The long process of initial environmental restoration has now been completed by the Lemon Bay Conservancy (LBC) at the newly named Lemon Creek Wildflower Preserve (LCWP) ( https://lemonbayconservancy.org/ ). This 80 acre former golf course was overgrown with dense brush including a lot of Brazilian pepper. There are three different habitat types, upland/terrestrial, freshwater and tidal/estuarine/salt water. Although the water is heavily polluted with nutrients from previous spraying of sewage effluent on the golf course, this is an outstanding opportunity to save a mixture of the three habitats that contain a very unusual and valuable juvenile tarpon nursery based in Lemon Creek. A southern spur of Lemon Creek also feeds Lemon Lake, which is a tidal lake within the adjacent 217 acre Amberjack Preserve owned by Charlotte County. When this unusual natural tidal lake dries down it can be a fantastic place to observe wading birds.
A map of the LCWP is shown that illustrates the six primary freshwater ponds on the eastern side of the property (some of which had their margins smoothed out to mimic natural ponds), fresh water drainages primarily from the north and east, and two large newly created tidal lagoons connected to the northern spur of Lemon Creek. The creek crosses under highway 775 just to the west and enters Lemon Bay. The excavation of large amounts of dirt also led to the construction of 5 elevated mounds which are very useful in gaining vantage points across the property.
The large scale of this restoration is hard to comprehend at first but it is monumental with far reaching beneficial consequences for the future. BUT there are consequences for such a large amount of vegetation removal and creation of open dirt areas, namely a return to early successional ecology. This means that a massive growth of weeds will occur prior to their gradual replacement with longer lasting herbaceous plants, then shrubs and eventually trees. Some of these “weeds”, both exotic and native, are quite difficult to control and their management will require years of effort and experimentation. For example on land, castor bean and Guinea grass are the worst problems. In freshwater, cattails and willows (both native species) and the exotic torpedo grass will come to dominate the shallow and deeper areas. In the tidal zones mangroves will eventually completely cover all shallow areas starting with a dense growth of white mangrove.
The LBC has embarked on a massive planting program to place native plants in these restored habitats. The interaction of these plants with the naturally seeded species will be extremely interesting to observe. For example the tidal shoreline will become densely covered very quickly with mangrove seedlings and white mangroves in particular will come to dominate for 5-15 years, regardless of what is planted. Such a process of natural succession is virtually impossible to stop. The prior natural seeding of the shores of Lemon Lake in Amberjack Preserve offer a cogent example of this process which I observed over 10 years; the photo shows a “tunnel” made through this dense growth of mangroves all of which grew naturally on a bare surface of mud created by previous land clearing to remove Brazilian peppers.
There are a few flowers in bloom now such as scarlet sage, coral bean and camphorweed. One of the most interesting plants in tiny Hidden Pond is a floating fern Azolla, which is symbiotic with a blue green bacteria Anabaena. This allows it to fix nitrogen (atmospheric gaseous nitrogen is converted to ammonia which is a plant fertilizer) and to grow extremely rapidly and and shade out anything beneath it. Asian rice culture uses this plant to increase the crop yield many fold: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azolla#:~:text=Azolla%20(mosquito%20fern%2C%20duckweed%20fern,resembling%20duckweed%20or%20some%20mosses. ).
There are a wide variety of interesting animals occurring at LCWP. For example I show a gorgeous male “pretty in pink” roseate skimmer, and a spectacular male Rambur’s forktail damselfly, a male FL softshell turtle basking on a stump, and a fabulous peregrine falcon stopping by on a tall pine snag while migrating. You never know what you are going to see if you are observant.
Take advantage of the various guided tours of LCWP or join the LBC and walk there whenever you want. This nature preserve is fabulous and will offer a clinic on the successional changes that Mother Nature has in store.