The beautyberry plant is listed by the Univ. of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences as one of the 50 most important plants in Florida because of it’s historical, cultural and horticultural purposes to native American Indians and early settlers. The clump of purple berries on this plant are used as a food source for birds, deer and other types of wildlife. Some people claim the leaves can be used in a solution to ward off mosquitoes in humans and horses. The roots of the plant are also rich in starch and has been used as a food source. Ethnobotany was a term probably developed by a botanist in Florida in the late 1800’s who studied the use of native plants as a source of fiber (to make ropes, baskets and clothing), construction material for building shelters, dyes for coloring textiles, herbal remedies and the development of pharmaceuticals. I saw and photographed this beautyberry in the garden in front of the visitor center at the Six Mile Slough Preserve in Ft. Myers. I have seen several American beautyberry plants along the Ten Mile Canal. It’s berries ripen in September and October and can be seen in full bloom now in September. There are some good pictures of this plant at the US Wildflowers website. The beautyberry grows in Florida and as far north as Maryland as well as in states such as Texas and Arkansas.
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Strap Fern – (Campyloneuum phyllitidus)
This picture shows a Strap fern in the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in Ft. Myers. Some of the most common plants I have seen in the wetlands of SW Florida are Ferns. I have documented other fern plants on this website/blog including the Resurrection fern and Swamp Fern. Ferns are seen all over Florida in wetlands and in peoples yards and neighborhoods. They are commonly used as ornamental plants. Ferns are vascular plants meaning they have the plant tissue or xylem used to transport water and nutrients throughout the plant. They do not produce seeds and do not flower but instead reproduce by producing and releasing spores that are located underneath their leaves. They also spread by extending their roots or rhizomes in the ground. The Strap fern is an epiphyte like the Resurrection fern and grows on other plants or trees. Ferns have been around for a long time, over 300 million years. The dead matter that decomposes from ferns often becomes coal over long periods of time. Plant nurseries carry the popular varieties of ferns people like to use in their yards such as the Boston Fern, Mocha fern, Foxtail fern, Holly fern and Asparagus fern. Some of these ornamental ferns can be seen at the South Florida Plant Guide.com website. Another good website to learn about Florida’s aquatic and native plants and trees is the Univ. of Florida Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants.
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The Everglades Foundation has decided to award $10 Million Dollars to a person or persons who come up with a way to remove excess phosphorous from waterways in the United States. The award was announced and published in various news articles including the News-Press. There have been many harmful algal blooms causing pollution and unhealthy waterways as a result of excess phosphorous levels in our waterways. The phosphorous gets into our rivers and lakes after storm runoff which brings fertilizers into our lakes and rivers. Phosphorous also finds its way into our waterways by sewage leakage and animal waste seeping into canals, rivers and tributaries. The Everglades Foundation reports, “The U.S. Environmental protection Agency calls nutrient pollution “one of America’s most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems …. resulting in serious environmental and human health issues and impacting the economy.” This past summer Lake Erie and nearby Toledo, Ohio witnessed a harmful algal bloom which forced residents in Toledo to stop drinking their water.
Florida has for years been negatively impacted by excess nutrient levels in Lake Okeechobee when water is pumped out of the lake into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers. Water is pumped out of the lake to keep lake levels from becoming too high especially during the rainy season and threatening to flood nearby towns and population centers. The beaches at the other end of the rivers on both coasts in Ft. Myers and Stuart have experienced ugly algal blooms, dead fish and water that cannot be used for swimming or drinking. Phosphorous levels entering the lake from the Kissimmee River has amounts greater than 250-350 parts per thousand. The “Grand Challenge” will award the money to a person or team that can reduce the levels below 40 parts per billion and also use the phosphorous that is removed for agricultural or other useful purposes. The Everglades Foundation has announced they will award the money in 2022.
The Longnose Gar also known as the Needle Nose Gar is an interesting fish because of its looks and history. It is a long and narrow fish with a long and thin snout with needle like teeth that help to catch it’s prey. It feeds upon smaller fish and a host of other organisms such as frogs, turtles, snakes and small mammals. The Baltimore National Aquarium has a good picture and information about this fish. The Longnose Gar is olive-brown in color with brownish spots covering it’s body except for a silvery-whitish belly. It is found in the Mississippi basin and in states bordering the Gulf of Mexico. It inhabits mostly brackish slow moving bodies of water including rivers and canals. The Baltimore National Aquarium states that this fish is referred to a living fossil because the fossilized remains of this species of fish date back 145-66 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period. It was during this time in earth’s history that climate change occurred with global warming, rising sea levels and the establishment of many inland sea’s on the North American Continent. This is probably the reason that many fresh and brackish water fish species evolved and flourished during this time. I took a picture of this Longnose Gar while bicycling along the John Yarbrough Ten Mile Canal which increases in depth and movement during our summer rains. It was just sitting there almost motionless probably waiting for it’s next meal or resting. It didn’t seem to mind me getting close to take a picture.
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The Mottled duck is a year round resident of Florida and can be seen in wetlands including marshes, wet prairies and lakes. I saw this duck along with a few others swimming during the evening in the ten mile canal in Ft. Myers. They are dark in color with a lighter colored head and neck. They are primarily vegetarians but they also eat snails, insects, mollusks, and small fish. The Mottled duck is prized as a game bird for hunters. They have been in Florida for thousands of years. They nest on the edge of canals, marshes and wetlands in tall grass and palmetto thickets on the ground. Their litter consists of 8-10 eggs which take about 25-27 days to hatch. Once they hatch, their mother takes them out into the water and begins swimming in 1-2 days. One of the dangers to Mottled ducks is the large number of feral Mallard ducks who they breed with and produce hybridized ducks and not pure bred Mottled ducks. The Fish and Wildlife Commission has some excellent pictures and information about this bird.
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Aquifers are underground areas of rock, limestone, sandstone and soil that contain water. These large areas that are contained within layers underground in deep, intermediate and shallow zones contain billions of gallons of water that is pumped up and used for drinking water, irrigation for farms and other purposes. There is so much water in these underground aquifers that they are equal to almost one fifth of the water in the Great Lakes. The deepest aquifer is called the Floridian Aquifer and contains the largest amount of water. It underlies most of Florida and parts of Georgia and Alabama. The layer above it is called the Intermediate layer and is separate from the Floridian aquifer and the uppermost aquifer called the Surficial aquifer by a non-porous layer of rock and clay.
The aquifer where we pump and get most of our drinking water lies closest to the surface of the earth and is called the Surficial aquifer. It supplies about 90% of our drinking water. Aquifers get their water from rainfall that seeps into the ground and from areas called recharge zones where streams, rivers, marshes, swamps and other wetland areas allow flowing water to penetrate the ground and travel down to one or more of the aquifers. There are maps and illustrations on many websites showing the approximate size and depth of these aquifers. One of these websites is from the Univ. of Florida Water Quality report of Florida. You can click on an image and see what our aquifers look like. The South Florida Water Management District which controls the water supplies of much of South Florida also has an excellent website describing aquifers. I also like the Amy H. Remley Foundation website which gives wonderful illustrations of aquifers and much information about where our water comes from.
Bushy bluestem grass
The Bushy bluestem grass plant or sometimes nicknamed Bushy beardgrass is named after it’s large tuft or flowery fluff on top. It can be rust colored, brown and bluish also. It is a perennial plant and is often seen in wetland areas along the edges of pinelands, ditches, sloughs and freshwater marshes. I couldn’t help the large number of these Bushy bluestems which ran along the banks of the ten mile canal in the Lee county park named after John Yarbrough. They reproduce and spread by dropping their seeds or having them dispersed by birds. It blooms in late summer and that is when I took this picture. The grassy plant is native to the U.S. It is sometimes used as an ornamental plant around golf courses or large gardens. The plant has limited usefulness as a food source except for its seeds but can provide some cover for insects and small wildlife. I found a few good websites describing the Bushy bluestem at Florida’s Native Plant Society website and the Garden Guides.com website.
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Raised Beds in Community Garden
Lakes Park Community Garden
Lakes Park is owned and managed by Lee County and is located off Gladiolus Dr. in Ft. Myers. It has over 270 acres of which 158 are lakes. There is walking and bicycling trails throughout the park and is a good place to go bird watching and see a lot of SW Florida’s popular birds like Anhinga’s, White Egrets Blue Herons, Osprey’s and Bald Eagles. My favorite part of the park are the community gardens where people can rent a raised bed of soil and plant whatever vegetable, herb or flower of their liking. The 4 ft. by 8 ft. raised beds are fenced in to prevent them from vandalism and can be rented for $50 each year. Another aspect of the park are the Botanical Gardens located next to the Community Gardens which have a variety of plants, shrubs and flowers from around the world. The park has been going through an enrichment program worth millions of dollars and is well worth the visit especially for those who like to community gardens, botanical gardens and take walks and see nature. You can learn more by visiting the county’s website, or reading about the enrichment foundation. There is also a good website/blog named “Elizabeth’s secret garden” which has some good pictures and review of the gardens. I have walked through the park many times and have recently been impressed by the upgrades the county and volunteers have made.
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The Double-crested Cormorant and Anhingas are birds that look alike. You can tell a Cormorant by its bill which is curved or hooked at the end instead of a straight pointed bill which is representative of Anhinga’s. The Cormorants and Anhingas are similar because they lack the oil glands to keep their feathers dry enough to fly after they have been in the water. As a result these birds must dry their feathers and wings by standing outside of the water and spreading their wings to dry by facing the sun and wind. The Cormorant swims and dives underneath the water looking for small fish and insects to eat. They have webbed feet which gives them good speed while swimming after their prey. Their color is black and brownish with a orange or yellowish patch of skin on their face. They have a long neck but is often kinked or bent. They inhabit freshwater wetlands such as marshes, swamps, ponds, lakes and canals. I saw this one swimming in the Ten Mile Canal which runs along Metro Parkway in Ft. Myers. I found a good website with pictures of Florida’s birds at Nightbreeze. I also like the Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds website.
Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)
The black colored Anhinga is a common sight around fresh waterways of Florida. It actually is found worldwide buts mostly prefers warmer climates closer to the equator. The Anhinga is often seen standing on something and spreading its wings. It does to dry it’s wings after it swims looking for food. It searches for fish or amphibians in the water and stabs or skewers its prey with its long sharp bill. I saw this Anhinga while I was bicycling along the John Yarbrough Ten Mile Canal in Ft. Myers. During the rainy summer months the canal becomes deeper, flows faster and contains more fish. The Anhinga is a skilled at flying as well. It is often confused with the double breasted Cormorant which has a curved bill at the end of it’s bill instead of a straight bill. I like the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds for its audio clips and short descriptions of birds.
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