On a cool day in SW Florida we had an unexpectedly large group of 41 hikers who showed up to look over the new 78 acre Wildflower Preserve that is now owned by the Lemon Bay Conservancy. This is a former golf course that was abandoned about 5 years ago and is now in the vigorous process of successional changes back to a natural state. We took a path that circled around some of the ponds created by the golf course and across the fairways that have been colonized either by shrubs such as salt bush and Brazilian pepper, or remained mainly grassy with some dense growth of dog fennel, flat topped goldenrod, sida, and occasional beautybushes. The degree to which the open fairways have been closed in by shrubs is astonishing. There are quite a few slash pine seedlings in the gaps and underneath some of the saltbushes and a lesser number of live oak saplings that reveal the potential future forest that is regenerating.
We discussed management plans for the exotic plants that clearly need to be removed (such as Brazilian pepper, Australian pine, and Caesar weed) and some others that seem to be non-invasive in this site and will likely be left in place (such as bottlebrush, figs, Norfolk Island pine, eucalyptus, and bauhinia). The orchid tree (Bauhinia blakeana) shown in the photo is an especially clear case of a beautiful and wildlife-friendly exotic that is completely non-invasive since it is a sterile hybrid which produces no seeds.
Some very interesting insects were encountered which are shown in the photos. A very striking and large hornworm is the harmless but imposing banded sphinx moth caterpillar which was found on the aquatic primrose willow (Ludwigia peruviana). A more ominous caterpillar is that of the remarkably beautiful Io moth which can give a significant sting with its spines and is better left alone. This Io caterpillar was feeding on a white mangrove tree. Wagner’s caterpillar book reports this species to be a generalist and to eat salt marsh grasses, but makes no mention of mangroves in the diet. Finally we found a leaf-footed bug which did not offend the olfactory senses like its cousin the stink bug. The function of the strange flat extensions of the last pair of legs is not known as far as I could discover.
Many other aspects of natural history (an unusual grasshopper, flowers of the strange moon vine with a very long corolla tube, etc.) were noted so we had a very interesting walk. If you are in the area, come join us sometime for a hike through this remarkable example of nature recovering from a long period of exploitation by humans. We can also use additional volunteers to make and maintain trails, and manage exotic species.
Bill Dunson, Englewood, FL & Galax, VA