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Monday, September 5, 2011

Real natural Florida

Spent Florida butterfly
orchid blooms.

Florida is a constantly changing state.  It seems as is many if the people you meet are transplants from another location, although the rare natives (those born here) can be met.  I’m related to an old Naples family by marriage, and believe me, they’ve seen a LOT of change in our little section of Florida.

To many people, Florida reflects back a kind of kitsch – fantasy theme parks, giant papier-mâché oranges atop roadside stands, cypress-knee lamps, and hot pink plastic flamingos on wire legs.  Those with a passing interest in our flora and fauna marvel at palm trees and alligators, crystal-clear springs and giant ferns. 

I’d like to invite you to slow down even more, and take a closer look at the real natural Florida. 
Leopard frog.

Florida is a long state, surrounded on three sides by salt water.  In the interior are numerous fresh-water lakes, springs, creeks, rivers, and marshes that mostly flow gently southwards.  Underneath it all is a limestone base called karst.  Karst is characterized by cracks, caves, and flowing underground water – and the reason for our famous sinkholes.

The center peninsular part of the state has higher ridges that were once coastal dunes, and much of south Florida was once part of the ocean floor.  What lies beneath also determines what lies above.  For example, a typical pine flatwoods habitat occurs on low, flat, and sandy soils.  South Florida rocklands feature outcroppings of pockmarked limestone, creating tropical hammock islands of vegetation amid lower marshy areas. 

Florida tree snail.
Cypress domes are shaped by the ground below.  A depression or sinkhole forms in the limestone, and fills with water and organic material.  Taller cypresses grow toward the center, while shorter trees grow around the rim.  Sometimes the center is open where the water is too deep for even cypress trees.  The “dome” shape mirrors what is happening below. 

Red maple,
a wetland tree.
Underneath the glamour of big city life in Miami, the Mickey Mouse ears in Orlando, and the beaches all along the 1,350 miles of coastline, beats the heart of natural Florida.  We have upland forests next to Alabama and Georgia, and subtropical and tropical swamps, hammocks, flatwoods, scrub, prairies, and estuaries.  There is a remarkable diversity of plant, animal, and insect species throughout our state.

Start with your own backyard, can you tell what was once there before your home was built?  Look at your neighborhood; are there remnants of a pine flatwoods (like mine), or a scrub oak community?  What small wonders do you see living in your area that have adapted to what is present now?  A snail, songbirds, anoles, butterflies…perhaps a stray opossum or black snake?

The drawings are in mechanical pencil on Bristol board, done years ago for an article in The Palmetto, for the Florida Native Plant Society.   

I rediscovered them while looking through some old artwork for another project.  The drawings and article reminded me that many people who live here don’t get a chance to connect to Florida’s unique landscape and history.
Barred owl.