Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park There’s something for everyone at Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park!
Nature trails, birding, equestrian trails, biking, walking, jogging, camping, cabins, picnic areas, horseshoe games, volleyball court, pavilions, and playgrounds assure your entire family will enjoy their day. You can even bring your dog on a 6-foot leash to the hiking or paved bike trail.
You can easily spend an entire day here as you explore this beautiful park of 8,300 acres located in New Port Richey. Take your time as you wander through the wilderness and discover an abundance of wild plants and animals who make their home there. Leave your cares behind while you spend quality time with your family and friends reconnecting with nature. Get Outside. Explore. Discover.
A Florida Native, buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) blooms in late spring and throughout the summer. The blossoms of the buttonbush shrub resemble a pincushion more than they resemble a button. The blooms are 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter and have a pleasant fragrance. They attract a variety of insects including butterflies, moths, bees, and wasps.
Buttonbush is an understory shrub and will grow 4-8 feet wide and can reach heights of 20 feet. They are commonly found in marshes, swamps, sloughs, and ponds and are used for nesting by many bird species. In the fall, the buttonbush will produce bright red fruits. Seeds are enjoyed by ducks, jays, cardinals, titmice, mockingbirds, and warblers.
Buttonbush is available at many native nurseries and will flourish in wetlands and on wetland edges.
This State Park is located near Palm Coast along A1A, between the Atlantic Ocean and Matanzas River. Washington Oaks Gardens is known for its formal gardens, a unique shoreline with rare coquina rock outcroppings, beautiful oak trees, and nature trails. You can hike, bike, and picnic in the park. The grounds feature brick pathways, benches, as well as its preservation of northeast Florida’s original native habitats. In the 425 acres, you will find a beach, coastal scrub, coastal hammock, and tidal marshes.
Over 144 species of birds can be found in Washington Oaks Gardens State Park. Some of the birds you may see are peregrine falcons, spotted sandpipers, scarlet tangler, and indigo bunting, and the endangered scrub jay. Take one of the hiking trails and perhaps run into bobcats, a gopher tortoise, raccoons, or whitetail deer. The waters surrounding the park are home to sea turtles, manatees and you may spot dolphins.
Washington Oaks Gardens State Park was part of the Spanish land grants and is in an area steeped in history. The formal gardens are a showcase of the park. They were devised by the former owners Louise and Owen Young and feature rose gardens, birds of paradise, and orange groves, as well as the towering oak trees which the Youngs named the property after.
The park was donated to the state in 1964 with the stipulation that the gardens were kept and maintained as they were originally laid out. Spending the day at Washington Oaks State Park is worth the trip whether you go for hiking, picnics, bird watching, fishing, or just to spend a serene day enjoying nature.
The Eastern Bluebird, Sialia sialis, is part of the songbird family of thrushes. Once declining at an alarming rate due to introduced species, pesticides, and habitat loss, Eastern bluebirds have made a stirring comeback. The population increase has been aided by birdhouses built especially for the bluebirds along bluebird trails.
Eastern bluebirds prefer open habitat which is near trees. These areas include forest clearings, burned areas, savannas, pastures, parks, and golf courses.
Male bluebirds flutter and sing to attract a female. The new couple will find a tree with a cavity such as an old woodpecker hole or a birdhouse. The female does most of the nest building and will loosely construct a nest of twigs and grasses lined with softer material such as feathers, animal hairs, or fine grass. There she will lay 3-7 pale blue or white eggs.
Incubation takes 13-16 days and is mostly by the female. When the nestlings are born, both parents will feed their young. Since Eastern bluebirds have 2-3 broods per year, it is not unusual to see a young bird from a previous brood help with feeding. Meals consist of a wide variety of insects. They also enjoy berries, earthworms, and snails.
Eastern bluebirds are monogamous while nesting but can be found in small flocks during the rest year. We hope a flock of bluebirds will fly over the rainbow and visit all of you this year.
The Florida Woods Cockroach (Eurycotis floridana) is more commonly known as the palmetto bug.
The roach measures 1 to 1 1/2 inches long to 1 inch wide. They are reddish brown to black and do not have fully developed wings. They appear wingless but have short vestigial wings. These roaches are larger than other species so are easier to spot.
Florida woods cockroaches are usually found under palmetto leaves and decomposing matter. Contact with the bug may cause skin irritation as they secrete a chemical from a gland under their abdomen. This chemical secretion is used to ward off predators and it stinks.
With or without fertilization, the Florida woods cockroach produces an egg case known as an ootheca. The egg cases contain an average of 20 to 24 eggs and will hatch after 50 days. Without fertilization, only about 60% of the eggs are viable and those that hatch will not live to adulthood. The nymphs undergo 6 to 8 weeks of molts before becoming adults. They can live over a year.
Florida woods cockroaches rarely enter the home since abundant food is found outdoors. They eat mold, moss, lichens, and other organic material found in dark, damp places. However, they are primarily a detritivore since their diet consists mainly of organic waste and dead plant matter such as bark and leaves, thus returning vital nutrients to the ecosystem.
They may not be the most loved bug in our state, but the Florida woods cockroach plays a very important role in our ecosystem.
Florida tickseed (coreopsis floridana) is just one of Florida’s many diverse and beautiful wildflowers. This wildflower is endemic to Florida. It can be found throughout most of the state, except the extreme northern Panhandle counties. The Coreopsis was adopted as Florida’s State Wildflower in 1991.
Coreopsis grow best in wet open habitats such as the upper edges of marshes, savannas, and prairies. This is a robust fall bloomer and can stand 3 feet tall in ideal conditions. The petals are bright yellow, surrounding a dark disc. The flowers form a bloom that is two inches across. The leaves are narrow and elliptical in shape. This plant requires wet to moist soil to survive. In such settings, it blooms into showy, beautiful wildflowers.
Volusia County’s Spring-to-Spring Trail is an apt name for a trail which will link several of the state and county parks which feature natural springs. It is planned for more than 26 miles and should take approximately 3 hours to complete. The paved, path will be ideal for walkers, joggers, skaters, bicyclists as well as those with disabilities. Trailheads are Debary Hall Historic Site, Gemini Springs Park, Lake Monroe Park, Lake Beresford Park, Blue Spring State Park, and Grand Avenue in Glenwood. To date, 15 miles have been completed.
The Spring to Spring Trail is planned for the diversity of the land and wildlife. You will see open fields to jungle-like conditions and you may encounter bald eagles, rabbits, armadillos, alligators, otters, coyotes, and deer.
The most northern segment starts near the base of De Leon Springs State Park. De Leon Springs is known for its the lakes, creeks, and marshes. The trail travels south along Grand Avenue. To the west lies the Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge. Here freshwater marshes and swamps provide critical habitat for nesting, migrating, and wintering birds. This 6-mile segment ends at W. Minnesota Avenue. The next part of the trail is an 8.9-mile segment which begins on the southwestern outskirts of DeLand. The trail travels over 2 miles along Lake Beresford. The trail then travels along Blue Spring State Park through an environment which features hammock and magnolias trees. This park is a designated manatee refuge. You can learn more about this endangered animal through ranger programs as well as view them from an observation platform during the winter when manatees gather in the warm waters of the spring. The last part of the trail route is the most scenic. It traces the northwestern shoreline of Lake Monroe.
Pineapples have been cultivated by indigenous people throughout the tropical areas of the Americas and the Carribean for thousands of years. The pineapple was introduced to Florida in 1860. While there is no commercial farming of pineapples in Florida, it is known as the dooryard yard plant. A dooryard garden plant is a plant that is in the front of the house. The goal of a dooryard garden is to have curb appeal while guiding the steps of the visitor to the front door.
The pineapple is created by the fusion of all of the flowers into one fruit. Pineapples love good drainage and areas that are not prone to flooding or puddling.
After maturing, the pineapple is ready to eat when it starts to turn yellow and smells sweet. With first-hand experience, if you wait until this time to pick your fruit, it is usually too late. Why? The squirrels, raccoons, and other animals will usually feast on it before that time.
Pineapple can be eaten fresh, juiced, dried, made into candies, and made into dishes and desserts. The fruit is a good source of potassium, vitamin C and vitamin A. Pineapple upside down cake anyone?
Located near Christmas Fl, the Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area includes an 18.6-mile loop trail that features a lake.
The trail is located along the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail so expect to see plenty of wildlife enjoying the area. Wading birds, eagles, ospreys, turkeys, deer, and alligators are some of the wildlife you may meet. Beautiful cabbage palm hammocks and freshwater marshes are waiting for you to explore. Discover bromeliads, orchids, ferns, and abundant wildflowers. Be on the lookout for rare pitcher plants, hand ferns, and cutthroat grass.
Short hikes can lead to many sightings and new discoveries like the virgin bald cypress stand in James Creek Swamp. There are trails for day hikes and hiking with overnight camping. Primitive campsites are available for the more adventurous including one along the 12 miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail. The unpaved roads are bicycle friendly. For those who would rather view the scenery from the comfort of your air-conditioned vehicle, you are permitted to do so when the roads are not too wet or sandy. Dogs are welcome when on a leash.
Whether on foot, by bicycle or from your vehicle: Get Outside. Explore. Discover.
The longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) gets its name from the shape of its needle-like leaves. They can grow as long as 18 inches and come in bundles of three. The tree with it’s thick, scaly bark grows almost completely straight, boasts a 3-foot diameter, and can reach 80 to 100 feet tall. These slow-growing trees can live up to 300 years.
Prior to restoration efforts, longleaf pines once only occupied 3% of their former range. Forests of longleaf pine were cleared for development and agriculture.
The seeds are developed in cones and dispersed by the wind. They must come in contact with the soil to grow. Fires caused by lightning would clear away leaf litter and brush allowing this to take place. When fire is suppressed, the seeds can not reach the soil. The seeds that take root go through a grass stage. During this stage, the longleaf pine starts to develop its central root, called a taproot, which will grow up to 12 feet long. After the tap toot grows the tree will begin to grow in height. Both the tree and the grass stage are resistant to fire.
There are more than 30 endangered and threatened species, including red-cockaded woodpeckers and indigo snakes who rely on the longleaf pine habitat. The longleaf pines are more resilient to the negative impacts of climate change than other pines. The tree can withstand severe windstorms, resist pests, tolerate wildfires and drought, as well as capture carbon pollution from the atmosphere. The restoration of the longleaf pine has become a major restoration effort.
The Eastern Spotted Skunk, (Spilogale putorius), is native to Florida and the least studied. It was thought that they were abundant throughout Florida except in the Keys. This is a small skunk, about the size of a squirrel, with more of a weasel shaped body. Eastern spotted skunks have various areas of white on the body that mix with the black and vary on each individual. They have short legs and are slow moving. The spotted skunk is omnivorous and enjoys dining on plants, berries, nuts, fruits, rodents, frogs, snakes, small lizards, and bird eggs.
Eastern Spotted Skunks are nest predators of ground-nesting birds, Unfortunately, the critically endangered, Florida Grasshopper Sparrow is among the skunk’s prey.
A female spotted skunk will create a den in a tree hollow, gopher tortoise burrow, or abandoned structure. Her litter will range between 2 to 10 kits each year. At 4 weeks the young go out looking for food with their mother and are weaned at 8 weeks. By 4 months they are adults and leave the den. The life span of the spotted skunk is 1 to 2 years.
Like all skunks, the Spotted Skunk has well developed anal glands that emit musk, if they are threatened. These glands contain a “nipple” that allows the skunk to aim its spray accurately. The spotted skunk is noted for its characteristic “handstand” stance that it takes when threatened. Before spraying its opponent, the skunk raises up on its front legs and turns its head to watch as it sprays. It is also the only member of the skunk family that can climb. Their predators include humans, dogs, cats, bobcats, coyotes, foxes and owls.
The population of eastern spotted skunks has not been well-studied. Loss of habitat, insecticide use, and predators may indicate they are not as abundant as once thought.
In 1947 a beautiful clear lake full of fish began to change. Land from the north was purchased for agriculture. With agricultural practices at the time, lots of nutrients, including phosphorus, we’re drained into the lake. This caused an algae bloom that depleted the fish population and ultimately deteriorated the ecosystem. Fortunately, there was hope for Lake Apopka (Bauchmann et al 1999).
Thanks to the Surface Water Improvement and Management Act of 1987 Lake Apopka was identified for restoration. Plans were created to help bring life back to the ecosystem. In 1996 chapter 96 – 207 of Florida statutes was passed by the Florida legislature. This act allowed the agricultural lands to the north to be purchased and converted into wetlands (St. John’s Water Management District).
Because of dedicated legislators, biologists, volunteers, and citizens, the fish population has been restored, plenty of birds flock to the area to feed, deer and otters call this 48.4 square mile area their home, the hydrology has drastically improved, and the ecosystem is thriving.
The Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive is an 11-mile scenic route where visitors can enjoy Nature and the beauty of this Florida success story.
When entering the Wildlife Drive you can access an audio guide for your smartphone.
Bauchmann, R. W., Hoyer, M. V., & Canfield, D. E., Jr. (1999). The restoration of Lake Apopka in relation to alternative stable states. Hydrobiologia, 394(0), 219-232.
St. John’s Water Management District, Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive General Information Guide
Wild Coffee (Psychotria nervosa) is a Florida native shrub that gets its name from the small, red fruit it produces. Other names are wood balsam, Seminole Balsamo, and café marron. It is extremely cold sensitive. If it freezes it resprouts in the spring producing a shorter plant.
Wild Coffee, grows as a dense, round, multi-stemmed shrub about 5 feet tall and spreads between 4 to 8 feet. You will see it in pinelands, shell ridges, coastal hammocks, and sandy shaded areas. Its leaves are glossy, puckered, waxy, and light green when in full sun. When in the shade the leaves are deep forest green. The leaves are 5 inches long with veins running through them. Small, white flowers bloom in spring and summer and produce a fragrance similar to the gardenia.
Many butterflies, including the Florida state butterfly, the zebra longwing, and the spicebush swallowtail drink nectar from the flowers of wild coffee. Honeybees visit the flowers and pollinate them. Bright red, half-inch berries appear, in late summer or fall, each with two seeds. These seeds are an important food source for cardinals, catbirds, mockingbirds and blue jays, as well as other birds. Wild coffee berries were once used as a coffee substitute even though they do not contain caffeine.
The shrub grows well in alkaline soil. It is not salt-tolerant, but germinates readily, has few pest problems, needs only varying amounts of water and is not invasive. Is also prevents soil erosion. With its contrasting green leaves and red berries, its fragrance when in bloom and its wildlife benefits, the Wild Coffee shrub will make a wonderful addition to a shady spot in your landscape.
Miami blues are as big as a blueberry and have the weight of a dandelion puff. They were once found abundantly through 700 miles of Florida coastline, up and down both of Florida’s coasts and the Florida Keys. Their preferred habit is the beach berm. These butterflies pollinate the shoreline which helps prevent shore erosion. Due to the development and remodeling of the natural seashore and mosquito control spraying, Miami blues were unofficially declared extinct after Hurricane Andrew wiped out their last known colony in 1992.
Wildlife biologists found a couple of small populations in an uninhabited island in the Florida Keys Wildlife Refuge and began a breeding program. The butterfly uses two coastal plant species to lay its eggs, blackbead and gray nickerbean. Each can be found in abundance on many of the untouched Key Islands. These plants are ideal for the butterfly, who in its caterpillar stage, feeds on new growth found on the branch ends.
Adult Miami blues have a lifespan of between one and two weeks. They will stay within 30 feet of their birthplace. During that time, the females will lay between 20 and 100 eggs a day on host plants. It is suspected that when there is no new growth on the plants for them to feed on, ants colonies are store the butterfly eggs until more favorable conditions arise for them to hatch and become caterpillars. In exchange for this, the ants receive a sweet sugar substance from the caterpillar cocoon and do not harm it.
Miami blues are an endangered species and part of a 25-year long conservation effort. Vulnerable to hurricanes and climate change, this endemic butterfly can now be found only in Key West National Wildlife Refuge.