Just northeast of Brooksville there is a beautiful tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest waiting to be explored. The Croom Wildlife Management Area is made up of 20,000 acres along the winding Withlacoochee River in Hernando and Sumter counties.
There are 31 miles of hiking trails, 64 miles of biking trails, 43 miles of equestrian trails along with the paved Withlacoochee State Trail. Camp at one of 5 camping areas, launch your boat or canoe from one of 3 boat ramps or enjoy a thrilling ride at the Dirtbike and ATV area. A four-wheel drive is recommended if you prefer to drive through the sandy roads.
Walk, bike or ride through the Longleaf Pine forests, admire the many Cypress trees, and stop by Silver Lake. Watch for fox squirrels, deer, turkeys, alligators, and swallow-tailed kites. Bring your dog on a leash – they are allowed in most places, a picnic lunch, and enjoy your day outdoors at The Croom Wildlife Management Area.
Photo Credit: Marc Goldberg
Red Buckeye, Aesculus pavia, is native to Florida from the panhandle through Central Florida. It occurs naturally in soil that is rich in calcium carbonate and in moist areas.
Before cold weather arrives they will lose their leaves to reveal brownish flaky bark with dark reddish-brown twigs. Among the first plants to bloom in spring, the Red Buckeye is an important early source of nectar for butterflies and hummingbirds. Fruit appears in the fall and when split, reveals a seed that resembles a chestnut.
Red Buckeye is a gorgeous addition to your native plant garden. It is a fast-growing plant and can be grown from seeds. Red Buckeyes can be maintained as a shrub or allowed to grow into a tree. The plant grows quickly, thrives in moist, rich soil and partial shade. Irrigation may be required in full sun or dry areas. When planning your garden, you may want to consider the leaves and seeds from the fruit contain saponins which are poisonous to humans and pets.
Photo Credit: Andy Waldo
Once a wet prairie that was part of the St John’s River flood plain, Orlando Wetlands Park in Christmas Fl is now a man-made wetland treatment system that attracts over 230 species of birds.
Orlando Wetlands Park has quite a history. It was originally settled in the 1830s. In 1837, Fort Christmas was erected by the Army. When the Civil War was over, settlers drained the land for agriculture. By the early 1900s, the land became an open range for cattle while red cedar trees and pine trees were being cut down for lumber. By the 1940s a dairy farm was operating on the property. With a growing population, the city of Orlando and surrounding communities needed a larger and more efficient treatment facility. The City of Orlando purchased 1650 acres from Ft Christmas, converted 1220 acres of pasture back into wetlands, and named it Orlando Wetlands Park.
35 million gallons of reclaimed wastewater makes its way through 3 wetlands communities each day. The ecosystems include a mixed marsh, wet prairie, and hardwood /cypress swamps. A 100-acre lake was also established. As the water makes its 30-40 day journey through the park, nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as other residual nutrients, are removed before the clean water spills into the St Johns River.
2.3 million aquatic plants, including 200,000 trees were planted during the construction of Orlando Wetlands Park. Look for pickerelweed, duck potato, cattails, and giant bulrush. Trees include cypress, pop ash, and water hickory.
Animals abound at Orlando Wetlands Park. Over 18 species who are federally or state listed live at the park. Blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, black-bellied whistling duck, roseate spoonbill, black-crowned night heron, American bittern, wood stork, sandhill crane, bald eagle, great blue heron, red-shouldered hawk, osprey, common gallinule, and coot are some of the birds you may encounter. Be on the lookout for raccoons, river otters, white-tailed deer, bobcats, and alligators along the roads and hiking trails.
Open daily from sunrise to sunset, Orlando Wetlands Park offers wonderful opportunities for wildlife viewing, photography, hiking, biking, and horseback riding. There is an education center, guided tours, pavilions, picnic tables, and interpretive signs for your enjoyment.
For more information, click here: https://www.orlando.gov/Parks-the-Environme…/…/Wetlands-Park
Photo Credit: Andy Waldo
The Red-bellied woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus, is often found in the suburbs or city parks. They thrive in woodlands near rivers and in swamps.
With just a touch of red on their bellies, these woodpeckers are easily identified by the beautiful black and white barred pattern on their backs. Males have a bright red crown and nape. Females have a pale white crown and red nape.
A mated pair will work together to build a nest. Often the male will excavate several holes in a dead tree or fence post and the female will choose the best one. She may also select a nest box or a previously used nest from another woodpecker. Once the nest is complete, the female will lay 4-5 eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs with the male usually taking the night shift. In about 2 weeks, the eggs hatch. Both parents feed their babies until they leave the nest in 3-4 weeks and for up to 6 weeks after.
Red-bellied Woodpeckers love insects. Look for them on branches and tree trunks as they pick at bark for food with their bills or perch while eating berries. Other food may include acorns, nuts, fruit, and seeds. Occasionally, these woodpeckers may treat themselves to a tasty bird egg, a tree frog or oozing sap.
The next time you are outside, look up. You may get to see one of these beautiful, acrobatic birds in action.
Blowing Rocks is a barrier island composed of Anastasia limestone shores which can produce spectacular dances of waves as they thrash against the stone and bounce higher than a house.
In 1969 Jupiter Island residents donated 73 acres of land towards conservation. The land would become a haven for endangered species such as the green, loggerhead, and leatherback sea turtles. It also houses one of Florida’s most endangered ecosystems, the sand dune. Volunteers over several decades have removed Australian pines and Brazilian pepper, invasive species to Florida. The dunes were restored with sea grapes, sea oats, beach sunflowers, and bay cedar.
There are many activities that you can take part in at Blowing Rocks Preserve. The park attracts nature photographers, hikers, campers, snorkelers, and bird watchers. Have you visited Blowing Rocks Preserve? Tell us what your favorite part of the trip was.
Striped Mud Turtles, Kinosternon baurii, are small turtles who grow to only 4″ -5″ long. They usually have 3 visible stripes on their shells and 2 yellow stripes on each side of their faces. These native semi-aquatic turtles live in and near brackish and freshwater in ditches and ponds. Dinner consists of algae, snails, insects, worms, seeds, and carrion.
Females may travel up to 820 feet away from the wetlands to lay a clutch of 1-6 eggs. Temperature determines the sex of the embryo. The embryo may pause its development until the correct temperature is reached. Incubation lasts from 2 1/2 to five months. The hatchlings are about 1′ long and may take more than a year to leave the nest.
Striped Mud Turtles depend on waters with low saline content. This makes them especially vulnerable in the Lower Keys where sea level rise is expected to cause saltwater intrusion into freshwater habitats. More intense storms will cause many of the low-lying areas to be inundated with saltwater thus making the ecosystem uninhabitable for Striped Mud Turtles. Human-caused pollution and oil spills also threaten these little turtles.
Striped Mud Turtles spend much of their time underwater and can often be seen in the shallow waters. When in wetlands keep an eye out for movement in mud, marshes and wet fields and you may meet a new wild turtle friend.
Photo Credit: Andy Waldo.
Soras, Porzana Carolina, are chubby little birds who spend most of their time hidden in marshes. Their distinctive whistles can be heard often near ponds, rivers, and other marshy areas. When they finally appear, Soras move their heads forward with each step and flick their tails to expose the white undersides. They are striking birds with a black mask and a bright yellow bill.
After the male and female complete their courting ritual, the couple builds a nest of grasses and dead cattails before adding a soft lining. The nest is well hidden in the dense marsh, often among cattails, and is placed a few inches above the water. Incubation begins as soon as the first of 10-12 eggs are laid. As the eggs hatch, one parent will incubate the remaining eggs while the other will care for the hatchlings who leave the nest. Both parents will feed the hatchlings for 3 weeks before the young ones learn to fly.
Soros dine on a variety of foods. Seeds, insects, snails, and aquatic invertebrates are some of their favorite foods. They forage on the ground, in the water, on plants, and in the mud.
Have you heard a Sora? Listen Here:
Brooker Creek Preserve is the largest natural area in Pinellas County. Surrounded by urban development, this 8700 acres of wild Florida protects much of the Brooker Creek Watershed.
There are trails for everyone at Brooker Creek Preserve. Explore the preserve via boardwalk or trail. Two trails are nearly 5 miles long. Shorter hikes vary from the .1 mile bird path to the 4 mile Pine Needle Path. Equestrians can enjoy over 9 miles on one of two trails that wind through fields and pinelands.
There are 4 distinct ecosystems within the Preserve. The Forested Wetlands is made up of a creek system with 13 meandering channels. Water flows through the channels during the rainy season of May through Oct. Fish, birds, and other wetland inhabitants thrive in the wetlands. The Pine Flatwoods is a sunny area alive with saw palmetto and native grasses. Gopher Tortoises enjoy the grasses as well as the leaves and fruits from the plants that grow here. Be sure to look for the threatened Catesby’s Lily.
Cool off in the Oak Hammocks where tall oaks block the sun. Watch for turkeys and white-tailed deer foraging for acorns among the leaf litter. The Cypress Dome boasts Black Gum, Bald Cypress, and Buttonbrush. Look for an abundance of wildlife in this cool and moist swamp. Dragonflies, frogs, spiders, marsh rabbits and owls thrive here.
Interpretive Trail Signs along the paths show how everything in nature is connected. Discover how your yard can expand wildlife areas, how human choices are impacting the watershed, and how water connects all of us.
Plan your visit. See the schedule for annual events and programs, download a map, reserve a guided tour or sign up for classes at the Environmental Center
Photo Credit: Marc Goldberg
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.
Photo credit: David Gale
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
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.
ADDRESS: 100 Savannah Blvd, Micanopy, FL 32667
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.
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.
Learn more and/or make reservations here:
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.
Photo credit. Lourdes Brown
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 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.
Connect. Respect. Coexist.
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.
The Spring Trail is one segment of the much larger St. Johns River to Sea loop. Eventually, the trail will stretch all the way from DeLeon Springs to New Smyrna Beach and Titusville.
Download a map of the Spring-to-Spring Trail here: https://www.volusia.org/…/park…/trails/spring-to-spring.stml
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?
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.
photo credit FWC.
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.
Photo Credit: Mary Keim
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.
Photo: Mark Yokoyama
The Black Vulture, Coragyps atratus, is smaller than the Turkey Vulture, although it still is a large raptor. They have a dull black head and body with wrinkles covering their head and face. The tips of their bills are gray and their legs are pale white. Black Vultures have a wingspan of 54 inches and their wings have white tips on the underside. They weigh 3 to 5 pounds and stand 22 inches tall. While in flight, they will hold their wings flat and will flap them more often than the Turkey Vulture.
Black Vultures are monogamous, often not straying far from their mate. Females will lay 1 to 4 egg clutches between February and June in caves, hollow logs, or thickets. Although they do not build nests, they will dig a hollow and put vegetation around it to make it secure. The nesting period can be up to 100 days with the eggs hatching within 40 days. Together, they will feed their young for up to 8 months. This dependence helps establish the strong social bonds these birds exhibit.
As carrion eaters, they are often found in landfills or along roadways where they feed on roadkill. They will usually return to known food sources instead of actively hunting. Black Vultures do not have the keen sense of smell other vultures have and must find their food by sight. You will find them roosting in tall trees or on electrical pylons where they can easily spot food in open areas.
The Black Vulture is protected under Federal Law and can not be killed without a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Photo Credit: Dan Kon