There are many native plants and animals in the Preserve.
Gopher Tortoise: Please drive carefully throughout the Preserve to protect our native wildlife. Gopher tortoises especially like to get under parked cars or graze near the roadways. Please be watchful when entering your car to make sure nothing is under or around it.
Osprey: You may see a pole with a platform and a nest on top. This will be one of several Osprey families that we have in the Preserve. They visit us each winter to nest and have their chicks–usually two in the nest. They leave at the end of season to vacation for the summer.
Sea Turtles: During May through October, if you are lucky and early to the beach, you may see what looks like tractor tracks. These are from the female sea turtles (usually Loggerhead) that came ashore during the night, dug a pit, laid eggs, then covered them up before returning to the sea. We have stewards that check the beach each morning during season and mark each nest with stakes and caution tape. We usually do not see the sea turtles, since they do not usually come ashore during the day time.
Shorebirds: We have many shorebirds year-round, however, there are times we have migratory birds coming through for a visit or just to winter here. Please walk around any birds on the beach, because they are feeding and resting.
These are but a few of the amazing wildlife that call the Preserve their home. We have created several sections here, so please browse the tabs below for more information on a variety of plants and animals around the Preserve.
WILDLIFE RESOURCES & NATURE NOTES
The information below was originally prepared as an educational tool for Barefoot Beach Preserve volunteers. These became so popular that they were requested to be made available to others and were added to the Friend’s website for easy access. Please enjoy these presentations detailing many of the various plants and wildlife that thrive at Barefoot Beach Preserve, as well as some other topics of interest. Tab through the following topics and click on a specific topic to view.
Many thanks to Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist, for compiling and writing these amazing resoures.
- Plant Listing
- Bald Eagle
- Beach Ambrosia
- Beach Bean
- Black Skimmer
- Blue Porterweed
- Brown Pelican
- Cat Claws
- Coin Vine
- Common Morning Glory
- Florida Fighting Conch
- Golden Beach Creeper
- Gopher Tortoise
- Gumbo Limbo
- Lettered Olive
- Marine Life in Extreme Cold
- Necklace Pod
- Nicker Bean
- Oceanblue Morning Glory
- Plant Communities
- Poison Ivy
- Prickly Pear Cactus
- Railroad Vine
- Ruddy Turnstone
- Sabal Palm
- Sea Turtles
- Snowy Egret
- Spanish Bayonet
- Strangler Fig
- White Ibis
- White Indigoberry
- White Stopper
- Wild Coffee
Plant Listing by Common Name
After 10 years, we have made some updates! When first endeavoring to write Nature Notes on various plants within Barefoot Beach Preserve, I kept having this nagging need to know just what plants were here. Over numerous months, this led me on a search of reports and information documented by specialists in the field and ultimately the need to develop a listing to be used as an easy reference. As I will be writing fewer Nature Notes over the next few months due to travel plans, I want to leave our volunteers with this list to use. Search out for yourself the wonderful plants to be found in our Preserve.
Many people contributed information and copies of reports to enable compiling this document. Special appreciation goes to: Maura Kraus and Margaret Winn for various portions or copy of the Barefoot Beach Preserve (BBP) Land Management Plan; Dr. Jim Burch for his 2000 listing of plants within BBP; Ranger Mauricio Araquistain for copy of his 2007 plant survey; Margie Hamilton for copy of her 2009 plant survey; and Jan Bachrach for copy of Elliott Brown’s 1994 plant notes and copy of 2006-2007 survey by Dr. George Wilder used for comparison.
This listing has been compiled specifically from reports provided by: Dr. Jim Burch, Mauricio Araquistain, and Margie Hamilton. If common/scientific names, status, or protection designation was not provided or it conflicted, then information was researched at USDA or FloriData and incorporated in this listing. If one report gave same common name, but different scientific name, both were listed individually, unless it was determined that scientific name was a synonym to the other, then it was combined and noted as synonym. A few scientific names could not be verified and are so noted. Common names are just that…common; and sometimes different plants are given the same or similar common name, in which case both were listed individually.
As of 2020, there are 229 plants documented within the Preserve. Within this listing, the State of Florida has designated 8 as Endangered and 14 as Threatened, so you can see how precious our Preserve is. Enjoy!
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
The dramatic recovery of the Bald Eagle over the past 40 years represents one of the great conservation success stories in our nation’s history. We are indeed fortunate to have Bald Eagles frequent and breed in the area and throughout Florida’s coasts, rivers, lakes and marshes. They only live in North America and are in every state except Hawaii (where it has never lived). It is the largest raptor in North America, up to 38 inches in length and a wingspan up to 96 inches—8 feet! The scientific name signifies a sea (halo) eagle (aeetos) with a white (leukos) head. “Balde” is an old English word that at one time meant “white head,” not smooth head. The sexes are indistinguishable by plumage, but females are larger than males. Adults are dark brown with a white head and tail. The eyes, bill, legs, and feet are yellow. Juveniles are chocolate brown all over, with dark brown eyes and grayish-black bill, until they are four years old. Then they begin to get adult colors, with full adult plumage attained about the fifth year.
In 2008, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) removed the Bald Eagle from the state list of threatened species—after it was removed from the federal list of endangered species in 2007. There is still a state rule for eagle protection (F.A.C. 68A-16.002). FWC has also released a state Bald Eagle Management Plan that outlines recommendations to help avoid violating state and federal laws. As part of its management plan, the documented nesting population of Bald Eagles in Florida will be monitored by FWC until at least 2032, to obtain information needed to determine if the population continues to stabilize or change over time. FWC has a website (http://myfwc.com/eagle/eaglenests/nestlocator.aspx#search) where you can locate eagle nests. It shows there are 6 nests within 5 miles of Barefoot Beach Preserve and 68 nests within a 25 mile radius. No wonder we see them around the Preserve at times. In August 2009, we had one visit the Osprey nest near the Learning Center—before the Ospreys returned for the season. Again recently, another one was spotted near the same nest. The current nesting population of the Bald Eagle in the lower 48 states is 9,789 pairs. Of this, over 1,000 nesting pairs are in Florida. If you think you have discovered a new nest, use the eagle nest locator to make sure it is an undocumented nest and then contact FWC to report a potentially new nest.
Preferred nest sites are the tops of tall living trees near the edges of eagle habitats—a tree that offers a view of the surrounding area and can support the eagle’s often sizeable nest. The Bald Eagle builds the largest nest of any North American bird—up to 8 feet wide, 13 feet deep, and it may weigh one ton. Once paired, Bald Eagles remain together for life; although, if one dies, the survivor may accept a new mate. In Florida, they begin re-building a nest or start gathering materials for a new nest in late September or early October. They usually return to the same nest used in prior years. Nearly all nests in Florida are less than two miles from water. Most clutches of eggs in Florida are laid between December and early January, averaging two eggs. Incubation lasts about 35 days. Nestlings in Florida fledge at around 11 weeks of age and remain with their parents near the nest for an additional 4–11 weeks. Fledglings begin to fly regularly in the vicinity before initial dispersal, which occurs from April to July. Did you know: Bald Eagles are active during daylight hours (diurnal); adults can get up to 14 pounds and have 7,000 feathers; they can fly 30 mph at heights of 10,000 feet; their beak, talons, and feathers are made of keratin, like finger nails; average wild lifespan is 15-20 years; and wild record lifespan is 28 years. They are opportunistic foragers, feeding or scavenging on a wide variety of prey, including catching various fish (80%), small mammals, reptiles, and birds. Being able to see over a mile away certainly helps spot prey! Most prey is captured from the surface of the water, but Bald Eagles often harass Ospreys in flight to relinquish fish that they have captured.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20100315 Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Beach Ambrosia or Coastal Ragweed (Ambrosia hispida)
This perennial sub-shrub is in the Aster family and native to Florida. It only stands about 12-18 inches tall on average. Ambrosia means food of the gods and Hispida means with bristly hairs. If you look closely, you can see the fine hairs on this plant. This plant is not known as a food source for humans. This plant thrives in full sun and tolerates moderate salt wind. It likes the sandy, welldrained soils of the foredune area and into the sunny areas of the coastal strand of Barefoot Beach Preserve. This plant is a good sand binder and its rhizomatous roots are highly beneficial in stabilizing areas where they grow.
The leaves are alternate, pinnate (feather-like), and light green with fine silvery hairs. It produces separate male and female flower heads on the same plant. The numerous tiny male, yellowish-green disc flowers are about 3 mm in diameter. They grow in a terminal spike, subtended by joined bracts. The female, whitish-green flowers are 1-flowered and are inconspicuously situated below the male ones, in the leaf axils. When viewing from above, you almost can’t see the flowers and need to get down low and look at the spike from the underside to really see the blossoms. After pollination, the female flowers develop into a prickly burr with 9-18 straight spines. It contains one arrowhead-shaped seed, brown when mature, and smaller than a grain of wheat. This burr gets dispersed by clinging to the fur or feathers of animals passing by. The seeds are an important winter food for many bird species and it is a host plant for butterflies. You may find this plant throughout the foredune and coastal strand of the Preserve. If you wish to look at the flowers up close, go to parking area #2 and you will see some Beach Ambrosia now blooming there—look just behind the bike rack.
This is another plant that is good for the home landscape as a ground cover, with its silvery green leaves to add unusual pale accents to a garden. Once established, it does not require watering. Use this plant to create texture and offset other darker greens in your garden or on your patio or balcony in a container.
In the West Indies, it is made into soap and used to relieve itching skin; has been recommended for indigestion; and used to cure the common cold in the form of a strong tea with lime and salt. During the Civil War, 35 year old Francis Payre Porcher, MD was dispatched by the Confederate Surgeon General to wander the southern landscapes and codify all of the native plants that could be used as medicines in order to augment supplies that may have been blockaded. Ambrosia hispida shows up in the Southern Fields and Forests, Medical Botany of the Confederate States, published in 1863. It was used for fevers and as a substitute for quinine. It is now used in medical and pharmaceutical research.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist2 20100214 Sources: US Forest Service; Key West Garden Club; FloriData
Beach Bean or Bay Bean (Canavalia maritima)
The Beach Bean (aka Bay Bean) may be found as runners on the ground or as climbing vines using shrubs as a trellis. Because of the freezing temperatures this past winter, many of these plants at the Preserve were killed back, so have taken a while to recover. We are finally starting to see the runners in and on top of the sea grape trees along the boardwalk. This fast-growing, sturdy vine can be found in southern coastal regions around the Gulf of Mexico, even to the Yucatan. It also occurs throughout the world in tropical and subtropical coastal locations.
It can tolerate periods of drought; however, it cannot tolerate extreme cold. It definitely likes full sun and the tropical coastal-dune environment. It sets down roots at nodes, forming networks that aid in stabilizing sands and controlling erosion. When it has a chance to become aerial, it does not hesitate to climb available shrubs or small trees. The vine can reach up to 50 feet from its origin. It is often one of the first plants to colonize newly deposited sand or disturbed coastal dunes. It has alternating oval leaves composed of three leaflets. In the early morning, the leaflets are open flat. As the sun rises higher in the sky, the leaves fold along their mid-rib to reduce their heat absorbing area.
This plant produces small pea-type, pink-to-purple flowers that are about 1-inch long. In some coastal areas, it may bloom year-round as long as the temperatures remain warm to moderate. This past weekend I saw some of the beautiful flowers finally starting to bloom in the Preserve—look along the north side of the most northern boardwalk. The blooms are followed by 4- to 6-inch pods that become woody when dried and have brown, marbled beans inside. This plant is in the legume family, as evidenced by the bean pods. The mature, dried beans are edible and should be boiled, pour off first water, and boiled a second time to reduce alkaloids. “Edible” is for most people—some people may have allergies and everyone should approach eating unknown plants carefully. The immature beans are considered toxic. Unlike another plant with “leaves of three” (poison ivy which has pointed leaves), the oval leaves of the Beach Bean do not irritate skin of most people. In fact, the leaves have been used to make a paste to treat boils and skin inflammation. The vines have been used to feed livestock. The beans are now being used in medical research for treatment of cancer.
For indigenous cultures such as the Mazatecs and other tribal groups in coastal regions of southern Mexico, it was considered important and sacred enough for plants to be placed in and around grave sites. This alone indicates an importance for this plant in ritual that goes beyond decoration, since the dried leaves aren’t pretty, but the aroma is very pleasing. The beans have been used in jewelry making throughout the Caribbean and Central America coastal areas.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20090802 References: University of Florida and Seashore Plants of South Florida by David Nellis
Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger)
Black Skimmers are in the same family as gulls and terns. Their common name comes from their “skimming” the surface of the water with their bill as they forage. The lower half of the bill is longer than the upper, allowing it to cut through the water and dip down to grab prey encountered near the surface. Flying low with open bill and dipping the lower mandible into the water, upon sensing a fish or shrimp, the bird snaps its upper bill shut, seizing its prey. The prey is then turned and swallowed headfirst or carried crosswise in the bill to the nest. The types of fish caught seem to depend on the region and local availability; however, the fish are usually 6-8 inches or less. These are highly nocturnal birds with the bulk of their feeding activities and chick provisioning taking place from dusk to dawn, although occasionally they may be seen foraging in the day.
The Black Skimmer can get up to about 19 inches in length and have a wing span of nearly 50 inches. The Black Skimmer is the only bird species in the United States that has a larger lower mandible than upper mandible. Breeding colonies can be found along Florida’s Gulf and Atlantic coasts.
Adult plumage is black above and white below. This striking combination, along with the brightly colored bill, makes it easy to spot the birds as they hunt over the water or rest on the beach with other seabirds and shorebirds. The breeding adult has a black cap that extends down the nape, black upperparts and white under parts. The bill is bright orange tipped in black. The legs and feet are red. The non-breeding adult is similar to the breeding adult but has white at the base of its head, making a white ring around its neck. Females are smaller than males and have a smaller bill. The juveniles have a duller, shorter bill, brown-mottled upperparts, and yellow legs. Skimmers’ eyes have narrow vertical pupils (highly unusual in birds) helping reduce the glare from water and sand.
Black Skimmers are monogamous and nest near least, royal, and sandwich tern colonies in the open sand on beaches, sandbars, and dredge material islands. Due to habitat loss some Black Skimmers have been known to nest on gravel roofs! Black Skimmers rely on camouflage or group mobbing to protect their nests. Their nests are very vulnerable to human disturbance and predation by animals such as raccoons or laughing gulls. During nest building, mates take turns scraping, using exaggerated sand-kicking posture with alternate foot strokes throwing sand backwards. Birds rotate in the scrape to create a saucer-shaped depression—similar to resting scrapes they use throughout the year. It only takes a few minutes to create the depression; however, the process of courting may involve several scrapes and nest showing behavior, requiring 7-10 days between onset of nest “building” and laying eggs. No material is added to the nest. Eggs are mainly ovate to elongated, white, buff, or blue-green in color and blotched with brown, making them perfectly camouflaged on the sand. A typical clutch is 3-4 eggs and incubation takes 21 to 23 days. Hatching and feeding the chicks are carried out by both parents. The parents regurgitate fish and crustaceans on the ground near the chicks. Since chicks begin life with mandibles of the same length, they are able to retrieve this food. By the time they fledge at four weeks, the lower mandible is nearly a centimeter longer than the upper mandible. Most Black Skimmers withdraw from the northern part of their breeding range to winter in Central America.
Black Skimmers are listed as a Species of Special Concern in Florida. Please help protect these special birds and discourage people from walking or running through Black Skimmers resting on our beach.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20100503 Sources: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; Cornell University Lab of Ornithology; and Field Guide to Birds of North America
BluePorterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis)
Take a walk down the Saylor Trail and look for the delicate blue porterweed along the trail and near the trail’s chickee hut—just south of the first beach access from parking area #3 near Alice’s bench. This is a small shrub, referred to as a sub-shrub because it usually only gets up to 12 inches high (excluding the flowers) and trails along the ground. There are over 60 species world-wide of porterweeds that are part of the verbena family.
It makes a nice perennial groundcover that bears tiny bluish-purple flowers—a favorite of the zebra long-wing (the Florida State Butterfly). In addition, this plant provides a food source for the Tropical Buckeye caterpillars and a nectar source for Gulf Fritillary, Julia, and the Large Orange Sulphur butterflies. These plants love full-sun to partial shade and are often found in disturbed areas. Due to moderate salt and drought tolerance, it makes a good plant for coastal areas.
The native Blue Porterweed (S. jamaicensis) is commonly mistaken for the imported S. urticifolia which may be sold as a native by some nurseries. Watch for the differences to get the real thing. At the left are two leaves. The one at the extreme left is native and the right side is the non-native S. urticifolia that comes from Asia. To the far right are close-ups of the two leaves. The one on the top, the non-native S. urticifolia, has hair and a waffle-like texture. The bottom leave is from the native Blue Porterweed and is glabrous or smooth, with fewer and more distinctive tooth margins. Leaves of both are opposite, ovate to broadly lanceolate, and 2-8 cm long. Roger Hammer, Native Plant Society, has an article describing differences in native and non-natives species at http://www.dade.fnpschapters.org/pastnewslets/2001/newslet102.html#Anchor10.
This plant is an excellent starter in a home butterfly garden. In addition to butterflies in your garden, this plant also provides year-round color. Approximately two to four small, blue flowers open at a time on green, spear-like spikes. Flowers appear slowly up the stem, but each flower lasts only a single day. Florida is currently losing pollinators at a rapid rate. By planting natives and encouraging pollinators, you are helping in this cause. These busy butterflies also help your garden produce those lovely flowers you can enjoy. If a non-native is planted, there is a possibility of cross-pollination and depletion of native plants, so please plant native. These plants are commonly called porterweeds throughout the Caribbean and Florida, in reference to the medicinal properties bestowed upon them. A foaming, porter-like brew, much like beer, is made from at least one species. This concoction has been used for fever, as a wash for skin irritations, to relieve constipation, and to rid intestinal parasites. Whether it works or not is unsubstantiated by the medical field.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20091026 Resources: University of Florida, Killerplants.com, and Dade County Florida Native Plant Society
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Brown Pelicans may be found year-round in Florida. This bird is instantly recognizable by its large body, long bill, and enormous gular pouch. They are approximately 48 inches long, have a wing-span of 6-7 feet, and weigh about 8 pounds. You may find them resting on posts, panhandling near fishermen, or gracefully gliding in a group single file just above the water. A unique thing: they have webbing between all 4 toes on each foot. This makes a strong swimmer; however, makes it very awkward to walk. In wild, average lifespan is15 years, with a record at 43 years old.
They are noted for their spectacular head-first dives to trap unsuspecting fish in their expandable pouches. Brown Pelicans usually feed on bait fish that are near the water’s surface. One of their favorite is menhaden (type of herring), but will feed on whatever is most available. The Brown Pelican is the only Pelican that dives for its food head-first.
Adults look similar, with males being slightly larger than females. They have short, dark legs and webbed feet. In non-breeding, the neck and head are white; the huge bill is paler at the base and tipped with yellow. Most of the year, Brown Pelicans are drab in their gray-brown and white plumage, and have brown eyes. At the beginning of the nesting season the plumage of the Pelicans undergoes amazing changes. As Brown Pelicans begin courtship and nest building, their heads become bright yellow and their necks as white as old bone. At some point when going into breeding the iris turns a coffee-cream white and the skin around their eyes turns a bright reddish-pink. Later, their necks and breasts turn deep rich brown below their yellow cap. After breeding, they molt and start all over again! Because breeding time is different in each area of Florida, there is no set “overall” season or month to connect plumage changes.
Although many migrate, some stay year-round in our area. Banding records suggest that Florida is an important nursery ground for Pelicans from other states (Williams 1972). Brown Pelicans are highly social year-round. In South Florida, nesting usually begins in the fall months. In our area, Brown Pelicans nest primarily on mangrove islands, where they are free from disturbance and predation by terrestrial mammals, including humans. Colonies may be from a dozen pair to several hundred pair. Nests are typically little more than a shallow depression built from grass or reeds, over interwoven sticks on supporting tree branches. From 2–4 white eggs are incubated under the parents’ foot webs for nearly a month. Both parents feed their young predigested fish. Chicks are born without feathers and are pinkish in color; by 3 weeks they have white down; by 4 weeks they have brown feathers coming in on their back in the shape of a heart; between weeks 5–9 the white is replaced by brown all over; upon fledging at about 12 weeks the color is medium brown with the breast/belly white, all feathers are new and it is very easy to identify—looking almost like sculpted fabric. Caution: When boating or jet skiing, be sure to stay well away from nesting sites. If spooked, adults will abandon the nests with the young still in the nests.
Help pelicans stay wild by not feeding fish or other food to them. Fish scraps from filleting fish often include large bones that can scratch, poke holes in, or get stuck in the throat of a pelican and can cause the birds to get sick, or sometimes even choke or starve. Feeding pelicans can even lead to situations where pelicans become aggressive, stealing fish from lines, and flying off with trailing fishing line that can ultimately lead to death. Check out http://collier.ifas.ufl.edu/SeaGrant/pubs/PelicanPub.pdf to see how to unhook a pelican. Also check http://collier.ifas.ufl.edu/SeaGrant/video/Pelican/index.html for a short video entitled A Pelican’s View.
John James Audubon said the pelican is “one of the most interesting of our American birds” and described their feeding habits: Look at them as they fly over the bay; listen to the sound of the splash they make as they drive their open bills, like a pock-net, into the sea, to scoop up their prey; mark how they follow that shoal of porpoises, and snatch up the frightened fishes that strive to escape from them. Down they go, again and again. What voracious creatures they are!
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20100322 Sources: Ted Below, Avian Ecologist; USFWS; FWC; Cornell University, Lab of Ornithology, University of Florida, IFAS
Buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus)
A native to Florida, the Buttonwood is a low-branching, multitrunked, shrubby, evergreen tree that can grow up to 40 feet tall. Its open canopy is usually rounded. It has alternate leaves that are simple, lance-shaped with smooth edges, and are medium-green. The leaf surface is smooth and leaves can be from 2 to 8 inches long. One of the best places to find this tree at the Preserve is toward the end of the Saylor Trail at Wiggins Pass.
The Buttonwood loves full sun and sandy soils. It can tolerate occasional wet feet, but prefers well-drained soils. It tolerates salt water over-wash from storm surges and heavy salt spray. The root system consists mainly of laterals and fine roots that help stabilize the surrounding soil. It does not tolerate freezing temperatures. It has a medium growth rate and may live for several decades. This is another plant great for home landscaping with a high drought tolerance, requiring little water or fertilizer.
The “button” part of the common name refers to the resemblance of the dense, rounded flower heads and fruit to old-fashion shoe buttons. The inconspicuous, small, greenish flowers appear in dense cone-like heads in terminal panicles in spring and are followed by 1/2-inch, cone-like, red-brown fruits. The fruit heads may contain from 35 to 56 fruits each. Thin, dry, two-winged seeds are densely packed into these fruit clusters. These clusters usually stay on the tree through much of the winter before the seeds separate and fall to the ground. The tree has an attractive dark brown bark that is ridged and scaly looking.
There is another variety of this plant called the Silver Buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus var. sericeus) that has most of the characteristics of Conocarpus erectus, with the exception of its height and leaves. The Silver Buttonwood only gets about 20 feet high and its light green leaves take on a silvery look because of it has hairy leaves; hence the name Silver” Buttonwood. You may see this variation in front of the booth at the entrance to the Preserve. One of the Silver Buttonwood’s leaves is shown to the right. Notice its silvery fuzz. Both varieties have two nectary glands that you can see at the base of each leaf (pointed out with the red arrow at right). These glands are said to secret a sweet substance to attract insects.
Although protected in Florida, there are folk remedies that are still used in some of the Caribbean areas. The bark and leaves have been used in tannery. The tree has also been used as fuel (charcoal), resulting in stripping many coastal regions of this valuable plant. A decoction was considered diuretic and used for intestinal problems and to staunch bleeding of surface wounds.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20100201 Resource: USDA, US Forestry, and University of Florida
Cat Claw (Pithecellobium unguis-cati)
While patrolling the trail along the east estuary at Barefoot Beach Preserve a couple of weeks ago, I noticed some unusual spiral pods near the beginning of the trail. Farther south, there were more–along with an identification post saying it was Cat Claw (Pithecellobium unguis-cati).
This plant grows in South Florida and its range extends south through the Caribbean to northern South America. In the Virgin Islands, it is referred to as Bread-andcheese. So far, I haven’t found why it is called bread-andcheese, but did find it isn’t the only plant with this name. Several others (such as the Begonia and Hawthorn) also are referred to as bread-and-cheese and those references said “because the plant could be eaten.” Perhaps it is from the old British idiom “bread and cheese” which refers to something that is sustaining yet plain.
This species is also known as Cat’s Claw and Black Bean. The name Cat’s Claw comes from the pairs of spikes along the branches that resemble cat claws. The name black bean…well, someone didn’t have an imagination…the bean is black. The trees are multitrunked and can get up to 30’ high.
Once the pods ripen, they pop open to expose four to nine black, shiny seeds surrounded by white to reddish fleshy arils. The fleshy aril around the seed is edible. The seeds have been used to make necklaces and for medicinal purposes. Long before the Europeans arrived, the bark and fruit of the plants were used to treat bronchitis, chronic diarrhea, and to stop bleeding. Cat’s Claw was historically used by the indigenous people of South America to stimulate the immune system in a variety of serious ailments and used as a traditional tonic for well being.
The large orange sulfur (Phoebis agarithe Boisduval) and the Miami blue (Hemiargus thomasi Clench) butterflies both use the Cat Claw as rearing plants for their larva.
Last week, I checked these plants out again and most of the pods are now open to expose the beautiful arils and seeds. Take a short trip down the east trail at Barefoot Beach to check these out before they are gone.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20090623 References: US Forest Services
Coin Vine (Dalbergia ecastaphyllum)
Coin Vines thrive in habitats that include coastal strands, coastal hammocks, borders of mangrove swamps, river and stream banks. Can you think of a place that has most of these habitats? Right! Barefoot Beach Preserve, where you may find the Coin Vine throughout the grounds. The species can tolerate constant salt spray and moderately salty soils. This Florida native is a scrambling and climbing shrub in the pea family (Fabaceae).
Although its name is Coin “Vine” it can become a small tree, such as the one shown in the picture on the right, with stems that extend as much as 30 feet. Many times, it will use other plants for support, as the stems tend to be brittle. This plant may also sprawl laterally along the ground. Coin vine develops a tap and lateral root system. The tan colored roots support many nodules that attach directly to the tap and lateral roots, making it a good soil stabilizer. The older branches, which may reach three inches in diameter, are silvery-gray and extend into the crowns of low trees and scramble over low obstacles.
There are many long, vine-like branches that bear leaves only on the current year’s growth. The simple, alternate leaves have short petioles (the small stalk attaching the leaf blade to the stem.) and the elliptical or ovate blades up to 5.5 inches long and 3 inches broad. They are leathery, glossy green, rounded at the base, pointed at the tip, and pubescent (has fine hair) on the under side. It flowers in the spring in our area. The tiny white flowers are only about ¼ inch and are grouped in panicles in the leaf axils. The flowers have little to no fragrance. The Coin Vine is a larval host plant for Whites and Sulphur (Family Pieridae) butterflies.
The plants develop small groups of flat, green, circular fruit pods about one inch long, each containing one flat seed. Seed pods are currently on vines along the east Saylor Trail. Look closely under the leaves. The seed pods turn a coppery to gray-brown before they drop off the plant. The seeds you see the most may be a long way from the parent plant, washed out to sea and floated up on the beach. Look along the wrack (trash) line to find these coppery coin-like seeds.
The brittle stems were not suitable for wooden implements or basketry; however, long ago, Native Americans crushed roots and bark that have a chemical used to stupefy and catch fish—now illegal to do. Various extracts have been used in herbal medicine as a diuretic, an emetic, and a vermicide. Care must be taken, because some of the tissues are toxic.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist References: US Forest Service and University of Florida
Common Morning Glory (Ipomoea purpurea)
The Common Morning Glory is an herbaceous vine that is native to the southeastern United States. This plant, unlike the Beach Morning Glory, can be grown throughout central and south Florida along the coast. It is in the sweet potato family. Although it only attains a height of 4 to 6 inches as a ground cover, it can spread along the ground almost indefinitely, as it roots and branches at the nodes and spreads very rapidly. It is well adapted to beaches and coastal dunes. It is most useful as a sand binder in coastal landscapes. This vine is an excellent coastal ground cover and will also provide a screen or shelter if it is given a support to climb upon—such as the Sea Grape in the dune area. This plant will flourish in full sun on welldrained, sandy soils. It is very tolerant of drought and salt air.
The common Morning Glory blossoms are funnel-shaped bluish-purple flowers with a white center and generally 2 ½ to 3 inches wide. Flowers can also be pinkish or occasionally white. They open in the early morning and close before noon each day during the blooming season. In contrast to the other Morning Glories, the flowers are borne in the winter and spring. The flower usually lasts for a single morning and dies in the afternoon; however, being in a tropical climate, the blooming season is extended. On a cloudy day, the flower may last until night. New flowers bloom each day. The flowers usually start to fade a couple of hours before the petals start showing visible curling. As you can see in the picture to the left, this flower has started to fade and curl. Each flower is replaced by a globoid seed capsule about 1/3″ across that is hairless. The large seeds are dark-colored and wedge-shaped. This plant spreads by reseeding itself. You may see this plant throughout the Preserve in the full sun areas. Check out the boardwalk between parking areas #1 and #2 and you will see it blooming in abundance right now. The glossy green leaves are cordate in shape (heart shaped) and densely cover the slender stems. The new leaves have red veins that turn green after a short time.
Common Morning Glory can be distinguished from other Ipomoea by the color of its flowers (usually blue, purple, pink, or some combination of these colors with white center) and the shape of its leaves (never lobed). It differs from many bindweeds (Calystegia & Convolvulus) by its heart-shaped (cordate) leaves; the leaves of bindweeds are often arrowhead-shaped. Among the several species in the Bindweed family, the characteristics of the seed capsules can be useful in making an accurate identification. For example, the seed capsule of Common Morning Glory is 3-celled and its exterior surface is hairless, while other species in this plant family may have seed capsules that are 2-celled or hairy. The Ipomoea can be dangerous to ingest.
Common Morning Glory is easily grown in home gardens in a container or above-ground planter; as ground cover; cascading down a wall; or climbing a trellis. It is a rapidly growing plant and requires frequent pruning to keep it in bounds in the home landscape. A neighbor has one growing up a pine tree in their yard and it looks very nice—especially when blooming. These also attract hummingbirds.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20091130 Resources: US Forest Service, University of Florida
Florida Fighting Conch (Strombus alatus)
These notes all started from the question “Why are there so many Florida Fighting Conchs on the beach?” Could cold weather or red tide cause it–or could it be their time for reproduction? In researching several biologists, the answer is yes–could be any of these. However, at this time, we have not had extreme cold and red tide is not close to our immediate shore. So with the warmer water and seeing hundreds of these in the water and stranded on the beach at low tide, it is most likely reproduction time. (Please remind visitors that shells with live animals should not be collected.)
There are six species of conch throughout the Caribbean and Florida waters that belong to the family Strombidae: Strombus gigas, S. costatus, S. raninus, S. alatus, S. pugilis, and S. gallus. These gastropods inhabit the shallow seagrass beds of Florida, the Bahamas, Caribbean Islands, Bermuda, and down to the coasts of South America. Conchs are marine gastropods with spines on the spire and a lipped aperture. The conch species can be categorized by their shell length, which is obtained by measuring the shell from the siphonal canal to the apex of the spire. The modified foot is used for a unique type of locomotion. They use the hardened tip of their foot, the operculum, to propel forward in a “hopping” motion commonly referred to as a strombid leap. This movement is thought to help the conch make a quick escape from predators and also breaks up their scent trail. Their muscular eyes are located at the tip of stalks and they have a long proboscis for feeding.
Strombus alatus, common name the Florida Fighting Conch, is a species of medium-sized warm-water sea snail. This conch occurs in the Western Atlantic Ocean from North Carolina throughout Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana, Texas, and the east coast of Mexico. The shell can be as large as 4.4 inches.
The Florida Fighting Conch Strombus alatus is closely similar to Strombus pugilis, the West Indian Fighting Conch, which has a more southerly range. True conchs have long eye stalks, with colorful ring-marked eyes at the tips. The shell has a long and narrow aperture, and a short siphonal canal, with another indentation near the anterior end called a stromboid notch. This notch is where one of the two eye stalks protrudes from the shell. The true conch has a foot ending in a pointed, sickle-shaped, operculum which can be dug into the substrate. To the left is a photo of a live animal of the Florida Fighting Conch, note the extensible snout (proboscis) between the two stalked eyes.
Many species of true conchs live on sandy bottoms among beds of sea grass in tropical waters and eat algae. Like almost all shelled gastropods, conchs have spirally constructed shells. Again, as is normally the case in many gastropods, this spiral shell growth is usually right-handed, but on very rare occasions it can be left-handed. True conchs grow a flared lip on their shells only upon reaching sexual maturity. This is called an alated outer lip or alation. Animals before they reach this stage are juveniles and have not had a chance to reproduce. Below shows the lip of a juvenile vs. an adult Florida Fighting Conch:
Conchs lay eggs in long strands: the eggs are contained in twisted gelatinous tubes. During the reproductive season, large aggregations of conch will migrate towards shallow water (10m (3.5 ft) or less) and breed in coarse sandy habitats near reefs and beds. The conchs have separate sexes and internal fertilization. The female lays a crescent shaped egg mass, containing up to 400,000 eggs. Females can lay an average of 9 egg masses per season or an estimated 3 to 4 million eggs per season. A female conch camouflages the egg mass with sand grains to help ensure its survival through the three to four day incubation period. The typical 6 – 8 month egg-laying season is between March and October, however, reproductive season may lengthen or shorten dependent upon water temperatures or other variants.
When the egg mass hatches, the planktotrophic veligers (final larval stage of certain mollusks) will progress through a three to eight week cycle of stages while drifting in the water column. Once the veligers are morphologically ready, they will respond to a trophic cue (relating to feeding and nutrition) and settle on or near a seagrass bed and undergo metamorphosis into a fully benthic animal.
The juvenile conch will remain buried for the majority of their first year of life, possibly as a means to avoid predation. As herbivorous gastropods, the juvenile and adult conch will feed on a variety of algae, detritus, and diatoms that are commonly found on sand, seaweed, and seagrass blades. During the first couple of years, the juvenile conch will begin to add length to their shell. After 2.5 – 3 years of age, the juvenile stops adding shell length and begins to add shell to form the flaring lip. At this time, the conch will become a sexually mature adult, and begin the cycle all over again.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist Sources: Florida Atlantic University/fau.edu; Conch Heritage Network; Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution; Bill Frank of www. Jaxshells.org; Davis, M. and A. Shawl. 2005. Fighting conch, Strombus alatus and Strombus pugilus: New food candidates for aquaculture. Gulf Car. Fish. Inst. 56:769-772.
Golden Creeper (Ernodea littoralis)
Golden Creeper is a native to South Florida and also known as wild pomegranate, cough bush, and beach creeper—due to its love of the beach dunes. You will see this plant throughout Barefoot Beach Preserve. Although it thrives in sunny, dry locations near the dunes, it tolerates partial shade and you will also find it along the Saylor Trail. One of the easiest plants to see is on the most northern boardwalk, near the southwest corner where it intersects from the shower area…near Lucy’s burrow. Is this by design since it is one of the plants the gopher tortoise is known to eat? It currently has a few flowers on it. The flowers are so small that you will see the bees first. The scientific name is always interesting…the genus is from the Greek work meaning “like a young sprout” and the species name references being found on the seashore.
The Golden Creeper is an evergreen shrub that grows up to 3-feet tall as a prostrate ground cover. This plant has small, light green, succulent leaves borne on bright red stems. As it ages, the stems are a brownish-gray. It has simple, opposite, ovate leaves that are less than two inches long. Its rhizomatous roots make it a great dune stabilizer and its shrubby nature can catch blowing sands. This plant makes a nice ornamental to the home landscape and thrives on neglect, poor soils, lack of water, and even salt spray. University of Florida has an excellent article entitled Native Ground Covers for South Florida. If interested in native ground covers that grow well in South Florida, check out the article at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/eh402.
Documentation indicates the Golden Creeper has “inconspicuous” non-showy, pinkish white, tubular flowers that occur throughout the year. These flowers are less than an inch long and, when you get close to them, they are anything but inconspicuous—you just have to get really close to enjoy their beauty. When closely observing these, be careful of the bees, as they love the nectar!
After flowering, you may observe little green berries that turn into an attractive golden berry when ripe. These golden berries, in part, give this plant its common name. The berries grow in clusters and are very small—only half an inch and shaped somewhat like a small pomegranate. It has a single small seed and is edible, tasting similar to an apple. These berries are enjoyed by birds and small animals. This plant is also known as the cough bush because a tea made from the leafy branch tips has been used as a home remedy for coughs.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20100103 Sources: US Forest Service; University of Florida; Seashore Plants of South Florida and the Caribbean
Goldenrod (Solidago odora)
Another Fall bloomer! Take a walk along the estuary trail from parking area #3 to see the Goldenrod blooming along both sides of the trail, mostly in the sunny areas. These belong to the Aster family and are perennial herbs. The flowering herbs can reach 2-6 feet high. Right now, most of the Goldenrod in the Preserve stands about two feet tall. One variety of this plant is called Chapman’s Goldenrod – Solidago odora Aiton var. chapmanii and only gets up to three feet tall. This is one type that is in our Preserve. As many as six different species are found in central to south Florida. State-wide, there are 21 species of Solidago and about 70 different Goldenrods are found in the Eastern US. Some are endangered; many are found growing only in certain kinds of habitats, while others have a wide range. According to the University of Florida, the pollen does not cause hay fever.
The elliptic leaves are alternate and margins entire. Some variations have hairy leaves. However, a close look at ours does not indicate much hair without a microscope.
Insects will pollinate these flowers, and the petals fade and leave seed capsules on hairy wings. On an early morning walk you will see them floating in the air. Tiny seeds fall or are blown to another area, where they can create a new colony of fall wildflowers. The green stalk of the mother plant will die back and will rest until spring when they re-sprout and the cycle begins again. As long as there is no frost or other inhibitor, the rhizomes of the mother plant lay dormant until they re-sprout.
Have you ever heard the expression going to seed? It usually denotes someone or thing going down hill. Well, this isn’t down hill, but this is just what the flower spikes of the Goldenrod do. Other plants that have flower spikes bloom from the base and new blooms extend to the tip. However, the Goldenrod actually goes to seed at the tips and new blooms form down the spike. The seeds are eaten by song birds and small mammals and the plants are eaten by rabbits and deer. (No known deer here.) Flowers attract butterflies for the nectar. At the left, you can see a flower spike just starting to turn brown and seed at the tips, yet vibrant at the base. To the right, you can see where most of the spike has gone to seed, except for the very base!
Goldenrod is often grown in wildflower gardens, meadows, and naturalistic borders. The leaves make a flavorful herbal tea. Leaves and tops (picked during flowering) have been used to make herbal medicines for a variety of disorders, including digestive and urinary problems, wounds, and ulcers. The flowers yield a deep yellow dye.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist References: USDA, University of Florida, and Floridata
Gopher Tortoise (gopherus polyphemus)
The gopher tortoise is a threatened and protected species in Florida, belonging to a group of land tortoises that originated in western North America nearly 60 million years ago. They are considered a keystone species because they are the backbone of the plant and wildlife community in which they live. The gopher tortoise eats plants and disburses seeds, thereby producing plants that are important food sources for other animals. Burrows have been known to shelter over 300 different species of animals—not all at once. Animals recorded using burrows for refuge are frogs, snakes, birds, mice, spiders, crickets, lizards, burrowing owls, rabbits, etc. These “commensals” use burrows to escape predators, adverse weather conditions, and fire. A burrow is usually only inhabited by one tortoise at a time. Burrows are 30-60 feet in length, with a slight slope of approximately 30 degrees. The gopher tortoise digs down until it comes to the water table and makes a living cavity just above that…which helps regulate temperature in a burrow. A tortoise will build from one to 10 burrows in a lifetime. A gopher tortoise locates food by smell and sight and feeds on low-growing plants such as cactus, flowers, grasses, and even poison ivy. Their home range is from 2 to 5 miles and may take up temporary residence in other burrows, for better food sources. They have no teeth, but have powerful jaws. They can live 60-100 years. They reach sexual maturity in 10-20 years, when the shell reaches about 9 inches. Being reptiles, they need sunlight to help regulate body temperatures. They need water every 7-8 days and if there is no water available through rain or other sources, then they get it through their food.
Once a year from May-August and after mating, mature females lay 4-10 eggs on or near the apron of their burrow (the sandy area surrounding the opening). Eggs hatch after approximately 90 days. The eggs are round and resemble ping pong balls. Newly hatched gopher tortoises are about 1.5 to 2 inches long. Young may linger around the burrow for a time, but are on their own for food—the mother does not take care of the young. Sometimes the young can become disoriented and end up on the beach. The one on the right was found by a visitor and was relocated more inland by a ranger. Growth is slow and may be less than 1 inch per year. Sex of the tortoise is determined by the temperature of the nest. Near sexual maturity, you can start to tell differences between males and females. Males have a concave plastron (underside of shell). The males also have a much longer gular scute—the boney protrusion located just under its neck. When challenged by another male, they use this to jostle and may even flip their opponent over on its back. Adults can get up to 15 inches in length. The front legs are broad and flat like a shovel and their hind legs are elephantine—elephant-like. The shell is actually bone. Their backbone and ribs are fused to the shell, which is covered in scutes made of material similar to your finger nails. Some say the rings on the scutes can indicate the age of the tortoise.
Currently, there is a research project going on in the Preserve to determine the distribution of gopher tortoise burrows and locations. Each burrow located was given a number (note an orange flag near burrows) and adult gopher tortoises were given special markings during the census. As of August 28, there were 549 burrows located and 32 gopher tortoises marked. Researcher Margie Hamilton’s best guess puts projected burrow count at 650. With 100-125 being abandoned, she puts total park population around 300-350 gopher tortoises. The special markings are in accordance with FWC regulations, whose numbering system is shown at the right. Tortoises were marked by drilling holes in one or a combination of the eight rear-most marginal scutes (the four right ones and the four left ones) and the three right-front marginal scutes. The system is additive; e.g., tortoise #14 would require the drilling of the first scute left of the rear marginal and the third scute right of the rear marginal. When you see a gopher tortoise in the Preserve, notice if it has drill marks, then figure out its assigned I.D. number. In the near future, we may be asked for I.D. numbers and locations of gopher tortoise sightings.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20090914 Resources: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; Gopher Tortoise Council; The Gopher Tortoise a Life History by Patricia and Ray E. Ashton, Jr.; and Margie Hamilton
Coastal Groundcherry (Physalis angustifolia Nutt.)
Coastal Groundcherry is one plant you will have to look closely to find, as it is very inconspicuous. It is a Florida native found along the Gulf Coast. It may also be found along coastal areas of Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Some refer to it as Sand Cherry. There are 29 species of Physalis in the United States and 8 native species in Florida. Different species will have specific leaf shapes, flowers may cluster or be single, and even where it grows is a factor. The species known as Physalis angustifolia Nutt. (Coastal Groundcherry) loves the sunny, sandy soils of the coastal dunes in the Preserve. Because it is a rhizomatous plant that sends out underground stems or runners, it is a great dune stabilizer. It can tolerate salty air and drought. This little plant is in the potato family. If it were in your garden at home, you may think it a weed. I’ve seen these in at least two locations in Barefoot Beach Preserve: on the north side of the southern boardwalk from parking area #1 and at the start of the estuary (east) trail in a gravel area to the left, south of parking area #3.
This species has linear leaves that are up to ten times as long as wide. The leaves are a bright green on the top, with a slightly paler green on the underside. Plants found in the Preserve usually have leaves from 3” to 6” and the overall plant is usually not over a foot tall locally. New leaves are tender and get leathery with age. During the summer, it has small, bell-like single yellow flowers that droop.
The flower is followed by a small, edible fleshy fruit enclosed in its own ‘paper bag’ (the calyx) to protect it from pests and the elements. The calyx (paper bag) looks similar to a Japanese lantern. The flower/fruit are only about an inch in length/diameter. The calyx is toxic and should not be eaten. The fleshy fruit inside looks like a small tomato and has the taste of a strawberry. It can be used in salads or to make preserves. As small as this fruit is, it would take a lot to make a salad or preserves! During research, I did not find any known medicinal remedies.
Its habitat seems restricted to dunes and small sites of disturbed soil, often on the loose materials pushed out from burrows of the gopher tortoise. It has been suggested (Erdman West, pers. comm., 1962) that the tortoise would encounter, and surely feed upon, the fruits of this plant, then deposit its seeds on suitable loose soil surrounding the burrow. The historic range of the gopher tortoise closely corresponds to the known range of the Physalis, permitting a long co-adaptation of these two species. It seems like this theory is proven by the photo to the right (taken at Clam Pass) of a very young gopher tortoise munching on Groundcherry leaves.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist References: USDA and University of Florida
Groundsel or Saltbush
Groundsel or Saltbush is an evergreen woody shrub or small tree in the Sunflower (Aster) family. Another common name for this shrub is Sea Myrtle. As their name implies, saltbushes are common along the coastal areas and have high salt tolerance. However, they are not restricted to these types of environments and may occur in a wide variety of disturbed, open and moist soil habitats. They can reach a height of ten feet with a spread ten feet wide.
Take a walk on the most northern boardwalk from parking area #1 and you will see this shrub in full bloom on the right, just before the concession. Not only is it full of blooms, it is full of bees, so be careful. Compare the size of the blooms to the bee at the left and you will see how small the flowers are. Bees and small butterflies enjoy the nectar from the male flowers of saltbush, which in turn attract songbirds to forage on the insects.
Groundsels are dioecious. This means that each plant is either a male or a female and each plant produces male/female flowers accordingly. Only the female plants produce the fluffy silvery white flowers late in the fall. The white, hair-like bristles extend beyond the leafy bracts of the female flowers, giving it a cottony or silvery appearance. The bristles also help in dispersing the tiny fruit/seeds. Male flowers are yellowish-green in distinctly rounded spheres. To see some female flowers/bushes, take a walk on the estuary trail from the third parking area. They stand out during the fall, as you see the white, silvery blooms. When not in bloom, they are just a small, inconspicuous bush.
There are three species of saltbushes and they have many similar traits. All three occur near coastal areas from North Carolina south throughout Florida. Differences are most apparent in their vegetation. The following brief descriptions will help identify the three species: 1) Baccharis angustifolia: As the scientific name implies, it has narrow, needle-shaped leaves. Its leaves are attached directly to the stem without a leaf stalk. The shape of its leaf is the easiest way to distinguish this species from the others. This one has not been identified in the Preserve. 2) Baccharis glomerulifolia: As its scientific name implies, this species has rounded flower heads. The uniqueness of these flowers, however, is that they are attached directly to the branches without a flower stalk. This is not true for the other two species, and is the best way to distinguish this one from the following species, which has similar foliage. This has not been identified in the Preserve. 3) Baccharis halimifolia: This is the common, almost weedy species found through out the Southeast, north to Massachusetts and south to the West Indies. It also is the most likely saltbush to be found in inland settings. The leaves often are rather diamond-shaped, up to 3 inches long, and most display distinct teeth along the outer margin and can be variable. The foliage is a grayish-green. This one has been documented in the Preserve.
Groundsel leaves are toxic to livestock and the small fruit from the female plant is poisonous to humans. Indigenous people used the leaves to make yellow dye. This was also known as the consumption weed. Root decoctions were taken for colds and stomach pain. Baccharis halimifolia contains baccharine and is used in domestic medicines against respiratory diseases and for fever.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20091102 References: University of Florida – IFAS; USDA; Florida Native Plant Society; and Florida Ethnobotany by Dan Austin
Gumbo Limbo (Bursera simaruba)
One of the first trees you see approaching the first parking area in the Preserve is the Gumbo Limbo. (Look for the trees on the east side of the Learning Center.) Gumbo Limbo is very fast growing, tolerant of salt and calcareous soils, and has an attractive reddish bark that peels away in thin flakes to reveal a smooth and sinuous green-gray underbark. It thrives with little or no care. It occurs naturally in coastal hammocks in south Florida above the mangrove zone. It is considered one of the most wind-tolerant trees and it is recommended as a rugged, hurricaneresistant species. It is a great summertime shade tree for local yards, as well as a beautiful specimen plant. The trees are easily propagated by seeds or cuttings. In fact, early pioneers created living fences by simply sticking branches close together in the ground.
Semi-deciduous, it loses all its leaves in early spring just before the new leaves appear. It can grow to 30 feet or more. The leaves are spirally arranged and pinnate with 7-11 ovate leaflets. It has tiny green flowers followed by a fruit that is footballshaped and about ½ inch in diameter. Fruits turn from green to deep red when ripe. This fruit is loved by many birds and other wildlife. Some fruits are present year-round, but the main fruiting season is March and April in the northern part of the plant’s range. The tree on the north side of the Learning Center is currently full of fruit. The fruits are a small three-valved capsule encasing a single seed which is covered in a red fatty aril (seedcoat). Birds seek out the fruit to feed on the aril, which though small is rich in lipids. Arils are an important food source for local as well as winter migrating birds.
Before modern medicine developed laboratory drugs, our ancestors all over the world used certain herbs and weeds for health. In many parts of the world today, they are the only treatment available and sometimes work better than synthetic drugs. Many plants exhibit the “Doctrine of Signatures” which is a concept that there is some physical characteristic about a plant that signals what it could be used for on the physical body. One great example of this concept is the red peeling bark of the Gumbo Limbo, sometimes referred to as the “Sunburned Tourist” tree. Parts of this tree have been used to effectively treat poisonwood exposure, sunburn, insect bites, and many other skin related problem. Strips of bark were boiled in water and then used topically for skin sores, measles, sunburn, insect bites, and rashes. The tree is a member of the same botanical species as frankincense and myrrh, both representatives of the world’s oldest medicines. The gummy, turpentine-scented resin has been used in the West Indies for making glue, varnish, liniments, and as a coating for canoes. The wood carves well and was preferred in carving carousel horses. It is also the source of that very, very soft and light wood used for making toy airplanes and boats. In that form it is called balsa wood. It is also used to make other small wood products such as matchsticks, toothpicks, and crates. The Glades Indians used the glue-like sap of gumbo limbo boiled with water to make bird-lime. Small birds were captured by the ancient method of using birdlime. This technique consists of putting sticky bird-lime on a favored perch. When this material was spread on a branch, any bird landing on the site became stuck. The hunters removed the birds carefully and placed them in cages. Some were eaten; others were sold or bartered.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20091117 References: University of Florida; Floridata.com, and Florida Native Plant Society
Wild Lantana or Wild Sage (Lantana involucrata)
Wild lantana (Lantana involucrata), aka wild sage, is native to South Florida’s coastal dune areas. This plant is a favorite of mine at Barefoot Beach Preserve, because of its tiny, delicate bouquet-like flower clusters, the small purple berries that it produces, and the aromatic leaves. The tiny tubular flowers are white with a yellow center. Although the flowers have little to no scent, the small oval leaves are very fragrant and have been used in making perfumes. The leaves are rough-textured with small toothed-edges and have tiny fuzzy hairs on the upper surface. The ripe purple berries each have a single seed and are edible; however, the green, non-ripened berries are considered toxic. This plant flowers and provides food year-round for many birds and mammals that frequent the Preserve.
This evergreen shrub can grow up to 6 feet tall. New plants are easily started from seeds or cuttings. Wild lantana is a great dune stabilizer with stiff lateral roots and abundant fine roots. The US Forest Services lists it as one of the best butterfly nectar plants. It makes a nice low hedge in home gardens. Because it attracts butterflies, lantana was one of the first plants in my home garden long ago. The nursery told me it was native, but after researching lantana mine may not be. I found conflicting information from many resources used and trusted over the years. This set of notes may possibly put you on a journey to find out more about the different species of lantana for yourself. Some species of lantana have been determined to be invasive and their leaves toxic to people and animals.
Roger Hammer wrote an article entitled The Lantana Mess published by the Florida Native Plant Society. It is a great article and goes into a lot of detail about the different species of lantana and what is native where. Please read this article if you are thinking about purchasing some lantana for your yard. Check it out at http://www.afnn.org/docs/lantanamesshammer04.pdf. This article really made me think about what is native. When we say Florida native we think all over the state; however, it may only be native to the MiamiDade region or the southwest coastal dunes, etc. By planting non-native lantana in our area, we may actually cause cross-pollination with area native plants, thereby, possibly causing it to out-compete natives.
In addition to Lantana involucrata, another lantana was found in the Preserve. So far, I have not been able to identify the species. It has lavender flowers and its leaves are more pointed or lanceolate, rather that ovate like the ones above. This one is shown to the right, so you can see the difference. Any ideas?
Folk remedies used a tea prepared from the flowers to treat high blood pressure and leaves were used to prepare a tea to treat fevers. Leaves were put into baths to relieve itching of measles and chicken pox. The leaves were also used as a condiment in cooking, i.e. wild sage. A word of caution: If you can not determine the plant is absolutely Lantana involucrate, do use leaves for tea or baths, as the leaves of some varieties of lantana are toxic if consumed and some people have adverse reactions to some varieties upon contact with the skin.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20090928 Resources: US Forest Service and Florida Native Plant Society-Melbourne, FL
Lettered Olive (Oliva sayana)
The Lettered Olive is a Gastropod of the Oliva genera and is one of about 25 species found in North America. There are over 300 species world-wide in tropical and temperate waters. They can get up to 2 ¾ inches long. Females release eggs in transparent, round capsules that may float in the water for about a week before the young hatch. Each capsule contains 20-50 eggs. For the first part of their lives, the young are free swimming in a planktonic stage before developing shells and settling to the bottom to become adults.
The Lettered Olive has a beautiful cylindrical shell that is very smooth and glossy, with a small, pointed, conical spire at the end. The smooth exterior is generated in a living sea snail (mollusk) by its mantle and extension of the foot that covers the exterior of the shell much of the time. Its base color varies from pale yellow to grey, with fine, irregular zig-zag reddish-brown markings. The markings are where the Lettered Olive gets its common name, because it looks like someone tried to write on its shell. It has two indistinct dark bands. The mollusk (snail) only has one shell during its life and just adds on as its needs grow. Its aperture is very narrow and runs almost the length of the shell. At the base, it has a siphonal notch, where its head and siphon protrude. If you pick up a live shell, the snail will fully withdraw into its shell.
For me, October is for olives—Lettered Olives, that is! This is when I’ve notice the most live olives along the beach at low tide. They are not out in the open—you have to look for them. It is sometimes detected at very low tide by the trail it leaves when crawling below the surface on semiexposed sand flats. Walk along the beach and look for something that looks like someone marked in the sand with a stick. Sometimes is goes in circles, other times it may look like a “J” or perhaps a smiley face—they are very creative with their art work. If you happen to see visitors picking up live shells, please educate them about the shells and let them know they should not take live shells from the beach. That’s the law!
The lettered olive does not have an operculum (hard covering) on its foot like some gastropods. Its powerful foot can quickly burrow into sand or grasp prey. This nocturnal predator is a carnivore, feeding on bi-valves (especially coquina shells) or crustaceans (such as sand crabs) by enveloping their prey with the hind part of their foot and pulling it under the sand. They have a radula consisting of tiny hard teeth, resembling a miniature file on a flexible ribbon. It uses the radula to drill a hole into the shell of its prey, then secretes digestive juices into its prey to start breaking down the meal for easy digestion. As it moves through the sand, you might be able to see the long siphon of this animal, which allows it to breathe and sniff from far under the sand where it buries itself during low tide. It does have eyes; however, eyesight is very poor and it depends on sense of smell to find its food. Which way does it move? Away from the pointed end—its head is at the open notch!
Long ago native Americans made necklaces of the beautiful shells, as well as decorated clothing. In the early 1900s these shells were collected and strung to make door-curtains to sell to tourists. I believe I saw these door-curtains in a tourist shop in the keys a few weeks ago!
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20091012 Reference: National Audubon Field Guide to Shells and seashells.org
The next time you walk along the estuary trail from parking area #3 to Wiggin’s Pass, take time to appreciate these guardians of our shores. The Mangroves quietly and modestly provide for the orderly flow of life between land and sea. Being such an integral part of both our marine and terrestrial environments, they not only are protectors of our shores from storms, but they also cradle the nursery of our seas.
Today’s notes are a little different, so that you can look at all three trees in our Preserve. Although one might tend to think that mangroves are from the same family, they are not. What makes them a “mangrove” is the fact that they produce living offspring—not just fruit and seeds. You may tell the trees apart by looking for differences in leaves, bark, flowers, fruit, and sometimes location. At times you may only have one or two of these. Below are photos of leaves and propagules of mangroves in our area. A propagule develops from a seed that germinates while still attached to the parent tree. The parent supplies the seedling with nutrients and water until it becomes heavy and drops off. It may float and be viable for up to a year. Mangroves thrive in salty environments because they are able to obtain freshwater from saltwater. Some excrete salt through their leaves; others exclude salt at their roots. Look at the photos below. Make a mental note of what is visually different about each of them. The top leaf is the upper side of the leaf and the bottom leaf is the underside. As you can see from the photos below, the fruit of each tree is very different from one another. Look for these on the beach.
The Red Mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) leaf has a very smooth, shiny upper side that is bright green, with dull underside of a paler green. There are no nodules at leaf base. Red Mangroves are usually closest to and in the water. They have prop roots and drop roots that provide gas exchange for the plant. Prop roots grow from the trunk of the tree, while drop roots grow from branches to the ground. These prop/drop roots are why this tree is often referred to as the “walking” tree. They exclude salt when absorbing water. Its propagule is pencil shaped.
Black Mangrove (Avicennia germinans) leaf has a smooth upper side that is medium green, with veins that create slight ridges. Underside is a silverygreen and fuzzy. They excrete salt from the water through their leaves. There are no nodules at leaf base. The Black Mangrove has an unusual root system. It has pneumatophores that are aerial roots that extend above high tide for gas exchange. Black Mangroves are usually upland from Red Mangroves. The propagule looks like a lima bean. When the root starts sprouting, the propagule bursts open and you can see where its leaves have formed.
White Mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa) is the most versatile of the three. They are usually upland of the Black Mangroves. Its ovate leaf has a smooth, leathery upper side with lighter mid-vein. The under-side is a lighter green with a more prominent vein. At the base of the leaf on the front are two nodules. These nodules secrete nectar. The fruit is almond-shaped, with ridges running the length of the fruit. This mangrove can excrete or exclude salt. Now…go for a walk and take a closer look at these magnificent trees!
Now…go for a walk and take a closer look at these magnificent trees!
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20171117 Resources: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and University of Florida
Marine Life in Extreme Cold
This edition of Nature Notes is a diversion from the usual; however, it comes from questions at Barefoot Beach Preserve and relates to nature. Did you ever wonder how low water temperatures could affect our marine life and where water temperatures reported on the news are derived? After the reports on a local TV station of local water temperatures dipping down to 48° F, I certainly wondered what would happen to our Southwest Florida marine life and how and exactly where temperatures could be recorded so low. So started my search…
Much marine life that inhabits the tropics and subtropics such as our area can not tolerate extended low water temperatures, especially the young—just as native plants of these areas can not tolerate low air temperatures. This past weekend, we saw numerous marine animals, which could not survive the cold temperatures, brought to shore by the tides. There were reported sightings of various types of marine life, including guitar fish, spotted eel, cow fish, parchment worms in their casings, and even some sipunculid worms, which are one of very few species of non-segmented marine worms. While kayaking, I spotted a snook barely moving at the water surface. Although the water temperatures are now near 60° F, we are seeing increasing results at Barefoot Beach from affects of the prior low temperatures the Gulf endured.
There were such high numbers of affected marine life throughout Florida that, on January 16, 2010, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission enacted a temporary suspension of bag and size limits and general methods of take for saltwater fish. This order will allow people to legally dispose of dead fish from the water and on the shore. This will expire February 1, 2010, unless repealed or extended. See http://myfwc.com/docs/Newsroom/EO_10_02_DeadFish.pdf for details. Due to the prolonged natural cold weather event that caused significant, widespread mortality of saltwater fish, a closure for taking live tarpon, bonefish, and snook has also been ordered throughout Florida. For further information, see http://myfwc.com/docs/Newsroom/EO_10_03_SnookTarponBonefish.pdf. The FWC has taken these actions to address the conservation needs of affected marine fisheries.
Now for where temperatures are derived…Are you aware that NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has remote stations all over the world that report specific data continually throughout the day? The following are some of the information that remote stations record in real time:
- Water Levels
- Wind speeds
- Air temperature
- Water temperature
- Barometric pressure
In most cases, the information is relayed to and recorded by NOAA via satellite. There are around 30 stations in the region designated as “Gulf of Mexico–Eastern” that covers our area. The station in Collier County nearest Barefoot Beach is at Latitude: 26° 7.9′ N. Longitude: 81° 48.4′ W, which is at the Naples Pier and was established March 21, 1992. There is a station in Fort Myers at Latitude: 26° 38.8′ N Longitude: 81° 52.2′. The present installation was established January 31, 1998. NOAA also has partners that provide data from individual sites. In the Gulf of Mexico—Western Region, there are also data “buoys” that record information far off shore within the Gulf.
If you would like to check out the information being reported at the Naples station, just go to the link http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/geo.shtml?location=8725110. For Fort Myers, go to this link: http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/geo.shtml?location=8725520.
Marlberry (Ardisia escallonioides)
Marlberry is a native of South Florida and is sometimes referred to as marble berry or dogberry. Marlberry is a member of the genus Ardisia, one of 40 genera of the Myrsinaceae family. This family has over 1,000 species of tropical trees and shrubs but only two members, Marlberry and Myrsine, are present in the United States—both only in Florida and both found at Barefoot Beach Preserve. This plant may be found in coastal hammocks and pinelands of south Florida, including the Keys. Marlberry prefers well-drained, sandy soils. It is usually an understory species, growing in the shade of taller trees such as pines and cabbage palms. You may readily find this plant near the chickee hut off the western Saylor Trail.
Marlberry is a large evergreen shrub or small tree that usually grows to 12 – 15′ in height but can reach heights up to 25′. It has a narrow, columnar crown with branches that bend downward when the tree flowers and fruits. It usually is multi-trunked and mature trunks have light gray to pinkish white bark. The thin trunks only get 2 – 3” in diameter. The narrow leaves are 3 – 6″ long and 1 – 2″ wide, simple, and alternately arranged. The leaves have leathery, glossy, yellow-green, upper surfaces with paler surfaces underneath. The leaf base is wedged and the leaf tip is acute to rounded. The leaf margin is entire (smooth) and thickened. The leaves are arranged spirally along the branch, with the blades often curving downward lengthwise.
The small, white, fragrant flowers occur in dense terminal panicles (clusters at the end of the branch) that are up to 5” in length, with the individual flower only about 1/8” across, with five petals. Flowers are borne at intervals during the year but do not last very long. This plant bears small fruit that turns from yellow-green, to red and finally a purplish-black when ripe. Being in the subtropics, you may find fruit and flowers at intervals during the year. Currently, there are many berries on the ones near the chickee hut off the Saylor Trail. The fruit is round and glossy, about ¼” wide. It has a thin skin covering a dry, fleshy interior enclosing a single red-brown seed. The fragrant flowers attract a number of pollinating insects, including butterflies. Because this plant tolerates drought and can be showy with its clusters of flowers, it is a good landscape plant to be used for a hedge or specimen plant in your yard. Marlberry is easily propagated from seed. Caution when purchasing: A member of the same genus as Marlberry is Ardisia crenata, a non-native shrub imported from East Asia and introduced to Florida as an attractive landscape plant because of its bright red berries and glossy foliage. Ardisia crenata is fast becoming a troublesome invasive, leaving people’s yards and moving into wooded areas. Easiest way to differentiate: the invasive has wavy leaf margins. When purchasing, make sure you get the native.
Native Americans in Florida called this tree the black tobacco-seasoning tree, because they mixed its leaves with their tobacco to make it go further. It is useful to birds, squirrels and other mammals as a food source. The tart, acidic fruit is edible but unappealing to some people—perhaps how good or bad it tastes depends on how hungry someone is. Remember, some people have allergies, so be cautious.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20100208 Resources: US Forest Service; USDA; Florida Ethnobotany; University of Florida
Myrsine (Rapanea punctata)
Myrsine is also known as Guiana and/or Rapanea and has also been referred to as Colicwood. Some reports say that the name Rapanea guinensis was misapplied and should have been Rapanea punctata, and other sources report synonyms of Myrsine Floridana and Myrsine Cubana. At the Preserve, we call it Myrsine.
It is an evergreen shrub or small tree found in coastal areas of Florida and can grow up to 25 feet tall. It has a narrow open crown with a trunk up to 6 inches wide with smooth grayish bark. The easiest one to spot in the Preserve is from parking area #1 on the north side of the middle boardwalk, as it intersects to go left or right. Also look for it on the Saylor Nature Trail.
This plant likes full sun, but can tolerate heavy shade in the maritime forest. This is another drought tolerant plant useful for the home landscape as a small tree or even to be trimmed into a hedge. South Florida Water Management District has a wonderful little publication that shows native plants, water needs, sun requirements, salt tolerance, typical height, and plant type. The link is: https://my.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/pg_grp_sfwmd_recinfoed/portlet_publication/tab2104323/x eriscape/ww4_shrubs.pdf . It is a neat reference guide for selecting plants for your yard.
Its narrow bright green leaves are alternately arranged and occur clustered near the end of branches. Both leaf surfaces are covered with tiny dots. The leaf margin is smooth, thick and often curled under. The top of the leaves are shiny and leathery, while the underside is a paler, dull green. It is in the same family as the marlberry. The word myrsine is derived from the Greek word for myrrh.
The very small greenish-white flowers occur singly on the stem below the leaves. In our temperate climate, they may flower year-round. After flowering, the round fruits appear and are dark blue to black drupe that is only 1/5” wide and has thin flesh surrounding one white seed. The fruit clusters below the leaves for several inches along the stems. Seeds are useful to birds and other wild animals as a food source. Lucky for the birds, the fruits remain on the tree for several months. The fruit is edible but unappealing to people. However, if you are ever on “survivor” it may become appealing.
Native Americans in Florida called this tree the white tobacco-seasoning tree, because they mixed its leaves with their tobacco to make it go further and the flavor gave it extra spice. The bark has been used in leather tanning. University of Columbia in the country of Columbia has been researching an extract from the bark for use as an anti-inflammatory. Researchers discovered that the lab rats became sterol. They have now expanded their research to include possible use as a birth control. The bark has proven to also have antibiotic properties. The strong hard wood has been used in general construction for carpentry, cabinets, crates, fuel, and posts.
Necklace Pod (Sophora tomentosa var. truncate)
The Necklace Pod is a beautiful, loose growing shrub that grows up to 10 feet tall. These drought tolerant plants are a member of Fabaceae (Leguminosae), the family of peas and beans. It loves to be in full sun and thrives in well-drained sandy soils. It will tolerate some salt spray and is at home on the inland side of the dunes along the beach. This evergreen plant is native to South Florida and found along coastal areas. No wonder it is in abundance on our little island!
These are currently blooming throughout the Preserve. You can’t miss their bright yellow flowers that are on long, racemose, terminal spikes. The spikes can be up to 16 inches long. Blooms usually start to open at the base of the spike and progressively open toward the tip. Although there is little to no fragrance, the blooms attract butterflies and hummingbirds for its sweet nectar. It is a host plant for caterpillars of sulphur butterflies. The flowers also attract warblers and bees. Depending on temperatures, you may see blooms on this plant throughout the year. There is just enough cold in our area that it usually does not bloom during the coldest part of our winter.
New leaves are velvety which gives them a silver-green color. Leaves turn a glossy dark green, becoming glabrous or smooth and shiny as they mature.
After blooming, attractive fruit or pea pods (legumes) also start sprouting at the base of the spike and there may be blooms as well as pods on the spike at the same time. The photo on the right shows the new pods forming. The pods may be from 2 to 8 inches long and, as the peas mature, the pods are compressed between the peas to resemble a beaded necklace, hence the common name necklace pod. Mature pods are shown in the photo to the left.
The necklace pod shrub makes an attractive addition to the home landscape, especially for houses near beaches. Caution: The seeds (peas) are dangerous to eat and contain an alkaloid, cytisine, which is emetic and purgative. They should be kept out of reach of young children.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist Resources: USDA, US Forest Service, and University of Florida
Gray Nicker Bean (Caesalpinia bonduc)
The Gray Nicker Bean is a member of the Fabaceae family, commonly known as the legume or pea family. A native to South Florida, the Gray Nicker Bean is established in nearly every tropical shore world-wide. It has apparently arrived at these locations by natural means, although unrecorded accidental or intentional introductions cannot be ruled out. It thrives in full sun but will endure partial shade. It tolerates salt spray, salty soils, and occasional flooding with seawater. It grows most frequently on the beach strand, on coastal dunes, and at the better-drained edge of mangroves. Walk along the boardwalk between parking areas #1 and #2 at Barefoot Beach Preserve and you will see this plant along the back side of the dunes in the full sun or stroll along the east Saylor trail to see some in partially sunny areas. There are three types of Nicker Beans in Florida: Gray, Yellow, and Brown.
The stem of this prickly, aggressive, climbing bush can grow to 2 inches or more in diameter and 18 to 20 feet in length. Although it can only grow about 3 feet high along the ground, it is an opportunistic bush, often growing to great heights by clamoring over other plants. Plants usually have a single stem arising from the ground but often branch low on the stem. Seedlings form taproots and may retain them later; lateral roots are extensive, providing soil stabilization for dunes. The stems, twigs, and leaf axis are covered with straight or curved prickles. The leaves are bipinnately compound with four to nine pairs of pinnae, each with four to eight pairs of oblong to elliptic leaflets.
The yellow flower stalks are lateral or terminal. In Florida, the Gray Nicker Bean flowers and fruits yearround. After flowering, it produces legumes. The prickly, inflated legumes are flattened oval shaped, 2 to 4 inches long and bright green, turning reddishbrown when dry. Within each pod are one to three (usually two) smooth, hard, up to one inch in diameter seeds that are olive drab in the pods and remain so until exposure to the sun bleaches them to a light gray color. The pods open partially upon drying and eventually release the seeds.
Gray Nicker Bean seeds are apparently carried to sea by floods and storm surges where they float until deposited on shore. This is a common sea-bean on our beaches. The seeds are found on beaches as far away as northern Scotland and are known to be able to float in sea water for as long as 30 years. The scarifying action of sand, weathering, insects, or rodents eventually allows water to enter the seeds and they germinate.
The seeds have been used for centuries and are still used as jewelry, prayer beads, good luck charms, and worry stones. They were anciently used as standards of weight in India. In traditional remedy it has been used to treat malaria, diabetes, dysentery, hemorrhoids, venereal disease and hypertension. One of the principal constituents, bonducin, is a bitter white powder, sometimes called “poor man’s quinine” for its ability to reduce malarial fever. It is being researched as a treatment for leukemia. This plant is a food source for larvae of the rare Miami Blue butterfly that is now only found on Big Pine Key, Florida.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20091228 Sources: US Forest Service and University of Florida
Oceanblue Morning Glory (Ipomoea indica)
The genus Ipomoea (from the Greek ips ~ ipos, worm-weed or bindweed, and homoeos referring to the twining habit) has 68 species, making it the largest in the Convolvulaceae family which has over 500 species. Most of the species are twining, climbing vines. The Ipomoea is related to the sweet potato family.
The Oceanblue Morning Glory (Ipomoea indica) is listed in the Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants as a native species of Florida, although another reliable source indicates that it is being investigated as to whether or not it is an introduced species.
This plant will only attain a height of 4 to 6 inches as a ground cover, but can spread along the ground almost indefinitely. One easy to see in the Preserve right now is located on the most southerly boardwalk from parking area #1, on the left as you head to the beach and before reaching the intersection with the boardwalk that runs north/south. It is growing at the edge of the boardwalk near a post, as shown in the photo above. A smaller one is just creeping up the edge of the most northerly boardwalk as it jogs to the right just before the beach.
This plant roots and branches at the nodes and spreads very rapidly. It is a great dune stabilizer and readily adapts to the sandy coastal areas, as it tolerates drought and salt spray. This is another beautiful and beneficial plant found in the Preserve. The three-lobed leaves of this trailing vine are bright green and densely cover the thin stems. The bluish-purple, funnel-shaped flowers have a pinkish throat and are generally 2 ½ to 3 inches wide. Each blossom opens only once. They open in the early morning and close before the end of each day. One gardener reported their Oceanblue Morning Glories start out a bright blue in early morning, changing to a darker blue by mid-day, then to a purplish-blue and finally to a dark pink at the end of the day.
Sometimes the different species of morning glories can be confusing to distinguish from one another, in that the many varieties covet the same type of territory, their vines may inter-twine, making the flowers look as if they are on one vine when they are actually on another. Just look at the picture to the right and see if you can find the leave of the Oceanblue Morning Glory among the heart-shaped leaves of the Common Morning Glory. (Hint: Look for the threelobed leaf next to the small red arrow. Now, you won’t find the red arrow when you go out on the boardwalk, but do look for the two different types of leaves and see how many places you can find them throughout the Preserve.)
This plant also adapts readily to the home landscape for use as a groundcover or to climb a trellis, fence, or other support. This plant maybe toxic if ingested.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20091205 References: University of Florida, USDA, US Forest Service, and Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
Ospreys, sometimes referred to as fishhawks, have a worldwide distribution, wintering or breeding on every continent except Antarctica. Ospreys usually return to Barefoot Beach Preserve to breed each year in December or January. The male usually returns up to a week earlier than the female. Osprey pairs use the same nest each year. Upon return, they spend time repairing the nest before eggs are laid. Both sexes collect materials for the nest, but the female does most of the arranging of materials at the nest. Last week, I saw a male bring a nice long twig to the nest near the beach at the third access. The female fiddled and fiddled, then finally pulled out a previous twig, threw it out of the nest, then worked the new longer twig into place. Osprey nests are typically constructed of sticks or twigs and lined with softer materials such as grasses or seaweed—another use for seaweed on the beach this time of year! Take a walk on the east Saylor Trail and look for the nest to the right as you head south. You will see a piece of orange barricade fencing woven into the nest—it has been there since at least last season. They recycle!
Ospreys are diurnal, which means they are active during the day. They usually mate for life and are generally monogamous. Once a pair has established a nest, the male will deliver food to the female. After mating, two to four eggs are laid. The male and female both take turns incubating the eggs, which will hatch in about 32 days. Incubation starts when the first egg is laid, so the eggs will hatch in the order they were laid. Approximately a month after hatching, chicks will be 70 to 80% of an adult’s size. Chicks in south Florida usually fledge between 7 to 8 weeks. Parents take the young out fishing, showing how to make a catch. Soon after fledging, young Ospreys are able to hunt on their own. Usually by May, the parents leave the Preserve to begin their migration. According to Towson University, parents take separate vacations after breeding. Juveniles usually stay in the general area they were born for their first summer and do not migrate until the following year.
Their diet consists almost exclusively of fish; however, they are known to also eat small mammals, birds, or reptiles. When catching fish, an Osprey hovers briefly after spotting a fish; dives toward the surface of the water; then plunges feet-first into the water. Once airborne, the Osprey rearranges the fish in its feet, carrying it with one foot in front of the other so that the fish is facing head first. The Osprey is particularly well adapted to this diet, with reversible outer toes and backwards-facing scales on the talons which act as barbs to help hold its catch. They usually take the fish to a favorite high perch to eat, generally starting with the head and working toward the tail. A male providing food for a mate and offspring will usually consume at least part of the fish before delivering the remainder to the female.
Ospreys reach up to 24 inches long with a 6-foot wing span. Female Ospreys are generally heavier than males. The female may have darker plumage and a more defined mottled “necklace” than their male counterparts. You can see the female’s “necklace” pattern at her neck line in the photo to the right. Compare it to male in top right photo. Other identifying markings for both sexes include a dark stripe through each eye, a white belly, and a dark brown back. The feet are pale blue-gray, and the beak is black. Juvenile Ospreys resemble adults, but are somewhat speckled due to buff-colored tips on their dark brown upper-wing and back. Juveniles have an orange-red iris, while adults typically have a yellow iris. Juveniles usually have their adult plumage by the time they are 18 months old. Ospreys are a relatively longlived species, averaging 15 – 20 years according to banding data. The oldest known Osprey in North America was a 25-year old male; however, very few live to be that old. Ospreys are vulnerable to predation from aerial predators. Great Horned Owls and Bald Eagles are known predators of Osprey nestlings and sometimes adults.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20100310 Sources: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; and University of Michigan
Periwinkle or Sailor’s Button (catharanthus roseus)
Originating in Madagascar and widely introduced into warm parts of the world by the end of 18th century, this species has been naturalized in tropical and subtropical areas worldwide. Cultivated for hundreds of years it can be found growing wild in most warm regions of the world, including the Southern U.S. You may find these throughout the grounds at Barefoot Beach Preserve. The generic name is from the Greek Katharos, meaning “pure,” and anthos, meaning “flower.” The species name is from the Latin word meaning “rosy” or “pale pink,” in reference to the most common color of the flowers. This plant has also been known as Vinca rosea and Lochnera rosea.
The blooms of wild plants may be a pale pink with a purple “eye” in their centers or they may be white. Horticulturists have developed varieties with colors ranging from white to hot pink to purple. You will see both the pink with purple eye and the all white varieties in the Preserve, where it flowers almost year-round due to our temperate climate. It has an inconspicuous fruit pod that splits open when ripe, spilling out its small, black seeds. It is self-cultivating once started.
This erect bushy herb grows up to two feet tall. Its shiny elliptical, green opposite leaves have a lighter midrib and almost no petiole (leafstalk). It is a perennial, evergreen herb in the dogbane family (Apocynaceae). It grows in dry sandy soils and will tolerate slight salt air near the coast. The plant requires full sun and has a long growing period. It is an early colonizer on disturbed sites and along roadsides. This is another plant that is good to use in the home landscape, as it thrives on very little water.
The Periwinkle had a reputation as a magic plant; Europeans thought it could ward off evil spirits, and the French referred to it as “violet of the sorcerers.” It got the name “Sailor’s Button” because sailors thought it had magical properties, it looked like a button—and sailors carried them on ships to have these magical plants near. It is thought that is how it was distributed worldwide so long ago.
The Periwinkle plant has historically been used throughout the Caribbean to treat a wide assortment of diseases. In Europe, it was used as a folk remedy for diabetes for centuries. In India, juice from the leaves was used to treat wasp stings and other insect bites. During the 1950’s Western researchers finally noticed the Periwinkle when they learned of a tea Jamaicans were drinking to treat diabetes. They discovered the plant contains at least 70 useful alkaloids—this plant is now considered the “mother load” by many scientists! Perhaps it is a magical plant! Scientists have confirmed that some of the alkaloids are useful in lowering blood sugar, others lower blood pressure, others act as hemostatics (arrests bleeding), and at least two of the alkaloids have anti-cancer properties. These plants also contain alkaloids which are powerful tranquilizers. Because many of the alkaloids in this plant can have serious side effects, it is not recommended that people attempt to medicate themselves with Periwinkles. Caution: May cause serious side effects, poisoning, and possibly death if used inappropriately.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20091221 Resources: University of Florida, University of Texas, and Poisonous Plants and Animals of Florida and the Caribbean
Established in 1990, Barefoot Beach Preserve is one of the few remaining stretches of an undeveloped portion of a barrier island on the southwest coast of Florida. Barefoot Beach Preserve has 186 acres owned by Collier County and 156 acres owned by the state of Florida, for a total of 342 acres managed by the department of Collier County Parks and Recreation. Barefoot Beach Preserve is on Little Hickory Island—a barrier island, an island in motion, made of sand and shaped by the wind, tides, waves, and currents. This narrow strip of land acts as a barrier, protecting the mainland from coastal storm wind and water. There are over 150 documented species of plants in the five distinct plant communities at Barefoot Beach Preserve:
- Pioneer zone: The wave-deposited upper beach area is sparsely populated with pioneer species. This pioneer zone is created from sand piled up by the winds and waves. This area helps protect our fragile island while providing important habitat for many shorebirds and other creatures. Plants in this area must tolerate high concentrations of salt air, salt water over-wash, and strong winds. Here you will find vegetation such as railroad vine, inkberry, seaoats, seashore dropseed, and sandspurs.
- Foredune: East of the pioneer zone starts the foredune community where you find low bushes emerging such as beech creeper and beach ambrosia; vines like bay bean; and the start of sea grapes. Seaoats form distinctive clusters or a band along the upper portion of the foredune. Plants in this area must tolerate high concentrations of salt air and winds.
- Coastal Strand: Behind the foredune lies the coastal strand, a shrub community that includes plants such as lantana, prickly pear cactus, necklace pod, and sea grapes. The sandy, well-drained soils provide an ideal habitat for the protected Gopher tortoise. Plants in this area must be drought tolerant, like to live in sandy areas with little nutrition in the soil, and tolerate some salt air and winds.
- Maritime Hammock: The most diverse vegetative community in the Preserve is the maritime hammock, located in the zone between the coastal strand and the tidal swamp. Here you will find plants such as sabal palms, gumbo limbo, myrsine, snowberry, Florida privet, and a continuation of sea grapes. You will also see vines such as poison ivy and green brier and air plants like ball moss. Plants in this area must be drought tolerant and like sandy soils with little nutrition. They may be somewhat tolerate of some salt air, however, are protected from much of the salt air by the coastal strand.
- Tidal Swamp (Estuarine Mangrove Forest): Separating this barrier island from the mainland is the tidal swamp/estuarine mangrove forest. Estuaries, where fresh and salt water meet and mix, are some of the most productive communities on earth—called “Cradle of the Sea.” The tidal swamp is a basin forest, dominated by three species of mangroves: red mangrove, black mangrove, and white mangrove. Due to the tidal fluctuations, plants found here must have a high tolerance of salt water. This community is the dominant vegetation in the eastern two thirds of the Preserve.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20100222 Resources: Barefoot Beach Preserve Land Management Plan and FMN Coastal Manual
Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)
Poison Ivy is perhaps one of the most common native woody vines occurring in all states east of the Rockies. It is in the Anacardiaceae (Sumac) family. This family includes the Mango, Pistachio, and the Cashew. It was formerly called Rhus radicans.
Poison Ivy is extremely variable in form, occurring as a ground cover along roadsides, an erect shrub (especially in sandy coastal areas), or a vine on trees. The alternate leaves have rather long stalks and are palmately compound (the leaflets radiate outward from a center point, like the fingers on your hand). The end leaflet is longer stalked than the side pair. The three leaflets are about 2″ to 4″ in length. The old vine stems are covered with fibrous roots that look hairy and you may see these stems without any leaves present. In spring to mid summer, the off-white with a yellowish to greenish tinge flowers appear in loose clusters from the leaf axils. The flowers have five petals and are about 1/8″ diameter.
In the photo at the upper right, you can see the reddish emerging leaves along with some fruit just forming. The round, off-white fruits also have a yellowish or greenish tinge, are about ¼ inch in diameter, and ripen in late summer through late fall—about the same time the leaves turn bright red, providing a cue to the many birds that feed on the fruits. Look for these bright red leaves as you walk in the Preserve. The red leaves are even more evident since the cold weather. The leaves fall off the plant if temperatures drop below freezing, so you may see a few single, dangling leaves, instead of three. However, the fruits remain on the plants through the winter.
Remember the old adage: “Leaves of three let them be.” This is a plant that causes many people to have allergies when coming into contact. It isn’t just the leaves—all parts of the plant may cause severe skin irritation in people that are sensitive. Those with severe allergies may only have to be in the general area to be affected. Although humans have a problem with it, the plant serves as a food source for much wildlife. Fruits are eaten by many birds and gopher tortoises enjoy the leaves. New shoots sprout from existing roots, from rhizomes (underground stems that help stabilize the soil), from climbing vines, and of course, from seed. They take advantage of plants around them to climb, using wild coffee, green brier, palms, or other plants. Look closely as you walk through the Preserve to find these cunning plants that hide among others.
Where there are forest fires, Poison Ivy may be top-killed during a fire. The fruits also may be killed along with aerial stems; however surviving rhizomes and root crowns will sprout to establish new stands. Ask a fire-fighter about fuel ladders. Climbing vines such as Poison Ivy form fuel ladders and may cause flare-ups in a forest fire. The compound that causes allergic reactions is urushiol, which can be carried by particles of soot when the plant is burned. Inhaling smoke filled with these particles may cause severe respiratory problems.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20100124 Source: USDA, Duke University, US Forest Service
Prickly Pear Cactus (Oppuntia stricta)
The Coastal Prickly Pear Cactus (Oppuntia stricta) is also known as erect prickly pear or shell-mound prickly pear cactus. It is the only type natively found to grow along the coastal dunes of Florida, the South Atlantic, and Gulf regions of the United States. There are over 200 other varieties of prickly pear cacti found in abundance in the West and Southwest United States that look very similar to our native species.
It has beautiful yellow flowers in the late spring. The plant will bloom over a period of several weeks; however, the individual flowers usually only last one day. After flowering, it produces a pear shaped fruit. This showy fruit may reach 2 to 3 inches long and is red to purple at maturity in mid to late summer. Watch for the fruit throughout the Preserve now.
This plant likes well-drained, sandy soils. It forms irregular clusters or shrub-like mounds that may reach over 10 feet tall. The pads are inconspicuous and are often thought of as leaves. These pads are actually modified “stems” and reach a length of 2 to 6 inches. Stem sections remain green with age and are covered with 3-inch long spines. It also has extremely small spines (glochids) located in the numerous areoles. Areoles appear as small bumps on the pads, out of which grow clusters of spines—as seen in the photo of the young stem to the left. The areoles or buds represent highly specialized branches on cacti. It is believed that over time the leaves of cacti evolved and changed into spines. Thus, the branches became reduced to buds which give rise to the spines. As cacti adapted, the branches and leaves were converted into areoles and spines to protect the plants in dry climates and to reduce water loss.
Long ago, the cactus fruits were highly prized and traded by indigenous tribes. The fruit may be eaten and the seeds of the fruit can be roasted or dried and ground for flour. Native Americans used the pads to poultice bruises and dress wounds. The fruit is said to have a reducing effect on hangovers and the gel-like sap of the pads can be used as hair conditioner. Early ranchers would burn the spines off the pads and feed it to their cattle. You can also find these pads sold in some local stores. As a vegetable, the pads can be used in salads, casseroles, and soups, or grilled and prepared in a variety of other ways. They are somewhat tart and have a green bean- or asparagus-like flavor and said to be good diced and scrambled with eggs. Be sure to peel the outside skin off fruit and pads before you eat it, because it has those very small hair-like spines that could do a number on your lips and mouth—as well as your fingers if you do not use protection. It is suggested to use tongs and a knife when handling, instead of wearing gloves, as the small hair-like spines can stick in gloves and be transferred elsewhere.
In the photo to the right, you see the reddish fruit and the long spines of an older plant that is near Lucy’s burrow. The pads, flowers, and fruit are eaten by gopher tortoises and the plant is frequently found near burrows in the Preserve.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist References: USDA University of Florida
Railroad Vine or Goats Foot (Ipomoea pes-caprae)
The Railroad Vine is a beautiful evergreen plant. It is currently in full bloom along the Preserve’s dune fronts right now. Although it can bloom throughout the year, it is now at its peak blooming season. This vine is found on beaches and dunes throughout Florida.
The Railroad Vine or Goats Foot sometimes has been called the beach morning glory. However, the name, “beach morning glory” usually refers to a species with white flowers that also grows on some beaches (Ipomea imperati). There are over 500 species of morning glories.
This plant is a great dune stabilizer and is one of the primary dune colonizers or pioneering species. Its common name of railroad vine can be attributed to its ability to send out “tracks” of stolons up to 100 feet long. Stolons are similar to stems except they produce roots at the nodes and run horizontally (like railroad tracks) rather than vertically. The roots at the nodes can be over 10 feet long and the taproots can go up to 3 feet deep. This low vine usually gets no more than 16 inches high. It has been known to form a dense groundcover on dunes. This vine can thrive in nutrient-poor, sandy soils and has a high tolerance of saltwater spray and drought. It helps stabilize the dunes by rooting at nodes all along its length. Amazing how it knows to only grow down to the high tide line! The leaf is simple, alternately arranged, dark green and leathery. They are glabrous (smooth, hairless) and can grow up to 6 inches in length. The leaves are two lobed and have a clef apex, making them resemble a goat’s footprint. Sometimes, you may notice that the leaf folds nearly in half, almost closing to lessen evaporation.
The beautiful funnel-shaped flowers are a pinkish-lavender, with a deeper lavender star forming at the center of the corolla. The flower has five sympetalous (united or fused together) petals. The flowers open only once and are usually open from the late evening until mid-morning. They appear their best in early morning. By midafternoon most flowers will have folded and faded. Although the flowers have little to no fragrance, the large nectarines in the showy flowers attract insects to assist in cross pollination. Primary pollinators include bees, butterflies, and even ants.
After flowering, a small round fruit appears and splits open when it matures, to reveal four velvety, dark brown seeds. The seeds are unaffected by saltwater and may drift to be washed up on another beach. The seeds must be abraded (scratched) by sand or otherwise scarified before they will germinate—just what the surf ordered. Propagation is by seeds or cuttings.
The leaves and stems exude a white sap that may be a chemical protection against insect pests and grazing animals. It is said the Carib Indians used railroad vine in ritual baths to alleviate evil spells. The juice from the leaves has been used to treat jellyfish stings. Head for the beach and look for these beautiful plants on the dunes!
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist Resources: University of Florida, Floridata, and USDA
Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)
The Ruddy Turnstone is another bird that was reclassified by the American Ornithological Union (AOU). It is now classified in the Sandpiper family Scolopacidae but was formerly placed in the Plover family. DNA basing a change!
Some people ask how so many different birds can feed at the surf’s edge and have enough to eat. Take a closer look at all those birds…some have short bills and/or short legs…they stay in the shallower areas. Others have longer legs and/or longer bills…they can go into deeper water or forage deeper in the sand. Isn’t it amazing how nature provides for the different creatures in different ways? When walking the beach this spring, pause and ponder the virtues of stranded seaweed. Those scattered clumps along the hightide line actually have a name – beach wrack – and are a pivotal part of the beach ecosystem. Although the Ruddy Turnstone does forage in the shallow surf, it also may be found at the wrack line seeking out food in parchment worm casings, picking through shells, searching seaweed and even turning stones where they may find invertebrates. Therefore, their common name: Ruddy (for the color) and Turnstone (for turning stones over to find food).
Ruddy Turnstone is a fairly small stocky bird, being 8 – 9 inches long with a wingspan of about 20 inches. These shorebirds have a dark wedge-shaped bill that is slightly upturned. It has short legs (about 1.4 inches) that are a bright orange. The back, wings, and head are a dark gray-brown and black mottling, with a dark bib-like chest patch. The belly and rump are white. It winters in our area and returns far north for breeding in the summer. As you can see from the map from Cornell Lab of Ornithology below left, the Ruddy Turnstones have a long migration. They can survive in a wide range of habitats and climatic conditions from Arctic to tropical. The typical breeding habitat is open tundra with water nearby. Outside the breeding season, it is found along coasts, particularly on rocky or stony shores. It may venture onto open grassy areas near the coast. Small numbers sometimes turn up on inland wetlands, especially during the spring and autumn migrations. These birds often return to particular sites year after year. Because they breed in the northern climes, we do not usually see their peak breeding plumage with brilliant ruddy upper parts and the unique black and white patchwork on the face.
Ruddy Turnstones are able to breed when two years old. Their average lifespan is about 9 years. It is a monogamous bird and pairs may remain together for more than one breeding season. During courtship, the males make nest-like scrapes on the ground, but the female constructs the actual nest, often lining the scrape with leaves. Several pairs may nest close together. A single clutch of two to five eggs is laid. The eggs are smooth, slightly glossy and oval to pear-shaped. Eggs are variable in color but are commonly pale green-brown with dark brown markings. Incubation lasts for about 22–24 days. The female is mainly responsible for incubating the eggs but the male may help towards the end. The young birds are able to leave the nest soon after hatching. They are able to feed themselves early on but are protected by the parents, particularly the male. They fledge after 19–21 days.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20100412 Sources: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; USGS; and FWC
Sabal Palm (Sabal palmetto)
Sabal Palm is the Florida State Tree. It was often referred to as the “tree of life” by Native Americans, because it provided food, shelter, and clothing.
In mid-summer sabal palms bear clusters of individually small, creamy white flowers borne in conspicuous, long-stalked, often drooping clusters held completely within the crown. Throughout the preserve sabal palms are currently in full bloom, full of fragrance and full of bees. As you can see in the photo to the left, the flowers are very small on the long stems—just compare the small flowers to the size of the bee in the photo. The nectar is a good source for bees as well as butterflies.
The black berries which follow flowering are a critical food source for a variety of birds and small mammals. The berries are edible with a sweet taste like prunes—and similar effects for humans. Berries have a single seed. Indigenous people gathered and ground dried seeds into meal to make bread. This was referred to as a famine food and usually eaten when other foods were not available. Dried seeds were easily transported and had a long shelf life. Early indigenous people and later settlers were known to harvest the large leaf buds from the top of this plant. It is said to have the look and taste of cabbage and that is why it is also called cabbage palm; however, removing this bud kills the tree and should not be attempted today. Many other uses of this tree are documented such as: pilings for wharfs, because they resist attacks by seaworms; vessels for carrying water, made from hollowed out trunks; table tops from polished trunk cross-sections; scrub brushes from the bark fibers and leaf sheaths; and logs for cribbing in early fortifications because they did not produce lethal splinters when struck by cannon-balls. Fish nets and clothing were made from fibers found on leaves and in the leaf bases (boots).
Age and growth rates of sabal palm have been studied by the University of Florida, and preliminary results indicate some startling news: under average conditions in the wild, plants require ten to fifteen years or more from seed to the first sign of a trunk at ground level; thereafter, trunks will grow about six inches per year. This means that a sabal palm with 20 feet of trunk is at least 50 years old! These trees may get over 65 feet tall. This palm actually obtains most of its girth before it starts its main growth upward. The sabal palm is remarkably resistant to fire, floods, coastal conditions, cold, high winds and drought.
Organic debris often collects in the leaf bases (boots). It is not uncommon to see a sabal palm transformed into a hanging garden of ferns and other plants. The boots play host to many interesting species like golden polypody ferns, orchids, ball moss, resurrection ferns, and strangler fig. The boots will drop off naturally because of weathering or wear from animals climbing up and down over time. Landscapers will often strip the boots from the trees in residential areas to help prevent the trees from harboring critters near homes. Green fronds are the palm’s source of nutrients. Cutting green fronds stunts growth, invites disease, and reduces the palm’s natural resilience to high winds. Harsh pruning takes away food and shelter from native and migratory songbirds, woodpeckers, butterflies, honey bees, tree frogs, bats, anoles, squirrels, and other wildlife.
Trivia Note: Florida was and is still known for being a large cattle producing state. Back in the early ranching days, cowboys would use a leaf base from an old frond to help pull their boots off. Could this be why the leaf base is called a “boot”?
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist References: US Forest Service and University of Florida
In walking the beach the last few weeks, I’ve noticed numerous types of seaweed and grasses washed ashore. Seaweeds are algae that live in the sea or in brackish water. After last week’s notes on the sea turtle and finding that the young rush to the Gulf to float in the sargassum, I wanted to find out more about sargassum and what is now showing up on our shores. Sargassum is a brown macroalgae. Numerous species are distributed throughout the temperate and tropical oceans of the world, where they generally inhabit shallow water and coral reefs. However, the genus may be best known for its planktonic (free-floating) species. The berry-like structures are gas-filled bladders, which provide buoyancy to the plants. Any number of the normally benthic (bottom) species may take on a free-floating, often pelagic existence, after being removed from reefs during rough weather. (Water in the sea that is not close to the bottom is in the pelagic zone.) The algae are named for the Atlantic Ocean’s Sargasso Sea, which hosts a large amount and several species of Sargassum. We definitely have types of sargassum in the local area.
Nature is very interesting: Many types of seaweed, including sargassum, begins to develop dense patches in the western Gulf of Mexico in March and April and moves eastward through the spring and early summer. By July there are patches in the Gulf Stream that have left the Gulf of Mexico via the loop current around the Florida Panhandle (see map below). This coincides with the hatching of sea turtles that may be calling these sargassum beds home. This week, Barefoot Beach had patches of seaweed on shore and in the water, just in time for the turtles to hatch! Yes…first sea turtle nest were laid on Barefoot nearly 60 days ago!
It is believed that after hatching, young loggerhead sea turtles use currents, such as the Florida Loop and the Gulf Stream to travel to the Sargasso Sea, where they use the Sargassum as cover from predation, foraging habitat, or migratory pathways. The NOAA map to the right shows the Florida Loop current in the Gulf of Mexico, which then joins the Gulf Stream on the east coast of Florida. See NOAA for additional info on this seasonally changing loop.
Sargassum is commercially harvested for many purposes, including the feed supplement industry—at one time without any regulation. The mats of vegetation provide crucial habitat for a wide variety of marine animals in the open ocean, including economically important species such as tuna, dolphin, wahoo and billfish, as well as sea turtles and marine birds. The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) was instrumental in passing regulations for management of this off-shore habitat from Florida to North Carolina. A Fishery Management Plan for Pelagic Sargassum Habitat in the South Atlantic Region was approved in 2003 and implemented firm restrictions on commercial harvest of this important habitat. The plan includes strong limitations on commercial harvest. It limits harvest to November through June to protect turtles, requires observers onboard any vessel harvesting Sargassum, and prohibits any harvest within 100 miles of shore—all to protect this crucial habitat.
Did you ever think seaweed (algae) could have such a positive impact on sea turtles and other marine life?
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist References: www.Miami.edu, www.fws.gov, and www.safmc.net
From all of the marked nests on the beach, I’m sure everyone is aware that it is “Turtle Nesting” season. The season starts in May and runs through October each year. Of the seven species of sea turtles in the world, five may be found in Florida waters. Of these five, three nest in Florida: the loggerhead, green, and leatherback. The loggerhead nests the most in our area, although there is an occasional green turtle nest. We hear the most about the females, because once the turtles hatch, only females come back to shore to nest, usually to the same beach where they were born. Males may linger offshore shore to mate with the females, but never return to shore.
The loggerhead (Caretta caretta) is listed as a threatened species under the Federal Endangered Species Act. It is named for its large, block-like head, which can be 10 inches wide. Its powerful jaws can crush the thick-shelled clams, conchs, crabs, and encrusting animals that it eats. Loggerheads reach sexual maturity between 12-30 years and can live up to 70 or more years. Very few hatchlings survive to this age. It is estimated that about one in a thousand hatchlings survive to adulthood. Adults can grow over 3 feet long and weigh 200 to 350 pounds and hatchlings weigh about one ounce and are just 2 inches long.
Late at night, the female drags her massive body from the water to somewhere between the rack line and the dunes. She actually leaves alternating flipper tracks that lets us know she has been there and is a loggerhead. (For detailed information to identify specific crawl tracks, checkout the following link: research.myfwc.com/images/articles/31770/crawl_identification_guidelines.pdf.) She uses her flippers to create a body pit and dig an egg cavity to deposit 80-120 rubbery eggs the size of ping-pong balls. After burying the eggs, the turtle disguises the nest by flinging sand over it. Once she leaves the nest, she never returns. Females nest every 2-3 years and will lay 4 to 7 nests per season. Nest temperatures during incubation determine a sea turtle’s sex—cooler for males and warmer for females.
Barefoot’s first nests this season will be hatching soon. After incubating for about 60 days, the hatchlings break out of their egg shells and thrash about together, causing walls of the nest to collapse and the bottom of the hole to rise. Once near the surface, the hatchlings wait until the sand temperature cools to emerge as a group—usually after dark. The young turtles instinctually seek the water by looking for natural light reflecting off the water and swim offshore where they will live for several years in beds of drifting algae such as sargassum, feeding on whatever they find drifting with them. As the sea turtles grow older they move to inshore feeding grounds where they spend the rest of their pre-adult lives.
Collier County Parks & Recreation Department monitors sea turtle nests on 23.7 miles of beach, including Barefoot. This is part of an ongoing statewide nesting sea turtle population study. There are patrols on the beaches every morning, before anyone arrives. Patrols mark each nest with stakes and warning tape and, if necessary, cover with a metal screen to protect it from predators, such as raccoons. Visitors should stay at least 10 feet away from marked areas. After nests hatch, the patrols excavate the nest to determine how many hatchlings emerged from the nest by counting the number of hatched egg casings in relation to the total number of eggs in the nest.
If you see an injured, dead, or nesting sea turtle, call a Ranger immediately. Please stay back from any nesting turtles, so they are not frightened back into the water before completing laying eggs.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist Reference: Florida Fish and Wildlife
Seagrape (Coccoloba uvifera)
The Seagrape is an evergreen native to South Florida and ranges from a low-branching shrub to a sprawling tree. It is found near the coastal hammocks and dunes throughout the Preserve. Away from the dune areas, it can get over 30 feet tall. This tree is also native to coastal regions of the tropical Americas and West Indies. It is in the Buckwheat family. The Seagrape is one of the first plants to colonize sand dunes and is a great soil stabilizer. It is a very drought-resistant and salt-tolerant plant. It thrives in well-drained, sandy soils in full sun, often forming dense thickets on sand dunes. The thickets serve as wind buffers during storms. There are male and female trees. This plant is often used in home and commercial landscapes as shrubs or specimen trees throughout South Florida.
The Seagrape has large leathery, alternate leaves that can be up to 10 inches in diameter. They are roundish (a little longer than wide), with a colorful primary vein that is red extending from the base. New leaves are very shiny and a bronzy-green. The entire leaf turns red when it ages then drops off the tree. This happens throughout the year— not just in the fall. The Seagrape begins to flower and fruit when it is between 6 and 8 years old. During the spring, very small greenish-white flowers appear in clusters on stems up to 6 inches long. There are male and female flowers—each flowering on respective trees. Bees and butterflies love to help pollinate these fragrant flowers.
In late summer, the female trees bear velvety, green fruit in long, grape-like clusters that ripen to a luscious purplish toward the end of summer. The fruit ripens individually and not as a cluster. In fact, you may see these ripening throughout the Preserve now. If you have a keen nose, you will smell the sweet, ripe grapes. As they get very ripe and drop off, you will start to smell something more like a strong wine when approaching an area with a lot of droppings. The grapes are about ¾ inch round and have a single seed inside. The grapes are attractive to raccoons, birds, and gopher tortoises throughout the Preserve. Although fruit is produced only on female trees, a male tree must be present for pollination to produce fruit.
When ripe, the edible grapes are sweet to eat raw and can make good jelly—said to taste like apples. They have also been used to make wine. Leaves were once used as paper and as plates. Native Americans and early settlers used the trees as “message” boards—scratching messages on leaves for others that came along the trail. A message remains on the leaf until the leaf falls off the tree—up to a year later. Leaves, roots, and bark were each used to make a tea to treat asthma and hoarseness in traditional medicine in Puerto Rico and elsewhere in the Caribbean. It is said eating a few ripe Seagrapes may ease an upset stomach. Currently, it is being studied as a treatment for diabetes and cancer.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist Resources: USDA and University of Florida
Have you been walking along the beach lately and noticed the white stuff in drifts near the high-tide line that looks like dried, fluffy pasta? Well, it is actually dried manatee grass. The picture to the right shows some of the dried manatee grass, along with some turtle grass. Below is some information on major seagrasses that you may see in local waters—and sometimes washed up on shore.
Seagrasses are not “true” grasses, but are plants evolved from land-based ancestors that adapted to life in water. They are flowering plants that grow submerged in shallow estuarine (brackish) and marine environments. There are sixty species found worldwide, but only seven are found in Florida waters. Of the seven species found in Florida’s waters, three are most common: turtle grass (Thalassia testudinum), manatee grass (Syringodium filiforme), and shoal grass (Halodule wrightii),
Turtle grass is the largest and most abundant species found in Florida. Turtle grass meadows are considered to be the mature or “climax” species, existing in an area indefinitely unless environmental conditions change. The plant itself has a deep root and rhizome system and its broad flat leaves can be up to a foot in length and ½ inch wide. Turtle grasses are not tolerant of freshwater or being exposed at low tide for long periods.
Manatee grass often grows among other seagrasses, especially turtle grass, with its thick root and rhizome system forming dense mats on muddy and sandy bottoms. This species is easy to recognize because its leaves are cylindrical like the whiskers of a manatee. The shape of the leaves, which reach up to 20 inches in length, may help protect the plant in strong currents.
Shoal grass is the plant most tolerant of changing conditions and grows in water that is too shallow for most other seagrasses. The plant’s flat, narrow blades grow to maximum lengths of 4-6 inches by 0.1 inch wide, and are tolerant of being exposed at low tide and of freshwater inputs from nearby land areas. Shoal grass bears some resemblance to turtle grass, but has a much narrower blade. Shoal grass is a relatively fast-growing species that colonizes barren sandy areas in quiet waters.
Seagrasses are important for a number of reasons:
- Support recreational and commercial fishing and shellfishing
- Habitat and feeding grounds for endangered manatees and green sea turtles
- Nursery for tiny crustaceans and young fish that find shelter and food there in the early stages of life
- Birds such as pelicans, terns, and wading birds also forage in the grassbeds
- Promote water clarity by trapping sediments
- Roots and rhizomes help stabilize bottom sediments
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20090625 References: Seagrass Outreach Partnership
Snowberry (Chiococca alba)
The Snowberry is native to South Florida and thrives throughout the Bahamas and West Indies, where it is referred to as Milkberry. The low scrambling shrub can reach a height of 10 feet, if given a support to climb upon.
The Snowberry is a shrub that needs a partially-shady to sunny location and welldrained soil. It will grow well on sandy loam soils and can tolerate dry conditions. This plant can be found in or near coastal areas throughout Florida and will usually survive without care. Grown in yards, this plant may be used as a mounding specimen and would also do well on a trellis.
The ovate evergreen leaves of the Snowberry are leathery, shiny, and dark green in color. The undersides of the leaves are a duller, lighter green.
The tiny, delicate yellow, bell-shaped flowers are about onehalf an inch long, fragrant, and display in clusters. Although a very showy flower, they are actually partially concealed under the leaves. These are currently blooming in the Preserve. Look on the north side of boardwalk in front of the Learning Center or between parking area 2 and 3 on the west side.
Snowy white berries are about one-quarter of an inch in diameter and are also in clusters. The common name used for this shrub refers to the ovoid, sparkling white berries that follow the delightful flowers. Flowers and fruit may appear several times during the year, due to the semi-tropical weather found in the Preserve. They are an important food source for wild animals, and birds.
In herbal medicine, the roots of Snowberry have been used as a purgative, diuretic, and anti-diarrhetic. Remedy is potent and caution is advised. One of the most interesting remedies was to inhibit alcoholics from drinking. Chopped root was placed in rum, vodka, or gin and soaked in the sun for five days. Patients would take one ounce daily until the mixture was gone. Apparently, they would vomit violently after each drinking session and the smell of alcohol would make them nauseous for years! Again, remedy is potent so take caution.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist References: US Forest Service 20090824 USDA
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)
The Snowy Egret has made a great comeback since entire colonies were decimated for plume trade at the turn of the 20th century. It is said that the plumes per ounce were more valuable than gold per ounce back then. The beautiful, lacey “breeding” plumes were in demand to adorn hats for ladies of fashion at that time. In Florida, the Snowy is listed as a species of special concern. Its range extends throughout the continental USA from northern California to Maine, south to Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, and into South America.
This is a medium-size, all-white wading bird, getting 20 – 24 inches long, with a wingspan of 38 inches. Amazingly, it only weighs about 13 ounces! It has long, thin neck, bill, and legs. Its bill is black with a bright yellow, fleshy base, and the yellow extends back to the lores and eyes. In adults, the legs are black and feet are bright yellow. Remember Ranger Jim’s saying: “It has black stockings with yellow slippers.” The immature ones have dark greenish legs that sometimes have a yellow streak on the back. During breeding-season adults have prominent plumes on shoulders, neck, and head. Most often, it is confused with the immature Little Blue Heron that is white before changing to its blue feathers. When in doubt, notice the bill and feet…the Little Blue’s bill is not a solid black like the Snowy that has an allblack bill and has those yellow feet.
We see the Snowy year-round in our area. However, numbers swell in the winter because Florida is a host to many wintering birds from other areas that come for the breeding season from January through August (Stevenson and Anderson 1994). It breeds in colonies mostly in the central and southern peninsula. During breeding season is when you see the beautiful plumes. Its nests are found in mixed colonies with other species nesting in areas such as swamps and mangroves islands. The nests are usually made from twigs upon branches of trees or bushes, usually no greater than 30 feet above the ground or water. The eggs are a blue-green and laid in a clutch of 3-5. Eggs are incubated by both adults. They hatch in about 18 days and hop about on branches near the nest before fledging at about 25 days. In order to prevent disturbing nests, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP have developed setback distances of 330 feet around wading bird colonies.
FWC shows that Snowy Egrets occupy much of their historic range and previously unreported colonies have been found in the Panhandle of Florida. Since the late 1970’s, Snowy Egrets appear to be declining dramatically as a breeding bird. Between statewide surveys in 1976-78 and 1986-89, there was a reduction from more than 51,000 breeding birds to just over 14,000, a 73% decline (Nesbitt et al. 1982; Runde et al. 1991). Probable causes of this decline are the loss and degradation of wetlands statewide, particularly in the coastal zone and the southern half of the state.
The Snowy Egret forages in both freshwater and saltwater habitats, where it often actively pursues its prey. Its diet is chiefly small fish, but it will take shrimp and small vertebrates. It is known to shuffle its yellow feet to stir up prey. They have been seen flying low and dipping toes into the water, as if trolling for fish. They will also hover and then drop to the water to catch prey in their bills. Another place you see them, especially at Barefoot, is near fishermen. The Snowy seems to know those bait buckets hold shrimp and five-gallon pails may have freshly caught fish. As always, it is illegal to feed wildlife–please keep it wild!
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20100419 Sources: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, (Happy 19th Birthday to my granddaughter in Iraq) Florida Natural Areas Inventory, and Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Spanish Bayonet (Yucca aloifolia)
The Spanish Bayonet is in the Yucca genus of the Agavaceae family, with stiff leaves that have fine serrated edges and needle-sharp tips. It is said that Native Americans were so skilled at utilizing these fibrous plants that they could peel back the fibers from the point and use as a needle and thread. It has an erect tree-like trunk that can get 5-20 feet tall and it is covered by the stiff, sharp evergreen leaves that can get up to 2 feet long. Spanish Bayonet may produce offshoots near the base of the trunk or may grow from seeds. It is a great sand stabilizer and windbreaker on dunes.
When it becomes top heavy, it will topple over and the tip will turn upward and continue to grow. The newer leaves near the growth tip stand erect, while older leaves turn downward and the oldest wither and turn brown, hanging around the lower trunk. It is a native to coastal areas from North Carolina to Mexico and the West Indies. It flourishes in sunny, sandy soils, in salt air, and is very drought tolerant. It will tolerate some shade, but does best in full sun. This is a nice plant for home use, just be sure to place it in non-traffic areas so it won’t harm people or pets.
Getting ready to send up its flower spike, the bud at right almost looks like a light-colored artichoke. During the spring and early summer, mature plants will send up a 2-foot long spike that produces fragrant, bell-shaped flowers in clusters along the spike. Each blossom is about 4 inches across. These white flowers—some with purple tinge—are edible and you may find these served in salads and sometimes battered and fried at many of the fine restaurants. Right now throughout the Preserve, you will find this plant starting to send out its flower spikes and later produce purplish fruit.
The fibrous leaves have been used in brooms, baskets, cordage, and weaving. During WWI, over 80 million pounds were used to make burlap sacks. It is a source of a steroid used as an anti-inflammatory drug. An extract from the stem is used as the foaming agent in root beer. A compound from the roots can be used to make soap.
Spanish Bayonet is in the same genus (Yucca) as Spanish Dagger (Yucca gloriosa), with which it is often confused. Spanish Dagger may be recognized by the more branched, interlaced habit which creates an overall mound-like appearance—and is thereby sometimes referred to as mound lily. The Spanish Dagger’s leaves are bluish-green, while the Spanish Bayonet is dark green; Spanish Dagger is less rigid and leaves tend to bend downward at the middle; and Spanish Dagger has smooth instead of serrated margins like the Spanish Bayonet shown at the right.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20100426 Sources: FloriData; and Seashore Plants of South Florida and the Caribbean by D.W. Nellis
Strangler Fig (Ficus aurea)
The Strangler Fig is a native to South Florida, the subtropics and tropics. It is a member of the Mulberry family. Strangler Figs flower almost continuously, producing small, spherical “fruits” which are eaten by birds. The birds then spread the seeds in their droppings. The seeds are sticky and may attach to a tree—often a cabbage palm such as the photo to the right—the green vine-like plant against the cabbage palm trunk is a young Strangler Fig. This particular Strangler Fig is only about a foot tall and is actually about 15 feet above the ground—you can see its tiny roots grasping the cabbage palm and heading to the ground. Look for this one in the Cabbage Palm near the flag pole at Barefoot Beach Preserve, as you head toward the Park Ranger’s office. Occasionally, seeds are dropped directly on the ground and grow as an individual tree. The tree provides habitat, food, and shelter for a host of wildlife. It is the larval host plant for ruddy daggerwing butterflies.
The fast-growing Strangler Fig can get over 60 feet tall and sends down aerial roots wrapped around its host, ultimately reaching the ground and may even engulf the host tree. It thrives in full sun, has a high drought tolerance, and will endure brackish water or occasional inundation by salt water. It has a very low tolerance for cold. As the roots enlarge, the Strangler Fig becomes self-supporting. In the tropics, the host tree may eventually be killed by shading from the profuse branches and leaves that rise above the host. In the end, the Strangler Fig becomes a tree itself as the host tree decomposes within the embrace of the strangler’s roots. Thus is derived its common name of Strangler Fig. However, being in the subtropics where occasional freezes kill back the Strangler Fig, they usually do not strangle or overtake trees in areas such as ours.
The simple, oval, alternate leaves shown in the photo to the right are a shiny dark green that are thick and leathery, about 4″ long and 2″ wide. Broken twigs exude a milky, sap that may cause a skin reaction in some people. The “fruits” occur in leaf axils near branch tips and turn from greenish-yellow to dark red when ripe, as shown in the photo to the below right. They are about a half-inch in diameter and are actually hollow, globular receptacles, each with hundreds of small fleshy flowers facing each other on the inside. They are pollinated by a tiny specialized wasp that enters the receptacle through a small opening. Each flower inside the receptacle then produces a tiny fruit containing seeds. The fruits are edible but you have to chew them a long time before you are comfortable to swallow them. A related Mexican name is chicle de monte, meaning gum bush. Is this where the name for Chiclets chewing gum came from? It is said that Native tribes made a poultice from the inner bark for treating sores and cuts. Reports imply usage of the aerial roots for making lashings, arrows, and fishing lines. Native peoples also used the milky sap (latex) as paint.
Among several nonnative figs in the genus of Ficus, there are only two natives inhabiting South Florida and the Keys: Ficus aurea and Ficus citrifolia. The Florida native Ficus citrifolia is known as the Shortleaf Fig. Although similar in appearance to the Strangler Fig, its fruits are on the end of relatively long stalks, unlike the sessile fruits of the Strangler Fig. The Shortleaf Fig is not as common as the Strangler but is usually found in similar habitats. Only Ficus aurea has been verified to be at Barefoot Beach Preserve.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20100111r Sources: US Forest Service; Trees of Florida; University of Florida; and Floridata
White Ibis (Eudocimus albus)
The White Ibis is a medium-long legged wading bird that frequents the Preserve year-round. You will usually see them in small groups. If you noticed the Ibises on the beach the last few weeks, you have seen them in their brightest colors. Their faces, bills, and legs are a vibrant red-orange, showing off their breeding plumage and their stark blue eyes. The red decurved (curves downward) bill blends into the face of breeding birds; non-breeding birds show a more pink to reddish face. Males and females are similar in color. Its range is usually throughout Florida and the Southeastern United States. Although present throughout the year in most of breeding range, banded birds from United States have been recovered in Mexico, Cuba, and northern South America. It may wander farther north and inland after the breeding season ends.
Their long decurved bills set them apart from other birds with white plumage. They frequent marshes and lawns, as well as beaches where they probe for food with their long bills in the sand near the surf’s edge. In marsh areas, you can see them in places like Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Their main diet is made up of fish and aquatic invertebrates (crayfish, crabs, insects, snails, marine worms) and, to a lesser degree, frogs, snakes, or lizards. They get up to 22 inches long with a wing span of 38 inches.
Juveniles have a brown head, neck, back, and wings with a white belly. They have a dull orange bill and facial skin, and their legs are dull. As they start to mature, they become a blotchy brown and white.
When in flight, their legs and neck are extended and you will see black wing tips on the adults. Look for them n the sky just after sunrise or before sunset as they are going in flocks to/from their rookeries. Breeding season varies and may begin in late-March and run through mid-May. In Florida, eggs have been found up to mid-August. White Ibis are monogamous and colonial, usually nesting in mixed colonies with other wading species such as egrets, and herons.
They build nests of twigs in trees such as mangroves in estuaries or other trees in marsh areas. The inside of the nest is often lined with green leaves and is a sturdier and more deeply cupped nest than most wading birds. Both male and female collect nesting materials; however, the female does most of the nest building. Their nests are usually the lower nest in colonies of multiple species of birds. The clutch is usually from 2 to 5 whitish to bluish eggs that have brownish speckling or irregular spots. It usually takes 21-23 days for the chicks to hatch. Both parents help incubate eggs. The chicks have fine down on head, neck, upper breast and wing, but the rest of the body is initially bare. The down on the head is black and is a smoky-brown on neck and wings. Their eyes are a light brown. The parents regurgitate food into their throat for the young to feed upon. The chicks take another 28-35 days to fledge. By 3 weeks they are venturing out on branches near their nest and by 5 weeks can fly.
The ancient Egyptians regarded their Ibis as sacred, because they believed Thoth (one of their Gods) occasionally came to earth and assumed the form of an Ibis. In America, the White Ibis was once hunted as food by Native Americans and early settlers. It is now protected by law and may not be harmed.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20100329 Sources: USGS; Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings by B. Harrison
White Indigoberry (Randia aculeate)
This is a native plant in regions from coastal south Florida, through the West Indies, and into parts of Central and South America. According to the University of Florida’s Cooperative Extension Service, this native plant has been rated by some as one of the best home landscape shrubs for the south Florida area and could be used as a specimen plant or trimmed into a hedge. Because this is a slow growing plant for nurseries, you may have to look extensively to find one for your yard.
It is an evergreen shrub with small, shiny, leathery leaves that cluster at the tips of branches. The undersides of the green leaves are lighter than the top sides. It can grow to 6 – 8 feet high, with the crown spread of 5 – 8 feet in diameter. The plant is supported by an extensive tap and lateral root system, which helps stabilize the surrounding soil and provides extraordinary support during high winds, such as tropical storms and hurricanes. The roots have a corky, ivory colored bark and are stiff and woody.
The trunks are thin and can appear leggy. In fact, this plant has also been known as the “fishing pole” tree, because its thin straight trunks were sometimes used to make fishing poles. The branches are opposite with gray bark that is smooth to slightly fissured. Some White Indigoberry are said to have spines, but not always. This plant likes welldrained sandy soils in full sun. It will tolerate partial shade and some salt spray. It can tolerate some cold, but not extreme freezing temperatures. You will find the White Indigoberry growing in unburned pinelands and along the margins of coastal hammocks. The easiest ones to spot at Barefoot Beach Preserve are located adjacent to the west side of the chickee hut— just off the west Saylor Trail. These are currently bearing fruit.
The leaves are nearly stalkless, entire, ovate, and less than two inches long. It produces small, white, single flowers with five petals that are fragrant. After flowering, the female plants have showy white fruits that give this plant its common name. The berry-like fruit has a brittle white hull with bluish-black (indigo) pulp. Each fruit has an average of 8 seeds inside; however can have up to 18. Reproduction may be from air-dried seed and you must be very patient, as it is very slow growing. It blooms and fruits irregularly throughout the year.
The small .5 to 1-inch fruits are edible although of poor flavor. It provides food and nesting sites for birds, as well as nectar for butterflies. The fruits are used in herbal medicine to control dysentery. University of Florida (Liogier 1990) indicated an unspecified part of the plant is used to control fever and the latex is reported to effectively stop bleeding.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20100229 Sources: US Forest Service and University of Florida
White Stopper (Eugenia axillaris)
The White Stopper is in the Myrtle family and can grow up to 25 feet tall. The White Stopper is one of the four varieties of Stoppers native to sandy coastal areas of South Florida. It is an evergreen, having small, shiny opposite leaves that emerge bright red turning a medium green several weeks later. The underside of the leaf is a lighter green, as shown in the photo below.
Stoppers grow well in a variety of light levels and they tolerate different types of well-drained soils. These plants are salt and drought tolerant.
Take a walk south from the second parking area and you will smell the sweet, fragrant flowers before you see them on the west side of the road. They have small clusters of white axillary flowers during the warm months. Once they start flowering, the petals don’t last long, so go soon to experience these at the Preserve.
After flowering, they produce small berries that ripen from white to red to black. The edible fruits are drupe-like, juicy berries that are globose or pear-shaped and very showy.
This plant is also said to have another aroma—from its leaves. It comes from the evaporation of volatile oils in the leaves and tends toward musky, not sweet. It has an organic, earthy, skunk-like smell. It has sometimes been referred to as the skunk tree because of this odor. I did not notice this aroma from these plants when I was by there the last few weeks. However, I have witnessed—or should I say smelled—this on one of the trails at the south end of the Preserve, just before you get to Wiggins Pass.
The strong straight limbs were used for bows and various items by indigenous people. In the Caribbean, it was used for roof rafters and animal traps. Medicinally, it was used to treat colds and diarrhea.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20090817 References: University of Florida
Wild Coffee (psychotria nervosa)
Wild Coffee is a native to Florida and is now blooming throughout the Preserve. There are several types of wild coffee in Florida. What we see at Barefoot is known as Shiny-Leafed Wild Coffee. This shrub can tolerate sun as well as shade; however, you will find the taller, fuller plants in shaded areas—which makes it an excellent understory shrub. The stems are covered with a bonecolored, smooth bark that is hairy in some variants. (Newer stems will be green.) The plants are drought tolerant; however, are very susceptible to temperatures below freezing.
Being so versatile, it is a nice native plant for home gardens. It can reach heights of 10-15 feet. The leaves are simple, oppositely arranged, and usually 6 inches long at maturity. The narrow spear-shaped leaves with conspicuous veins give an overall wrinkled appearance. Although the top of the leaves are shiny, the underside is a paler green and is dull instead of shiny. The picture at the left shows the back of the leave in the foreground, compared with rest of plant in background.
The delicate, tiny, tubular white flowers usually bloom during the warm months of the year. The flowers attract bees as well as butterflies, such as the Zebra Longwing (the Florida State butterfly). Be sure to take a walk around the preserve to see these tiny flowers while they are still in bloom.
In late summer and fall, the blooms will be followed by small berries that attract wildlife. At maturity, the fruits (drupes) are round, bright-red berries. The fruits are juicy, with little flavor. The fruits have two seeds within that resemble coffee beans and are an important food source for cardinals, catbirds, mockingbirds, blue jays, and other birds. If you look closely at the flowers above on the right, you will see a couple tiny, pale fruits forming, where the blooms have dropped from the stem.
Although it is related to Arabica coffee that you may drink each morning and Native Americans brewed wild coffee beans for ceremonies and medicinal purposes, this species is not recommended for human consumption. You may find publications that state this plant was used to treat various ailments, however, it bears repeating…it is not recommended for human consumption. The leaves and seeds of this plant contain alkaloids and, as its Latin name of psychotria nervosa suggests, it can cause adverse psychotic reactions. It does not affect birds that eat the berries, because the fruit digests and the seeds pass through undigested.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist References: USDA
Willet (Tringa semipalmata)
In 2006, the American Ornithological Union (AOU) made significant changes in the scientific nomenclature of several species of beach-nesting shorebird and seabird, including the Willet. It was previously listed in the family of Catoptrophorus which is the Plover family. It has been changed to the family of Scolopacinae (the Sandpiper family), genus of Tringa and is now referred to as Tringa semipalmata. When looking up information, you may want to search both names. Most birds of the Sandpiper family, winter in Florida and nest in the Arctic tundra. However, Willets are the only North American Sandpiper that nests in Florida. They range throughout North America and into the Caribbean. Although they usually inhabit coastal marshes and mudflats, they may be seen along beaches of Barefoot Beach Preserve year-round.
Some say the trill they make sounds like pill-will-willet, therefore, their common name. Adults are 13 – 16 inches long and the sexes look similar, although it is reported that the male is usually smaller than the female. This shorebird has long blue-gray legs and a long thick, straight bill. The bill is black or blue-gray with a darker tip. Its head, neck, back, and upper wings and breast are a brownish-gray, while its belly is white. Only in flight can you see its striking white wing pattern bordered in black. Breeding plumage is a deeper brown with more prominent barring. Immature Willet is similar to the adult, but more brownish and with light edges to back feathers.
Although there are no known Willet nests in our Preserve, these birds are ground nesters and usually nest during the spring and early summer months. According to Stevenson and Anderson (1994), breeding Willets inhabit “short-grass salt marshes and beaches where dunes rise above the high-tide line and are covered with clumps of beach grass (Panicum amarum) and sea oats (Uniola paniculata).” Willets sometimes nest on open beaches but, most often, the nest is carefully hidden in marsh grasses. The Willet is a semi-colonial breeder, in the sense that several pairs may nest closely together. Willets are secretive in their nesting habits. The adults, themselves, can be highly conspicuous. If you approach too closely to the nest, adults will harshly scold you from an elevated perch. However, observers rarely elicit this response since the nests are often well-hidden and out-of-the-way within dune and marsh vegetation. If you do find yourself face-to-face with a raucous Willet obviously displeased with your presence, you may have a nest nearby. Tread lightly! The birds lay 3 to 5 buff colored eggs that are spotted with brown. Incubation takes 22 to 29 days. Two to three weeks after the eggs hatch, the female leaves and the male cares for the young for another two weeks.
You can see Willets running in and out of the surf line while probing for food. They mainly feed on aquatic invertebrates and, rarely, fish. Fiddler crabs are a common food item. Other crabs, mollusks, crayfish, and insects make up the remainder of its diet.
Prepared by Sharon Truluck, Florida Master Naturalist 20100405 Sources: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Water Pimpernel (Samolus ebracteatus) It is found in wetlands, including seashore salt marshes, and near springs and intermittent rivers. Flowering spring-fall. Bright-green stems are erect or ascending. Leaves usually crowded near plant base. This perennial herb can...
Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) The palmate compound leaves (consisting of 5 leaflets) are quite distinctive, which makes Virginia Creeper easy to identify in the field. Virginia creeper blooms in the spring; the flowers are small, greenish white and...
Varnish Leaf (Dodonaea viscosa) This plant is native to Florida. The shiny green leaves have a varnished appearance that gives this plant its most widely used common name. The resinous coating is a protection against water loss. This allows the plants to be...
Sword Fern aka Wild Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exalta) Sword ferns typically grow near swamps and in tropical forests, on hammocks and along roadsides. This plant, also known as a wild Boston fern, became a popular indoor plant back in the Victoria era of the 19th...
Spanish Bayonet (Yucca aloifolia) Stiff, sharp-pointed, dagger-like leaves at stem tips. (They really hurt when you bump into the ends of the plant!) The points of these stems were used as needles. In late spring or early summer beautiful creamy white bell-shaped...
Strangler Fig (Ficus aurea) The roots of the strangler fig are often thought to be vines growing on a host tree, but Strangler Figs can grow like a normal tree from the ground up; they also may start high up in another tree, such as Cabbage Palm trees, and send roots...
Snowberry (Chioccoca pinetorum) The Snowberry is native to South Florida and thrives throughout the Bahamas and West Indies, where it is referred to as Milkberry. The low scrambling shrub can reach a height of 10 feet, if given a support to climb upon. The fragrant...
Shoestring Fern (Vittaria lineata) It is easy to see why this plant is called Shoestring fern. These ferns often grow in association with Golden Polypody Ferns on Sabal Palms. This plant is an epiphyte (a plant that grows on a host without harming it.) Like all ferns,...
Sevenyear Apple (Genipa clusiifolia) Fragrant star-shaped flowers with white, pink-tipped, pointed petals about 1 inch (2.54 cm) long are borne in groups on stalks mostly in the spring. The fruit is about 2 inches long. The fruit may hang in the tree for more than a...
Seaside Oxeye (Borrichia frutescens) Yellow flowers bloom most profusely in spring and summer. At maturity the flower heads turn down and disperse the abundant brown seeds. Birds and rodents consume the seeds. A tea prepared from leaves and branch tips is used as a...