It’s the time of year here in South Florida when all of our orchids are in bloom or are on the verge of blooming. I thought I’d share some photos of some of the flowers that have appeared so far on our lanai. It’s always a time of wonder here. Perhaps these images will brighten your day, too!
It’s hot as blazes out today and hot, sunny weather is expected through next week, which may be a good thing since UV rays kill viruses. But with America on quarantine, I am asking myself: what am I going to do for the next few weeks so that I don’t go stir crazy? And the answer seems to be to get out and do some yard work. The local tree-trimming company we’ve used is happy to drop off 11 cubic yards of mulch for free to the home that is closest to its last work stop of the day, and we are on the list to have that mountain delivered. It would be fantastic if it came during this nationwide stoppage.
Our yard most definitely needs lots more work. Hurricane Irma’s wrath whipped up enough water in this part of Florida to leave many yards at least partially submerged. Over two years later, many homeowners are still struggling to free their properties of all the weeds that washed in and never washed out. The most obvious invader at this time of year is “Florida snow” (aka Florida pusley and Mexican clover)—its little white flowers are everywhere. Our yard is no exception! It’s easy to remove when you find the main stem, and then you can just yank it up out of the ground with all its tentacles trailing after it. But when your yard is 90% Florida snow… well, if you choose to fight back, brace yourself—the flowers produce seeds rapidly, allowing “Florida snow” to spread uncontrollably.
Instead of fighting, we are strategizing ways to minimize its presence through the creation of a Florida-friendly landscape that relies on native plants and lots of mulch and pine straw. Regarding the “snow,” which is an invasive species, we are going with the flow and looking on the bright side: the plant’s flowers attract a ton of bees—so many bees, in fact, that I don’t dare walk across the grass in wide-bottomed trousers or a long skirt. And the flower itself is actually quite pretty. Don’t get me wrong—we are on a quest to slowly eliminate it. We are mulching over segments of our yard as we install all sorts of native plants. It’s the natives that easily grow and thrive here. Why plant species from elsewhere, as beautiful as they are, when they’ll require a lot of maintenance in the summer rainy season and lots of water in the dry winters?
Plus, water is expensive if you don’t have your own well, which we do not. And, of course, if you water your lawn in the winter to keep it green, you also have to mow it. We just go with Mother Nature’s flow and by doing so have only had to mow the lawn 3-4 times since September. That’s how dry it is and how slowly things grow this time of year.
Fortunately, we don’t live in an HOA-run community that makes homeowners keep their yards free of weeds. Having and maintaining a perfectly manicured grass lawn here is challenging. A chemical called Atrazine can be used to eliminate “Florida snow,” but who wants to use chemicals on their lawn especially given how sensitive Florida’s environment is? Fortunately, I’ve heard that someone in Tallahassee has introduced a bill prohibiting HOAs from banning the presence of “Florida snow” since it is so ubiquitous.
A tour of our front yard this past week alerted me to some more pretty little surprises, and before leaving you, I must point out the weed with the swirling pale-yellow flowers (see photo). It’s a Florida native called “common wirewood” (Sida acuta), and it is a BEAST! Check out that root. This is one tough cookie, and it takes real muscle to pull it from the ground. I’ve read that it can get quite large if allowed to grow unfettered and that it is high in protein, making it good deer food. In Florida’s natural settings, property owners are encouraged to let this plant grow. Anyway, gotta have respect for this one. My husband says to leave it where we find it; it’s earned its place here!
Some day when we are finished with our Florida-friendly landscaping project, I will share our “before and after photos”. Meanwhile, heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s back to work we go… Stay safe, everyone.
Gatorama is a long-time Florida attraction located off the most beaten paths in South Florida, but it’s well worth a visit and the price of admission. Hundreds of alligators and crocodiles of all shapes and sizes are on display, as are some other Florida creatures. We were there in July, and since then, the local ABC7 station has done a story on the gator and croc training that goes on there. It’s surprising and fascinating and well worth the view. Enjoy, and have a great weekend!
The birth of another great-nephew this week (named Wyatt) coincided with a birth of a very different kind—the emergence of a beautiful Monarch butterfly in the passion flower vine growing just outside in the milkweed bed. We failed to notice the chrysalis until just after the butterfly made its appearance. We named it Wyatt in honor of our newest family member and enjoyed watching it take its inaugural flight to the nearby tamarind tree. Can’t wait to watch baby Wyatt take flight, too. The sky’s the limit! Or is it? Perhaps, he will be the first family member to travel to the stars and beyond!
We often travel to nature preserves near our home to try to catch glimpses of birds like pileated woodpeckers. A few weeks ago, I heard lots of tapping, walked out the front door, and looked up! And, there they were… not one… but TWO!
We’ve visited the Six-Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in Fort Myers twice. Once last March and most recently this past January where we spotted the above alligator coming out of the cool water to sun itself. The cypress trees were bare and missing much of the water they are used to standing in during rainier times of year.
Many people think of Florida as the land of eternal summer, but that’s definitely not the case. The seasons here are distinctive, as any year-rounder will tell you. Of course, we don’t have the extremes experienced in more northern climates (and most of us probably like it that way), but if you live here long enough or visit at different times of year, you do notice the differences, especially if you come in summer. As you scroll down the photos below, you can see the changes between January (left) and March (right) – (or, perhaps, top/bottom, if you are viewing this on a cellphone/tablet); we visited at the same time of day, but you can see the lighting looks different; summer is on its way.
This is perseverance… at one point this Wood Stork drops the fish and seems to momentarily question the wisdom of what it’s doing… meanwhile, another wood stork ambles by in the background, along the water’s edge… when I drove by an hour later, this little fellow/gal was still at it.
For a little Friday relaxation, you may enjoy watching some manatees floating down the springs at Blue Spring State Park on their way to the St. John’s River. On cold winter days, manatees are typically abundant here as the springs remain a constant 72 degrees year round. Blue Springs State Park is in Orange City, Florida, an easy drive from Orlando, if you ever happen to visit the area. We did not see many on the day we were there, even though it was very chilly, but the sight of these three floating by made our trip especially worthwhile.
To see what’s happening right now, check out the live webcams! In 2018, 485 manatees spent the winter here–imagine that!
On a family history note, these springs (of which there are many in central and northern Florida) are not far from Enterprise, FL, the place my second-great-grandmother’s nephew, Charles Jaques Jr., passed away on May 10, 1886, at age 22. He was the son of Dr. Charles Jaques and Katherine Louise De Forrest.
Enterprise is just 7.5 miles from Orange City, and I can’t help but wonder whether Charles came upon these springs in his travels around this area, which back then (mid-1880s) would have been frontier land and just starting to get populated.
From the 1850s – 1880s, the St. John’s River was an important transportation route, and steamboats would have landed regularly at Blue Springs Landing. It seems possible that Charles would have made his way here via a St. John’s River steamboat, and I’d like to think that he saw manatees in the springs and the river along the way, sightings he would surely have reported back to friends and loved ones, and hopefully he had a chance to do that.
There is something very special and memorable about manatees, and if you ever get a chance to visit Florida in the winter, do your best to try to see some.
A belated Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you. There seemed to be green everywhere yesterday, and speaking of green, today I have trees on my mind, not all trees, just a certain kind of tree…
Have you ever looked out on fields and seen a tree that was just massive? You can tell it has been there for a very long time. Was it standing alone like a lone sentry or providing vast swathes of shade to a centuries-old farmhouse? If the answer is yes, you may well have come upon what is known as a “first-growth tree,” a tree that is described so beautifully in Our Vanishing Landscape, a 1955 book by Eric Sloane.
Such trees provide first-growth timber, the strongest and best timber of all, timber that our American ancestors were blessed with in abundance as they took to settling the land and harnessing its natural resources. Per Sloan, this was “wood grown from untouched earth with the humus and peat and the natural rot of age-old forests.” He describes how, today, seemingly dilapidated centuries-old barns made of chestnut may actually still be in exceptionally good shape, the wood in even better condition than any new wood that could ever be found to replace it.
As you can imagine, in many parts of America today, first-growth timber is quite rare. Certainly that’s true in the East. Many of America’s forests and woods were cleared to make way for agriculture. But, says Sloane, America’s first farmers would leave some first-growth trees dotting the landscape to serve as navigational markers, and often they would choose their home sites based on the fact that a first-growth tree stood nearby, for shade, and as a reminder, he says, that “into that tree went the memory of all the forests of great trees that had disappeared around it.”
I grew up in a farmhouse that was built in 1774, and I often think of that place and its beautiful surroundings, and my mind always wanders to a maple tree—a gigantic maple tree—that stood to the rear of the house on the left, alongside a babbling brook. It’s only after reading Sloan’s book that I realized a first-growth tree in the form of that maple had quite possibly been in our midst all those years ago, and perhaps that is why, subconsciously, my mind, without fail, wanders back to that tree… There is something about nature that pulls us, captivates us, calms us, and has the power to make us feel whole. That tree was magnificent. I’ve been searching for a photograph of it, and I’m sure we have one somewhere. The closest I’ve gotten so far, however, is an image with just part of the tree in the background.
It’s hard for me to imagine what it would be like to be in a place where the majority of maples were that size. Unfortunately, history and human circumstances have denied us of the possibility to see such trees en masse in many parts of the country. We have to seek out our sequoias and redwoods and travel to mountain and forest places left largely untouched by human hands and natural disasters. We can dig into historical records to find traces of giant trees, and examine paintings by artists of previous centuries to catch glimpses of past American landscapes. As I look at paintings by 19th-century American artist George Inness (1825-1894), for instance, I see what I think must be at least the occasional first-growth tree dotting his landscapes. Whether they were there in reality or his imagination conjured them up, I don’t know. But, for instance, go back to the top of this post and look at the tree hiding in the background on the right in his painting In the Berkshires. That tree looks absolutely gigantic.
Interestingly, Sloane points out that it is documented that trees the size of California’s redwoods once existed in the East. He cites an 1841 record of a walnut tree that once stood in Forestville, New York, a mile above the mouth of a creek, named Walnut Creek after this tree. The giant tree was “36 feet in circumference at its base, gradually tapering 80 feet to the first limb. Its entire height was nearly 200 feet, and was estimated to contain 150 cords of wood, or 50,000 feet of inch boards. The bark was a foot thick. The tree was entirely sound when blown down in 1822…”
When I went on the Fulton History website to look into the existence of other giant trees reported in the press, I discovered an article in The Album of Rochester, New York, dated December 1, 1825: “An Elm in Hatfield, Mass. is supposed the largest tree in New England, It measures in circumference 34 feet at two feet from the ground; at the height of five feet, the smallest place in the trunk, the circumference is 24 feet 6 inches. There is a cut in the tree four feet from the ground, which tradition says was made by the Indians, for the highest rise of water in Connecticut river.”
The December 12, 1826, issue of the Franklin Herald and Public Advertiser (Greenfield, Mass.) contained an article on large trees. Some excerpts include: “The Charter Oak in Connecticut — From the best information that we can obtain, says a Hartford paper, this tree is no less than four hundred years old; it is 23 feet in circumference near the ground, and at the height of 7 feet, it is 17 feet in circumference; the height of the tree, is about 70 feet; some of its branches extend 20 feet. […] In May, 1826, there was an Elm blown down in Wells, (Maine,) which measured 27 feet and 4 inches in circumference, making the diameter something over 9 feet; and was 40 feet from the foot to a crotch; from thence it was 20 feet to the first limb, running to the height of 60 feet from bottom before it had any limbs, when it expanded to an immense size. The exact height of the tree could not be accurately obtained, as the top was much broken, but was computed to be upwards of 100 feet. […] The Lexington, Ky. Public Advertiser says, that there now stands on the bank of the Ohio river, in the State of Indiana, opposite the mouth of Salt river, a Sycamore tree, which has stabled fourteen head of horses at one time, with ample room. It takes 75 long paces to go round its trunk, and you may with perfect ease turn a fourteen foot pole in the inside of its cavity.”
The New Jersey Fredonian on April 11, 1827, reported that a giant poplar in perfect health had [very sadly] been felled by a Mr. Moser on his land in Berks County, Pennsylvania. It was 117 feet high with a circumference at the base of 20 feet 7 inches. The first limb appeared at 64 feet off the ground. It was estimated to be at least 300 years old by those who examined its circles. The article’s author, lamenting the poplar’s demise, referred to it as the “largest solid tree” ever seen or heard of, and a “giant of the forest.”
The Onondaga Register of Onondaga Hollow, New York, on 28 July 1827 included an article originally reported by the Allegany [sic.] Democrat of a massive sycamore tree that had provided a winter residence to a family of seven: “There is now on the farm of Mr. Andrew Beggs (painter) of Pittsburgh, a sycamore tree, in which a family of seven persons, resided all winter, having been detained by the freezing over of the river while ascending it. In this tree they found a comfortable asylum from the storms of a severe winter, with room for all the necessary furniture and cooking utensils, having a fire in the centre Indian style), the smoke of which ascended through a whole in the trunk occasioned by the breaking off of a large limb from the tree. This giant of the forest is about fourteen miles below Pittsburgh, and directly on the Ohio River.”
Then I came across this 1842 article (page 72 of the Farmer’s Monthly Visitor, Vol. 3-4) describing a gigantic maple, a tree very dear to my heart, as you know ;-). Perhaps, best of all, at the end it contains a list of the largest trees known to exist in the US at the time. (Bear in mind that at this point in history, the United States had only 26 states.) Scroll down for an image of what was probably the giant sycamore in Ohio with the 60-foot circumference, and an article that may refer to the New York sycamore.
One thing is for sure: if you see a BIG tree, it always leaves a BIG impression. And it’s clear that big trees made a big impression on our ancestors too!
So as you go about your travels, keep an eye out for any first-growth trees—elm, maple, sycamore, poplar, chestnut, oak, hickory, pine, etc.—you see (or think you see) in your neck of the woods. Feel free to report back here in the Comments box. Better yet, email me a photo, and I’ll post it here for others to enjoy and try to imagine the glorious age-old forests that greeted our early American ancestors. And/Or consider posting your find on the Monumental Trees website so that even more people can learn of your discovery. Let us treasure those giant trees in our midst and do everything we can to assure their survival.