tropics in botanical gardens and city parks. The banyan tree at Kraft Azalea Park is at least 70 years old and is believed to be the northernmost banyan tree in Florida which has survived the frosts. Like all trees in the fig family, the foliage and sap of the banyan tree can be an irritant to some.
IOF contributor David Gale says, “The Kraft Azalea Gardens on the edge of Lake Maitland are definitely worth a visit in February/March. We saw dozens of Great Egrets and numerous Anhingas all in full mating plumage high in the Cypress trees. We missed the azalea blossoms for this visit but this small park was still spectacular and very peaceful even though it’s in a suburb of Winter Park.”
David was lucky to visit during the breeding season for the Great Egrets. Kraft Azalea Park is a Great Egret rookery where up to 50 pairs show off their mating rituals, lay their eggs, and raise their babies. Mockingbirds, ospreys, and pileated woodpeckers also make their nests there. Sandhill cranes and wood storks visit the garden too.
Make plans today to visit this central Florida secret garden.
Fisheating Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA), located near Palmdale in Highlands County, is an 18,272-acre corridor along Fisheating Creek. A 40-mile stretch of the 52-mile long creek is located within the management area. Fisheating Creek is now the only free-flowing water source feeding into Lake Okeechobee.
This WMA is a beautiful and unique place to spend the day or multiple days. It is made up of several ecosystems including marshes, cypress swamps, hardwood hammocks, longleaf pine, slash pine, and Florida scrub. Be sure to bring a camera since the management area is a site along the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.
Canoe or kayak through hardwood hammocks and cypress swamps. Decaying plant matter creates tannin which makes the water a brilliant tea color where the sunlight touches it. The creek is teeming with bluefish, bass, and panfish. Wading birds, otters, and alligators enjoy the creek too. Swallow-tailed kites raise their babies along the creek and thousands of beautiful butterflies can be seen in the fall.
The 5-mile Fort Center Interpretive Nature Trail takes you through a hardwood hammock, wet prairie, and flood plain. There are covered rest areas with benches along the trail. You will learn about the history of the early Native Americans who made their homes here between 1000 and 500 BCE. See wildlife such as alligators, turtles, deer, wild hogs, turkey, wading birds, raptors, and an occasional black bear as you hike the hardwood forests. If you are lucky, you may even spot a federally endangered Florida panther!
At the Fisheating Creek Outpost enjoy camping primitively, hook up your RV, and rent a canoe or kayak. Hike through cypress forests on the 2-mile Knobby Knee Trail. Take the 8-mile Burnt Bridge paddling tour or consider the 16-mile Ingram Crossing tour for an overnight canoe or kayak trip. Cool off in the designated swimming areas, cook over a campfire or enjoy a picnic lunch.
Both the WMA and the Outpost are open 365 days, including holidays. Before planning your trip, be sure to check the calendars for both the WMA and the Outpost for activities, the best time to view your favorite wildlife, and water levels. Hours vary at the Outpost office. Let’s camp at Fisheating Creek! – Fisheating Creek Outpost https://myfwc.com/recreation/lead/fisheating-creek
IOF’s Board of Directors held their annual meeting around a campfire at Fisheating Creek Outpost in Feb. A few of the directors camped overnight and cooked campfire chili and other tasty treats for those who drove in for the day. All of us fell in love with Fisheating Creek Outpost and are planning to have our next annual meeting there.
Photo Credit: Directors Lourdes Brown, Ileana Rodriguez-Ramirez, Andy Waldo
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park consists of 22,000 acres of both wet and dry savanna in Micanopy, Florida. This state park, located just south of Gainesville, has more than 20 biological communities which provide habitats for wildlife. In the 1970s the state of Florida acquired the land and began the process of restoring it.
Within Paynes Prairie Preserve is a highland freshwater marsh composed of different plant communities that vary based on the depth of the water. The wet, forested areas have coastal swamps of bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) and swamp tupelo (Nyssa biflora). Coastal plain blackwater river forests grow along streams. The uplands have southern oak domes and hammocks of southern live oak (Quercus virginiana) growing in areas with moist soils. Florida longleaf pine sandhills grow on drier, sandier soils.
There are over 720 species of plants at the Paynes Prairie Preserve including native, introduced, and invasive species. You will see everything from the Red Maple(Acer rubrum) to the invasive Cora Ardisia (Ardisia crenatum) to the beautiful Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata).
Over 270 species of birds including anhingas, ibis, flocks of turkeys, herons, and migratory birds can be found on the plain. You will see alligators as well as Cracker Horses and Cracker Cattle, both of which were introduced by the Spaniards. You may even see an American Bison which was reintroduced to the Preserve where they roamed until the 18th century.
Start your exploration of the Preserve in historic Micanopy. Exhibits, photographs and an audio-visual program will explain the natural and historical significance of the Preserve. A 50-foot tower provides a panoramic view, where you may spot wild horses.
Paynes Prairie has more than 30 miles of trails for horseback riders, cyclists, and hikers which will lead you through a variety of ecosystems. Camping opportunities await you in a full-facility campground. There is a boat ramp on the east side of the 300 acres Lake Wauberg for canoes, kayaks, and small boats. On weekends in November – April you can participate in ranger lead activities with pre-made reservations.
In 1971, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park was designated Florida’s first state Preserve. In 1974, Paynes Prairie Preserve was nominated to the National Register of Natural Landmarks, one of only 600 in the country.
Plumage in shades of purple, teal, indigo, and olive along with a yellow-tipped red bill and bright yellow legs make this bird hard to miss. Purple gallinules are noisy rails who are most often found near freshwater marshes, ponds, and swamps. You may find them swimming, walking on lily pads, or in the branch of a tree.
In the spring and summer, a pair of Purple Gallinules will build one or more nests at or above the water level. The nests are supported by strong vegetation at the water’s edge and are made of grasses, cattails and other vegetation found nearby. Raising babies is a family affair. Both the male and female incubate 5-10 eggs for 22-25 days. Once hatched, the mother, father, and older siblings help feed the babies until they are 9 weeks old and able to fly.
Purple Gallinules are omnivorous. You may find them pecking the ground like a chicken as they forage along the shore for fruit, seeds, insects, worms, or snails. In the water, they will nod their head while looking for tasty aquatic greens or a fish dinner.
When you see a Purple Gallinule, spend some time watching this gorgeous bird with quirky movements. Note how their feathers appear to change color when they move from sunshine to shade. You will be amazed at how the Purple Gallinule’s brilliant colors perfectly blend into Florida’s wetlands.
Eastern Hognose Snakes are found throughout Florida with the exception of the Keys. Their habitat is diverse and includes scrub, sandhills, turkey oak woodlands, hardwood hammocks, pine woodlands, meadows, and even cultivated fields. Hognose snakes secrete a mild venom that is toxic to their prey. They are not known to cause serious injuries to humans, however, some people may show signs of an allergy if bitten.
Hognose snakes are thick-bodied and vary in color from solid gray or black to various shades of brown, yellow, orange, olive, or red with large, randomly shaped markings. The underside can be off-white, gray, or yellow with the bottom side of the tail lighter in color. An average adult grows to 20-35 inches. Hognose snakes breed in spring. Females lay 15-25 leathery eggs in sandy soil or under logs. In 1-2 months, the hatchlings break free of their eggs and are 6 1/2 to 9 1/2 inches long.
Active only during daylight hours, Hognose snakes use their blunt noses to search through soil and leaf litter for their meals. They may dine on frogs, insects, salamanders, and invertebrates, but toads are their favorite dinner. When a toad is threatened, it will puff itself up. Immune to the toad’s poison, Hognose snakes are equipped with rear fangs which enable them to pop the toad-like a balloon before swallowing it whole.
Eastern Hognose Snakes are best known for their dramatic display when warding off danger. Also known as a Puff Adder, when a threat is detected, a hognose snake will suck in air, flatten its head, rise like a cobra, and hiss. With its mouth closed, it may strike. If this display does not scare away the predator, the hognose will flip itself over and imitate death. It may convulse, regurgitate, and emit foul-smelling fecal matter before becoming completely still with its mouth open and tongue hanging out. When the danger passes, the Hognose snake will simply roll over and get on with enjoying its day.
The Florida Reef Gecko (Sphaerodactylus notatus) is the smallest lizard in the United States. They are tiny and only grow to 2 – 2.25 inches. They have a rounded body with large, overlapping, scales on their backs. The body and tail are covered with dark spots on a brown background. Females have three broad, dark stripes on their heads.
The Florida Reef Gecko is found in the Dry Tortugas, Florida Keys, and southeastern mainland Florida. They can be found in pinelands, hammocks, and vacant lots. They are active at dusk and feed on tiny insects and spiders. Females lay one egg at a time. When born, hatchlings are over an inch long.
The Florida Reef Gecko could be impacted by human development as well as competition from introduced geckos. At this time, the only native gecko in Florida, the Florida Reef Gecko abundant within its range.
Saddleback Caterpillars, (Acharia stimulus), have hairs that cover their bodies which secrete venom. Contact with the hairs will cause a painful rash, burning, itching, swelling, blistering, and nausea. The cocoon and the larvae have the hairs as well. The hairs are hollow quills connected to poison glands beneath its skin. The venom will spread if the hairs are not removed from the skin.
Saddleback Caterpillars are easy to distinguish by their green-colored backs with a white-ringed, brown dot in the center. They are brown at either end, have skin with a granulated appearance and sport pairs of fleshy horns. The Caterpillar is one inch long with a slug-like body in its larvae stage.
The Saddleback Caterpillar is a general eater and can be found in oak trees, fruit trees, and many other plants. Females lay up to 50 eggs on the top leaves of a host plant. The eggs are tiny and transparent with a scaly look.
The adult Caterpillar is the Saddleback Caterpillar Moth which is dark brown with black shading. The dense scales on its body and wings make it look furry. The back wings are a lighter brown. The wingspan is between one to two inches wide. Near the front wing is a single white dot and another 3 white dots near the front apex.
The bright colors on this Caterpillar are a warning to predators. Never touch this or other brightly colored, hairy Caterpillars with your bare hands. You can remove the hairs from the skin by using tape.
This vibrant wildflower is found throughout the coastal regions of Florida, from the panhandle to the Keys. It is tolerant of salty and flooded soils. These plants are annuals and require open soil to spread and reseed. Depending on the conditions, the Rose of Plymouth can grow from 6 inches to 24 inches tall. The flowers are 1 to 1-1/2 inches wide and the plant creates many blooms. Flowers peak in the summer but can be seen blooming all year long. Rose of Plymouth can be grown from seeds and cuttings in wet to moist soils.
Wekiwa Springs State Park, located in Orange County, is just waiting to be explored. Discover a longleaf pine forest and sandhill uplands. Hammocks at the river’s edge are thick and tropical-like. Wildflowers of multiple colors spring up at all times during the year to greet you. The park is home to an abundance of wildlife from iconic Florida black bears to the tiniest spiders who weave their intricate webs along the trails.
Wekiwa Springs State Park is best known for its crystal clear springs which are a refreshing 72* all year long. Swimming and snorkeling are favorite pastimes. A swim lift is available for those who have difficulty with the steps leading to the springs.
After enjoying a dip in the cool springs, cook an outdoor meal on one of the grills. Eat at a picnic table nearby or spread your blanket on the ground overlooking the springs. There is a playground for the kids, and a volleyball court and horseshoe pit for friends and family to enjoy.
If the river is calling you, canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards are available to rent. Paddle the Wekiva river where you will see an abundance of wildlife including alligators and turtles basking in the sun and osprey high in the treetops.
Explore the trails of Wekiwa Springs State Park on foot, horseback, or bike. Trails range in length from 8/10 of a mile to 13.5 miles. The Tram Bed Horse Trail is perfect for horseback riding. Pedal along the bike trail or discover the many birds found along the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail within the park.
Stargaze at one of the 60 spacious campsites in Sandhill habitat. Camp with your horses at Big Fork or experience primitive camping at Camp Cozy or Big Fork. A concession is available for your convenience should you forget to pack something.
Make your day at the park a family affair. Bring your dog! Just be sure he or she is on a 6-foot leash.
Plan your adventure today! Explore and discover Wekiwa Springs State Park!
Wekiwa Springs State Park is located at 1800 Wekiwa Cir. Apopka FL 32712 Plan your trip here: http://www.wekiwaspringsstatepark.com/plan.html Note- the park reaches capacity early in the day during the summer. It is best to arrive when the park opens.
Photo credit: Andy Waldo images captured during several hikes throughout the year.
The Eastern Grasshopper Lubber, (Romalea guttata), is very distinctive in its coloration. They are yellow with black along the antenna, body, and abdomen. Their forewings which are rose or pink in color extend along the abdomen. The hind wings which are rose in color are short. They can grow as large as 3 inches and can be seen walking very slowly and clumsily along the ground. Lubbers cannot fly or jump but they are very good at climbing.
The Grasshopper Lubber can be found in wet, damp environments but will lay their eggs in dry soil. The eggs are laid in the fall and begin hatching in the spring. The female will dig a hole with her abdomen and deposit 30-50 yellowish-brown eggs. They are laid neatly in rows called pods. She will produce 3-5 egg clusters and closes the hole with a frothy secretion. Nymphs wiggle through the froth and begin to eat. The male will guard the female during this time.
Nymphs have a completely different appearance from the adults. They are black with yellow, orange or red strips. They will have 5-6 molts to develop their coloration, wings, and antennae. The coloration of adults will vary throughout their lives as well and they are often mistaken for different species. There is no diapause in the egg development and they take just 200 days to develop depending on temperature. A month after the Grasshopper becomes an adult, they begin to lay their eggs.
Both females and males make noise by rubbing their front and hind wings together. When alarmed they will secrete and spray a foul-smelling froth. This chemical discharge repels predators and is manufactured from their diet. The Grasshopper’s diet is so varied that it makes it difficult for predators to adapt to the toxin produced. Their bright color pattern is also a warning to predators that they are not good to eat. Birds and lizards avoid them but nymphs will be infected by parasites from the tachinid fly. Loggerhead Shrikes will capture the Grasshopper and impale it on thorns or barbed wire. After 2 days, the toxins in the lubber’s body will deteriorate enough for the prey to be consumed.
Lubbers are long-lived and both the adults and the nymphs can be found year-round in Florida. This Grasshopper occurs in such large numbers in Florida that they can cause damage to your landscape’s plants. Lubbers will bore holes throughout a plant regardless if they are vegetables, citrus, or ornamentals. If their numbers are large enough they can decimate a plant.
Did you know: Lubber is an old English word. It means a big, clumsy, stupid person, also known as a lout or lummox. In modern times, it is normally used only by seafarers, “landlubbers”.
Short-tailed kingsnakes, (lampropeltis extenuata), are as thin as a pencil and grow to an average length of 14 to 20 inches long. Their scales are smooth and gray in with a spotted pattern. They have dark spots down the middle of their backs as well as on their sides. The lighter color between the spots has an orange center.
The Short-Tailed Kingsnake has a small oval-shaped head and round eyes. As the name implies, their tails are shorter than the tails of other snakes. This snake is nonvenomous and is not a threat to people. The Kingsnake consumes other snakes and lizards. They spend their lives below ground and are rarely seen. This snake is so rare that it is assumed eggs are laid below ground where it burrows. Reproduction has not been studied therefore, nothing is known about the number of eggs in Short-tailed kingsnake’s clutch. They can be found in habitats of north-central Florida such as pine or coastal live oak hammocks and sand pine scrub.
The Short-tailed Kingsnake is endemic to Florida. This snake is listed as threatened and protected by Florida state law. Their range is limited and conversion of habitat to citrus, mining, and development pose ongoing threats.
The Florida Leafwing (Anaea troglodyta floridalis), is native to Florida. It can be found in the pine rocklands of Florida. The Leafwing was once found throughout Miami -Dade, and Monroe counties. This imperiled butterfly is now found in only one place on Earth, the Everglades National Park. The causes of its decline are the destruction of pine rockland habitat, the introduction of exotic plants and insect species, fire suppression, the use of insecticides for mosquito control, and collecting.
When in flight the Florida leafwing’s upper side of its wings is red or bright orange. At rest, the lower side of the wings are visible and are brown or gray which makes the butterfly look like a dead leaf. The front wing is slightly hooked and the back wing has a pointed tail. Its dead leaf coloration is effective camouflage in its rockland habitat. A leafwing’s wingspan is between 3 to 31/2 inches wide.
Eggs are laid on the leaves of the host plant so caterpillars can eat the leaves. Young caterpillars will make a resting perch from a leaf vein. The older caterpillars live in a rolled-up leaf.
Florida leafwing caterpillars feed only on pineland croton (Croton linearis), which is its larval host plant. This shrub grows in the understory of pine rockland habitat. Leafwings are dependent on the health of its host plant. The croton and other plants in the pine rockland are dependent on fire to maintain an open rockland where it reduces the competition and infestation of non-native species.
The Florida Leafwing is federally endangered. Scientists at the Everglades National Park are working with conservation groups, to ensure that the endemic, Florida leafwing does not disappear into extinction.
The Orange Blossom from the sweet orange tree, Citrus x sinensis, was made Florida’s state flower in 1909. The sweet orange tree that bears this flower was introduced to Florida by the Spaniards in the 15th century. The orange tree is not endemic to Florida but has been naturalized.
Orange Blossom flowers have waxy petals that are small and white. Each flower has 5 petals with 20 to 25 stamens in a compact spiral. In the spring flowers grow in clusters of 6 flowers per cluster. Each flower is a point of where an orange will grow in the spring. Orange Blossoms have a strong citrus scent and are an incredibly fragrant flower. The scent of the blossoms has been described as creamy, sweet and rich, with a hint of a tart, citrus essence.
A full sunlight location and soil with a mixture of sand, clay, and organic matter is needed to produce these vibrant flowers. The orange tree begins to bloom at 2 to 5 years and blossoms can appear while there are oranges on the tree. The Orange Blossom is the only state flower used to make perfumes, colognes, toiletries herbal teas, and the ever-popular Orange Blossom Honey.
Did you know? Throughout history, the Orange Blossom has come to symbolize good fortune and brides often include the fragrant blossoms in their bridal bouquets.
The Schaus’ swallowtail, Heraclides aristodemus ponceanus, is a large black and yellow butterfly endemic to Florida. This butterfly is found only in Florida and is restricted to intact tropical hardwood hammocks.
The Schaus’ swallowtail was listed as a federally threatened species on April 28, 1976. It was reclassified as a federal endangered species on August 31, 1984. Population estimates range from 800 to 1200 individuals. It remains the only federally listed butterfly in Florida.
Once ranging from the Miami area south through the Florida Keys, the Shaus’ swallowtail is currently restricted to only a few remnant tropical hardwood hammock sites on the south Florida mainland, northern Key Largo, and several small islands within Biscayne National Park. Adults fly slowly and leisurely and are very adept at flying through the dense hardwood hammock.
Adults have a wingspan range of up to 2.3 inches with females being the largest. Males have yellow-tipped antennae. The upper surface of their wings is black with a row of yellow or white spots and a broad yellow or white band. The hindwing tails are outlined in yellow. The undersides of the wings are yellow with brown markings and a broad blue and rust-colored band.
The Schaus’ swallowtail produces one generation each year from April to July with the peak time occurring typically from mid-May to mid-June. Adult emergence and reproduction are correlated with the beginning of the Florida rainy season. However, the pupae may remain in diapause for more than one year if optimal weather conditions are not present. Females lay green eggs singly on new growth. The developing larvae then feed on the young growth.
Listed as an endangered species, threats to the remaining population include the loss of genetic diversity due to inbreeding, climate-related impacts such as drought, habitat disturbance from fire, tropical storms or hurricanes, mosquito spraying, and loss of habitat. Hurricane Andrew left behind only 73 butterflies in 1992 after sweeping through the butterflies’ home range. Because their habitat is limited, it is possible that a single hurricane can make the Schaus’ Swallowtail extinct. However, the protected status and their rebounding numbers after Hurricane Andrew bring renewed hope that this gorgeous butterfly will survive and thrive in our beautiful state.
There are two species of cattails that are found in Florida. They are Typha domingensis (southern cattail) and Typha latifolia (common cattail).
Cattails are important to our water since they continuously filter the water where they grow and thrive. They are capable of filtering arsenic, pharmaceuticals, and explosives. Cattails also store algae-producing nutrients in their leaves while their roots stabilize the water edge and prevent erosion.
Cattails are a great haven for protective nesting areas for animals and birds. Cattail seeds can remain in a dormant stage for up to 100 years. Once established, cattails grow up to 8 feet tall and multiply from thick, underground rhizomes.
Cattails are used as a buffer between sugar farms and the Everglades where they remove phosphorous from the water before it flows into the Everglades. Unfortunately, cattails love phosphorous and can grow out of control and block out the sun while outcompeting the native sawgrass. Spraying herbicides to kill them have a negative effect on the water quality and local wildlife. Of course, any plant given the right conditions, albeit unnatural conditions, can become invasive and will need to be thinned out at times.
Cattails can be used to prevent excess methane emissions in an effort to slow global warming. Currently, scientists are exploring the possibility of using cattails as a biofuel.
Other fun facts – Cattails can be woven into baskets, hats, mats, and beds. The dried seed heads attached to their stalks can be dipped into oil and used as torches. The honey-like substance of the plant near the root has been used as an antiseptic and for toothaches. The roots and cattails themselves can be cooked and turned into a sweet flour that has gluten similar to wheat. The sap in between the leaves is an excellent starch and can be used to thicken stews and soups.
So the next time you see a cattail remember, some may call it a super plant.
The Southern Hognose Snake, Heterodon simus, is a species often considered non-venomous. They do, however, possess a mild toxin that is considered medically insignificant and harmless to humans (A few people have had allergic reactions to hognose bites). They inhabit areas with sandy soils, sandhills, pine-oak forests, scrubs, agricultural areas, and coastal dunes, from northern to central Florida.
As the smallest of the hognose snakes, they will grow to between 1 and 2 feet. Their eyes are round. Body color runs gray-brown to tan and the tail’s underside is the same color as the body. Their bodies’ back and sides have irregular, dark brown-black blotches which are separated by orange-red blotches running along the spine. The neck has large blotches and the forehead is marked with a dark band which runs from each eye to the corners of the jaw. The snake’s scales have lengthwise ridges. The scales on the tip of the snout are strongly upturned.
The diet of a Southern Hognose snake consists of frogs, toads, and lizards. They have rear fangs which are used to puncture inflated toads and are immune to the poison produced by toads.
When a Southern Hognose snake feels threatened, it may play dead or flatten its neck and hiss. They live underground and are active during the day. However, you will rarely encounter one of these snakes as they have declined in number.
In the summer, females lay 6-14, thin-shelled, leathery, whitish eggs in either sandy soil or logs. The eggs hatch between September and October.
These snakes are of Conservation concern throughout their range. Their decline is due to introduced fire ants, the loss of longleaf pine forest, urban sprawl, and the conversion of habitats to agriculture. The Southern Hognose Snake is listed as vulnerable, and at risk of extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Sea Oats are an important species to coastal sand dunes. The dunes provide housing and food to a variety of wildlife. The Florida beach mouse is an endemic species isolated to coastal dunes. Roseate terns, least terns, loggerheads, Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, green sea turtles, hawksbill sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles, and Black skimmers rely on dunes for nesting. Piping plovers and southeastern snowy plover spend the winter in Florida where they breed in coastal dunes. American oystercatchers feed on small invertebrates and breed on sand dunes (U.S. Fish and Wildlife).
Reconstruction of coastal dunes is a common method of fighting climate change. In an effort to determine if this approach was offering a benefit to vertebrates, a study was conducted between June 2015 and June 2016 to compare natural coastal dunes and reconstructed coastal dunes. After collecting 2537 photos, 33 species were recorded. Common species overlapped both natural and reconstructed dunes. Differences were a result of rare species that were isolated to one area. Overall, the two types of dunes attracted similar types and numbers of vertebrates (Martin et al 2018).
Sea oats may not be endangered but they are protected under Title XI Chapter 161 Section 242 of Florida Statute due to their ability to stabilize sand in coastal regions and protect coasts from erosion. Can you think of any beautiful spaces with sea oats?
Martin, Scott A., Rhett M. Rautsaw, M. Rebecca Bolt, Christopher L. Parkinson, and Richard A. Seigel. 2018. Estimating the response of wildlife communities to coastal dune construction. Vol. 161.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Beach Dune, Coastal Strand and Maritime Hammock. Multi-Species Recovery Plan for South Florida. 3:72-76
Discover Naples Botanical Gardens located 4 miles from downtown Naples. It is made up of 6 gardens, with a 2.5-mile walking trail as well as dog walks in the park.
The Botanical Gardens are a 90-acre preserve made up of seven unique ecosystems which include mangroves, marshes, and untouched forests. It features native Florida plant life, over 300 exotic plants, and hundreds of animal species.
You can visit tropic and subtropical landscapes of Asia in the Lea Asian Garden. The Brazilian Garden offers the bold display of the indigenous people’s use of plants in the landscape. This Garden features the only original Burle Marx, ceramic mural in the United States. He is considered the father of landscape architecture. The Kapnick Caribbean Garden gives the visitor a view through the natural landscapes islands of the Caribbean. You will encounter diverse landscapes, from mountain tropical forests, dry forests, savannahs, scrubs and different species of cactus. Take your child through the saw palmetto tunnel at the Vicky C. and David Byron Smith Children’s Garden. To a child’s and adult’s delight, they will encounter a world of flowers, vegetables, butterflies, a babbling stream, and tree houses. The Water Garden in the Naples Botanical Gardens is atop the river of grass. It is filled with water lilies, lotuses, and papyrus complete with a boardwalk.
The Karen and Robert Scott Florida Garden is the essence of the Florida landscape. Visiting this garden encourages visitors’ connection with the natural elements. This garden features The Great Circle which is formed by a circular planting of sabal palms, Florida’s State Tree. The underplanting is bougainvillea and silver palmetto. In this Great Circle are Florida’s beautiful grasses and wildflowers.
The Naples Botanical Gardens offer something for everyone. Demonstrations, talks, tours, and tastings of tropical fruit plants are experiences not to be missed. You may see a performance on the boardwalk that will definitely leave an impression.
Plan your trip today to explore Naples Botanical Gardens located at 4820 Bayshore Drive, Naples, Florida.
The hanging thief robber fly (Diogmites crudelis) is an ambush predator that catches prey by either catching it from the ground or by catching it while on a plant. Once they obtain their food they will use two legs to hang from a leaf or stem and use the rest to maneuver the food as they consume their catch.
Pickerelweed, Pontederia cordata, is a Florida native and is found throughout the state in shallow wetland areas, edges of lakes, marshes, and ponds. These plants have shiny green blade-shaped leaves and emerge in the springtime from under the water level. They will grow about 3 to 5 feet tall and flower with 3 to 4-inch purple-blue flower spikes. The individual flowers will only last one day but the plant will flower from spring through fall.
Pickerelweed is very important ecologically. The underwater portion of this plant provides habitats for micro and macroinvertebrates. These invertebrates are a food source for many animals and fish. Above the water, the flowers attract local pollinators such as butterflies, dragonflies, and bees, Once the flowers die the plant will bear fruit with seeds. The seeds are a treat for ducks who will at times, eat the whole plant. Pickerelweed holds and stabilizes the banks of the water bodies that they surround.
Pickerelweed would be a natural beauty when planted on the edge of man-made ponds in parks and HOAs, and on golf courses and other public places. Advocating for pickerelweed and other native aquatic plants would benefit pollinators and underwater species while beautifying your neighborhood naturally.
Fun fact – Pickerelweed’s fruit contains a nutritious seed that can be eaten by humans straight from the plant. The dried seed can be boiled, roasted, or ground into flour. Young leaves have been eaten in salads.
The flame vine is native to Brazil. This beautiful vine with long orange tuber flowers has become a common accent to many gardens and has attracted pollinators including hummingbirds. However, the flame vine grows like wildfire and can become invasive rather quickly (University of Florida).
Indigenous people of Brazil used the plant to treat several conditions including skin irritations, diarrhea, coughing, respiratory infections, bronchitis, flu and cold. Research has found several pharmaceutical properties in the plant including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antinociceptive, wound healing properties, antimicrobial, reduction in cold and fever symptoms, treatment of menopause, and melanogenesis. These properties can be carefully extracted and refined to produce a number of medications (Mostafa, El-Dahshan, and Singab 2013).
Mostafa NM, El-Dahshan O, Singab ANB (2013) Pyrostegia venusta (Ker Gawl.) Miers: A Botanical, Pharmacological and Phytochemical Review. Med Aromat Plants 2:123. doi:10.4172/2167-0412.1000123
Black Skimmers, Rynchops niger, are seen flying low to the water with the lower part of their bills skimming the water for food. Their bills are wide at the top and come to the point. When a skimmer senses a fish in the longer, lower mandible of its bill, the upper part instantly snaps shut.
Striking and easily recognizable, skimmers are medium-sized tern-like seabirds with red and black bills and a wingspan of 3 to 3.5 feet. They have black wings with white edging, black backs, and a white underside and head. Black skimmers inhabit coastal areas such as beaches, estuaries, and sandbars.
Breeding and roosting occur between May and early September in colonies of up to several hundred pairs. Skimmers lay three to five eggs which are incubated by both parents for 23-25 days. Skimmers are protective parents and the colony acts as a village when it mobs a predator as a group in an effort to protect nests. The young fly at 28-30 days old. A successful colony will use the same nest site next year.
Black skimmers are threatened in Florida and are protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Coastal development and human activity without regard to seabirds pose the biggest threat. Predators such as crows, raccoons, opossums, coyotes, and feral hogs find skimmer eggs and chicks to be a delicious meal. Pets, beach driving, recreational activity, oil spills, shoreline hardening, and more cause parents to abandon their nests. Sea level rise poses another threat to the black skimmer population.
With all of these threats, most of the colonies in Florida are managed by local land managers and volunteers. Documented black skimmer colonies in Florida are managed with fencings and/or informational signs.
With your help, black skimmers can make a successful comeback. Heed the signs you see while at the beach. Call the number on the signs at a beach near you and volunteer to make a difference. Let’s all do what we can now to protects these beautiful Florida seabirds.
Imagine spending a day at the seashore, a day free of condos, hotels, and tourists. A day where you can be one with nature in a place where you feel the power of the ocean, hear the pounding of the waves and share all of that glory with only your friends and the wildlife who make their home there.
There is a little known gem in Florida known as Playalinda Beach. It is a part of Canaveral National Seashore. Take a trip to Titusville, go east on Garden Street and continue driving east until you reach the beach. The ocean is not visible from your car. As you drive parallel to the ocean, you will see sand dunes on your right. There are 13 parking areas, each with its own boardwalk. Any of the boardwalks will lead you over the sand dunes where the ocean in all of its magnificence will appear before your eyes.
There you will meet some of the 310 species of birds found at Canaveral National Seashore, including migratory birds, who will enjoy the beach with you. If you are lucky, you may meet a loggerhead, green or leatherback sea turtle who makes her nest in the sand or hatchlings as they make their way to the ocean. Enjoy your day swimming, surfing, sunbathing, fishing, and bird watching.
Stop along the way to or from the beach and explore by car or on foot, some of Canaveral National Seashore ecosystems. These include a barrier island, offshore waters, lagoon, coastal hammock, and pine flatwoods. Outdoor experiences include canoeing, kayaking, boating, hiking, camping, and historical trails.
There is an abundance of wildlife and wildflowers at Cape Canaveral National Seashore. Keep your eyes open for bobcats, raccoons and more. Look for beautiful flowers and the pollinators among them. We hope you encounter some of the threatened species who make their homes there. You may see Florida scrub jays, Southern bald eagles, wood storks, peregrine falcons, eastern indigo snakes, and manatees.
Take a day, or two, or three, and immerse yourself in the beauty of natural Florida, the way nature intended it to be.
This vine is native to Florida and contains casings with coarse hairy seed pods containing smooth seeds. The seeds inside, called Nickernuts, have had many purposes.
-Jewelry -Indigenous people used the seeds for medicinal tea. -Yellow and red dyes
These plants can be found around coastal areas of south Florida. The first specimens recorded in Florida were found in Monroe County in 1891. The ones in these photos were found at the TECO Manatee Viewing Center in Hillsborough County.