Don Pedro Island State Park on the Cape Haze Peninsula, Charlotte County, FL, is not a high profile natural area. If people know anything about it they would think that it is simply a mainland gateway to the island park and a convenient place to rent and launch kayaks. However it is much more as an example of the fast disappearing coastal habitat mixture consisting of salt marshes/mangroves and pine flatwoods. The approximately 1.7 mile trail shown in red on the aerial map illustrates one way to experience this wonderful mixture of natural landscapes.
The salt marsh on the southern end of the park is an excellent example of its type. There are various “halophytes” or salt loving plants that are typical of areas not dominated by mangroves. These open areas are likely maintained by periodic fire that spills over from the adjacent pine flatwoods. Fiddler crabs are abundant in this protected area not ravaged by fishermen collecting bait. Four of the halophytes illustrated are glasswort (Salicornia), sea oxeye daisy (Borrichia), saltwort (Batis) and cordgrass (Spartina). Another not shown that is found on the causeway and rarely seen elsewhere is salt bush Atriplex. This causeway extending across the mangrove zone out to Lemon Bay provides a fascinating cross section of this habitat with close views of the plants and animals.
Just above the tidal area we find a diverse array of interesting plants. I have illustrated water pimpernel (Samolus), cats claw or blackbead (Pithecellobium), false foxglove (Agalinis or Gerardia), and coral bean (Erythrina).
Many animals specific to this area can be seen in the park. The most characteristic butterfly is the mangrove buckeye which is only found in the tidal zone and adjacent areas. It is relatively recently separated as a species from the widespread common buckeye. I encountered a tiny southern broken dash skipper basking on a pawpaw plant in bloom. The leaves of this plant are food for the caterpillar of the spectacular zebra swallowtail butterfly.
Many birds can be seen in this area. One example shown is a flock of white pelicans in a V formation which will soon be migrating north and west to their summer breeding grounds.