Saturday, January 31, 2015

Naples Botanical Gardens- Part Two

At least I hope that I can finish up on these gardens in this posting!  This park has so many different features which we have not seen in other botanical gardens that we have toured.  In the Brazilian Garden we learned  that Brazil has more types of plants than any country in the world.  One in four plant species on earth lives in Brazil.   Pictured below is the trunk of the "dancing tree", a Brazilian tree   Seems a very strange name for this tree whose trunk is covered with numerous thorny projections!
In the Caribbean section of the gardens we came upon a path lined with stone pillars.  They are draped with purple flowers called  "queens wreath".  It is stunningly beautiful.  You may notice on the ground by the pillars some balls.  That is for playing bocce ball.  If one gets tired of looking a pretty flowers one can play ball,  laze in a hammock, climb a tree house or wander down a trail into some wetlands to view wading birds and ducks.  We had forgotten our binoculars, but they were available at the birding tower.
When I learned that there was a wildflower garden in this park, I was a bit skeptical- I have not seen much in the way of wildflowers here in Florida.  However, the gardens have a good patch of them.  One big section of the garden is covered with the blooming orange, yellow and red blanket wildflower.  We had seen it before in California.
Currently the gardens are showcasing 32 sculptures done by artists associated with the National Sculpture Society.  The exhibition is titled All Creatures Great and Small.   In the wildflower garden is one of those creatures, "the running cheetah".
As I wrote earlier, there are many unusual different sections to this park which we had not seen in other botanical gardens- as an "enabling garden" which features structures and tools that reduce barriers to people's ability to garden.  There is also a vertical garden which makes use of wall space to showcase plants.   I can't cover it all here,  but I have to mention the orchid garden.
Not much space is needed for this garden, the plants are either in pots or hanging from trees.  Information  provided here informed us that there are 25,000 different species of orchids, the gardens have 1,000.  We saw them not only here but through-out the garden hanging on a variety of trees.  There is one interesting fact we learned regarding the orchid's complex pollination strategy.  It is best that I quote from the garden's interpretive sign to explain it:  "some orchids mimic female bees to attract the males- others emit nighttime fragrances to entice moths".   I just have to share with you one more picture before concluding this posting.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Naples Botanical Gardens

It is a bit of a drive from North Fort Myers south to Naples for a day trip, but, as we learned yesterday, it was worth making a second trip.  The botanical gardens were chartered in 1994, and the first phase of it opened in 2008.  It was initially an area overgrown with invasive exotic species as the melaleuca tree.  The gardens started collecting large trees and palms in 20006, many from Old Naples that were about to be cut down.  Tree movers were hired and the trees were then transplanted.  We could well imagine that this was a major effort, walking around in the gardens we saw many large trees and palms that are quite large and certainly could not have grown to that size in a matter of a eight years!  Pictured below is a banyan tree.
The height on this banyan tree is amazing, you can get a perspective of that with the man standing below it.   We saw several of those trees on the grounds of large estates while driving around Naples.  That tree has arial prop roots that grow into thick trunks- the older trees spread out laterally eventually covering a wide area.  One of the first areas of the park we first visited was the Butterfly House, and it is one of the best we have seen.  The vegetation here is quite lush and colorful, the butterflies of a wide variety and numerous.
It is always a challenge for me to snap pictures of butterflies, and I was successful in getting several good photographs of them.  The Children's Garden was quite imaginative as well as whimsical.  Plants here could be found in purses, boots, as well as in a toilet.  And I liked how air plants add a fascinating dimension to paintings.
Initially the park had to be raised from 2-3 feet above sea level to 10 feet, thus preventing it from being inundated by salt water during hurricanes.  Soil had to be dug up for the level to be raised, which created the park's lakes and a water garden.  The later has waterfalls as well as an infinity pool.
One last picture here before closing this, and I will continue with more on this garden in the next posting.  The Water Gardens have some beautiful lotus flowers blooming, as pictured below.

Thursday, January 29, 2015


The Seminoles gave this museum its name as a way of describing the purpose of the building, which is a place to learn and to remember.  Before entering the museum we first walked past the statue of Sam Jones.  He was a great warrior as well as a powerful spiritual leader of his people.  A museum brochure asserts that without him there might not be Seminoles living in Florida today.  He participated in three Seminole wars against the U.S. military in the 1800s.
The statue is sheltered by a chickee, which were at one time the dwellings of the Seminoles, made of cypress and palmetto.  These thatched huts can still be found around the reservation, however now they are generally used as picnic shelters or sheds for outdoor equipment.  Below is another picture of a chickee found in the Seminole village which was built for the museum.  In this section of the museum Seminole artisans create and sell bead work, basketry, woodwork and patchwork clothing designs.
Seminole means "wild people", and given their history it is easy to understand that connotation.  After the military wars many Seminoles were transported west to Oklahoma.  About 300 managed to stay behind, hiding out in the swamps of southern Florida.  Their story speaks of their success not only in just surviving, and but also to their ingenuity in forging their own destiny.  Trading posts made it possible for them to trade furs in exchange for food, tools and cloth.  In 1870 the owner of one store (William Brown) and his wife taught them to read and write.  They also introduced them to the sewing machine, which helped the tribe in  producing their colorful patchwork clothing.  They learned fast to market the tourist trade selling those clothes, and other craft items, as well demonstrating alligator wrestling.  The tribe had a knack for working with cattle, in 1936 they were given a small scrawny herd.  Today the Seminoles are one of the largest beef producers in the nation.  In 2007 they purchased Hard Rock International, the only tribe to own a corporation.  The few hundred "wild' Indians who refused to surrender now number more than 2,400 people, most of them living on one of the tribe's six Florida reservations  There is a lot more to their story, more than I have space for in this posting.  In addition to their history, the museum offers many exhibits pertaining to the Seminoles' traditions and customs.
The mannequin pictured above is wearing patchwork clothes.  This is what Seminoles would have worn in 1890, with the advent of the sewing machine.  Their earlier dress was not as elaborate.  Information available at this exhibit stressed that this dress was not just for ceremonies, but also for everyday use.  The model is grating the root of a wild coontie plant.  Once the root is broken down, the pulp is washed and dried to produce a type of flour.  It is a rather long process, and, if not done properly, can produce a poisonous substance.  Needless to say, the Seminole today finds it simpler to purchase commercial flour!
We are back in a swamp again!  After touring the museum we went outside and took a boardwalk through a swamp.   Here many of the plants and trees have signs posted near them identifying them, as well as providing information as to how the Seminole once use the botanical product- whether for building material, food, or medicinally.  Pictured above is a serpent fern, tea was made of the root stalk of the plant to treat mental disorders.  We are now familiar with some of the trees and plants of southern Florida, but are still coming across many that are new to us.  Same could be said for the Native Americans of our country, there is certainly a lot that we never knew about their history and struggles to survive as a unique people!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Cape Coral, Florida

This municipality lies to the west of North Fort Myers, and we have gotten to know the eastern section of it fairly well because that is the location of Messiah Lutheran church which we attend.  Around the church there are a few scattered  homes, but mostly it is scrub land and empty lots.  We have never seen the downtown area of Cape Coral because, as we found out Thursday, there is none.  It is pretty much a bedroom community of Fort Myers.  On Thursday we visited Cape Coral's History Museum and learned that the town was created in 1970.  I believe that this city museum is the youngest one of its kind which we have visited! 
Actually, the history of the town goes back further than 1970.  In the early 1960s the construction of the city depended on the speed of the canal dredging.  To advertise the new city, Gulf American Land Corporation funded the creation of Cape Coral Gardens, a tourist attraction for the residents as well as to encourage future investors.  In the museum is a large mural depicting what the gardens were all about which included, besides rose gardens and fountains: a collection of sculptures of our presidents,  a Pieta statue, as well as one of the copies of the Iwo Jima Memorial.  The gardens closed in 1970.  Population of the city in 1970 was 11,400 and in 2007 was 166,000.  The docent at the museum said he and his wife moved here because they have a boat and wanted to live by the water.  There are 400 miles of canals in the main part of the city, off almost every street we drove on we could see a canal.   What a different vision we now have of the city!
In the 1960s a marina was built, as well as a yacht club on the Caloosahatchee River.  We found that section of town, as well as a small public beach, and from there drove over to Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve.  It is within the city limits, and is similar to other preserves we have visited.  The park has an extensive boardwalk through mostly a variety of mangroves.  Sorry, I always seem to be taking our readers to the swamps!  John and I find them good places for hiking here in Florida.
And I was not going to show another picture of a raccoon, but this one was just too cute!  He reminded me of the title of a children's book,  Are you my Mommy? 
One of the trails on the boardwalk brought us out to the Caloosahatchee River where we saw a flock of ducks in the water.  One of them, a lesser scaup, is pictured above.
The sun was setting by the time we ended our walk at the war memorial section of the park.  It honors the men and women who served in the wars from WW11 to the Gulf War.  The Iwo Jime Memorial was moved here when Cape Coral Gardens closed.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Naples Zoo and Tin City

Part of our admission ticket to the zoo paid for a guided catamaran tour around islands of apes, monkeys and lemurs.
It was near the evening feeding time for the animals so our tour guide warned us not to have any food in our hands as the animals, seeing food, may jump aboard thinking it was their food.  He did note, however, that so far no monkeys have jumped off the islands, even though they can swim.  Pictured below are the spider monkeys, they do look like spiders when swinging in the air!  On the islands are covered huts with heat lamps for the monkeys.  We learned that a hard freeze does occur here about once every ten years.
What we like about the zoo were the presence of many of the local wading birds and ducks which can unexpectedly be found walking the grounds, roosting in the trees or feeding in the lake.
That about wraps it up for the zoo, I only mentioned but a few of the many animals which can be seen there.
We also had an interesting meeting with several Florida University college students who were doing surveys of the visitors at the zoo.  They wanted to know what conservation means to us.  It was an easy question for us to answer, as we have seen the impact of development on wildlife while visiting the preserves and swamps of Florida.  Without a doubt, holding onto land for nature to thrive is important.
Our day was done and we had to hurry from the zoo if we wanted to walk around Tin City before dark.  In the 1920s this harbor of the Gordon River was the hub of Naples' fishing industry.  The colorful tin-topped buildings were home to clam shelling, oyster processing, boat construction and maintenance.  In the 1970s seven of those buildings became home to "The Old Marine Marketplace at Tin City".  We had a wonderful seafood supper at one of the waterfront restaurants, and took some time to check out a few of the boutiques.   Somehow we still had the energy to walk over a nearby bridge to view the sunset.

Naples Zoo and Caribbean Gardens

Pictured above is one of the many exotic plants which can be seen at the zoo.  Tips of the leaves of the plant do look like painted fingernails!  The Caribbean Gardens at the zoo were started in 1919 by Dr. Henry Nehrling, a leading authority on tropical plants.   The gardens were expanded in 1950 by Julius Fleischmann (great-grandson of the yeast mogul).   In 1969 Larry and Jane Tetzlaff ( he was stuntman for the Tarzan movies) introduced exotic animals to the gardens.  Speaking of exotic, a first for us was the agouti, a rodent which lives in Brazil.  He eats Brazil- nuts and, after breaking open the tough pod and eating a few of the nuts, he plants a few- planning on eating them later.  Fortunately for the Amazon area he forgets were he plants the seed and a new tree is born!
The zoo is one of four in the nation to have honey badgers, natives of Africa and Asia.  According to an interpretive sign near the pen, "a taste for honey and bee larvae earned them their sweet name".    I could not get a very good picture of them because they were forever on the move, and, most of the time I was there, the two pictured below (someone said they are brothers) were engaged in a friendly tussle. 
While watching a zoo employee feed a couple of leopards, we heard the alarm calls of a fox in a pen nearby.  Interestingly, it did not sound like a bark of a dog, but more like the squawk of a large bird.  We were able to get a good view of one of the foxes at the zoo's animal feature show.
For this show staff of the zoo handle live animals and have them demonstrate their natural behaviors.  The sloth was quite amusing, when placed on a surface he just flopped face downward and did not move.  What, me move?  That is way to much work!
I am not finished yet on the Naples Zoo, more will be coming in the next posting.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Day Trip to Naples, Florida

After sitting here in North Fort Myers now for a month or more, we finally decided to check out the city of Naples, which is located about 60 miles south of us on the Gulf coast.  On television and in the newspaper we hear about events happening there, as well as advertisements about the Naples zoo.  Triple A Tour Book gives Naples art museum an excellent rating, so we chose that as our first stop. 
Pictured above is the Paley Gate which brought us into the courtyard of the Baker Museum.  Albert Paley has gold and silversmithing studios in Rochester, New York.  He is an artist renown for his portal gates.  The art museum currently has two wonderful traveling exhibitions.  We were quite fortunate to arrive a few minutes before the docent tour started.  Our docent had been an art teacher, and we could not have had a better guide.  We started in the gallery which features contemporary artists' self-portraits.  They ranged in theme from the mystical, intriguing, spiritual and ephemeral to the surreal.  One artist imposed the head of his friend Jackson Pollock on his self-portrait.   Each artist certainly has a different way of looking at himself or herself- a very interesting gallery!   The other exhibition's theme is wildlife in America, which contrasts pictures drawn of our western states from the mid 1800s to early 20th century.  Early pictures depict the Native American and herds of buffalo- more recent ones concentrate on cattle and cowboys.  What stands out in these pictures is the loss of what was once our untouched West.  Also in this gallery contemporary artists question what has happened to the extinction of a variety of wild flora and fauna through their pictures.
Speaking of flora and fauna, this seems a nice segue regarding our trip to the Naples Zoo and Caribbean Gardens.  Pictured above is a cotton top-tamarin.  Notice in the lower left corner is a flower blossom.  That is part of a tree which is growing inside the cage, which is one thing I like about that zoo.  The animals are living among a natural habitat of plants and trees.  This can also be seen at the Malaysian tiger enclosure.
There was a lot we enjoyed about this zoo, and the rest of our day in Naples.  I will write more on all of  that in my next postings, for now I will leave you with a picture of an orchid plant which we saw while at the zoo.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary- Part Two

This swamp has the largest strand of old growth virgin bald cypress in the nation- some of them 500 to 600 years old.  The hike we took on the boardwalk took us past some of the larger and older trees of the swamp, many of which have interpretive signs giving information regarding their statistics.
Pictured above is Leopold, named after Aldo Leopold father of the modern conservation ethic.  It is 500-600 years old and stand 98 feet tall.  Hurricanes have cost it the top as well as some of the branches, leaving a massive trunk which, at chest height, is 22 feet around.
Floating on the surface of the water in the picture above is the swamp's smallest fern, which is salvinia.  It is rootless but one of its three leaves hangs below the surface of the water acting as a root-like structure.
Pictured above is water lettuce, another floating aquatic which covers wide expanses of the swamp in some areas.  It has an expansive root system which provides shelter for small fish and crayfish.  Unlike regular lettuce, it is toxic to people.  If you look closely at the picture you may notice an alligator on the log.  Cypress knees are near the log, as well as a dead leaf of the alligator flag.  That aquatic plant prefers deep water, so where that plant is there are alligators- hence early alligator hunters give it that name.
I mentioned the pickerel weed in a previous posting- hope you can find its purple cone-like flower in the picture above.  Many butterflies like the nectar of this marsh plant.
The prettiest flower which we found blooming in the swamp, in many places, is the swamp lily.  White-tailed deer find this plant to be a tasty snack. 
Seems like I have covered a lot in these two postings on Corkscrew Swamp.  It was a wonderful experience being there and we were help by park rangers as well as Audubon volunteers who would leave little signs pointing to plants or birds which might be seen.  They also willingly shared their high-powered telescopes, making it possible for us to get a better view of birds as well as plants.  I know that I would have missed a beautiful yellow orchid on a tree off in the distance without their help!

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and Blair Audubon Center

To understand the history of this preserve, and how it came to be saved as a park, perhaps it is necessary to go back to 1886.  An ornithologist, F.Chapman, counted 40 different native birds, or bird parts, decorating three-fourths of 700 women's hats in New York city.  Outrage over the slaughter of those birds led to the founding of Audubon Societies in many states of our nation.  Until that point in time plume hunters were quite active in Corkscrew Swamp.  In the 1950s this swamp in the Everglades was also threatened by logging companies who wanted the old-growth cypress strand located here.  Citizens formed the Corkscrew Cypress Rookery Association and, working with the Audubon Society, purchased what forest was left here.  We received a lot of this information at the visitor's center, our first stop before hiking the 2.5 mile boardwalk through the swamp.  Outside of the center we saw a red bellied woodpecker at a feeding station.
This is a wonderful place for bird watching.  We were told it would take us 21/2 hours to get through the swamp, but it was more like three hours for us because of the time we took to look for birds.  More often than not it was the bird's calls or songs which helped us find them.  We heard a lot of mewing from the cat bird, and several hawks flying overhead created a raucous din.  I was also surprised to hear an owl.  It is most likely only the barred owl which can be heard in the daytime, and toward the end of our walk we found him.  A park ranger pointed him out to us, as well as the nest which the owl was protecting.
 We could not see the nest as it was hidden within a tree hollow, but we could hear the cries of the young ones.  They seemed to realize that papa was near them and would perhaps have food for them. 
We saw numerous egrets, ibis, and an occasional heron.  As you can see in the picture above, they are difficult to find amongst the dense vegetation of the swamp.  The little blue heron pictured above we happened to find only because we were looking at a alligator hanging out on a log near him.  
We were told by the naturalist at Wild Turkey that where ever there is a path or road, animals will use it to cross from one place to another- maybe that is why there are panther crossing signs on the roads here in Florida!  In the picture above we chanced to see a racoon on the boardwalk in front of us.  Upon seeing us he quickly dove into the swamp and swam away.  I will save my discussion of the plants and trees found in the swamp for my next posting.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Saturday's Road Trip

Saturday was one very long day, but we learned a lot, as well as saw much more of the beauty of southwestern Florida.  Our day started at Wild Turkey Strand Preserve, where we joined a naturalist-led group hike.  We were informed right away by her that in this area it is all about hydrology.  Ninety-three per-cent of Floridians get their water from ground sources, more than any other state.  Conservation land, as that on Wild Turkey Strand,  help to preserve the ability of the land to absorb water.  This is vital to prevent flooding, as well as keeping aquifers supplied with clean drinking water. 
On the trail, which we took through the preserve, we saw remnants of the old gunnery range of Buckingham Army Air Field's Flexible Gunnery School, built in 1942 and deactivated in1945.  The concrete building pictured above is what is thought to have been a storage facility for the base.  The main objective of this base was to train recruits as gunners assigned to bomber planes flying over the European and Pacific theaters.  The harrowing job of gunners is well told in the book Unbroken, which I just finished reading.
Seeing the above church from a distance, as it stands out well over Florida's flatland, we at first thought it was a barn.  We were on our way to Corkscrew Swamp, but decided to take a detour to the town of Ave Maria and check out that building.  It is the Ava Maria Oratory, which in located in the heart of the town and connects town housing and shops with the Ave Maria University.  The white area on the stone facade of the church is a sculpture of the Annunciation.  Statues of the 12 Apostles are housed in niches above the doorway.  The sanctuary has soaring gothic steel beams reminiscent of the architecture of Frank Loyd Wright.  The tabernacle seats 1,100 people and is one of the largest in the country.  Statures of the Apostles are again found at the altar, as well as those of Saint Mary and Saint Joseph.
The town of Ave Maria was started in 2002, but its roots can be traced back to the early 1900s and one of its founders, Barron Collier Companies.  The Collier legacy collaborated with Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino's Pizza, in developing plans for Ave Maria.  It is a self-sustained town, which once complete, will be home to 11,000 families residing in an variety of single and multi-family dwellings.
Our day was not over yet- my next postings will be on Corkscrew Swamp.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Hickey's Creek Mitigation Park

Inquiring minds may wonder what a mitigation park is.  A sign at this park answered that question.  Environmental mitigation is "an attempt to offset the detrimental impacts of development on a certain species or a type of native plant community".   Hickey Creek Park was originally established by the Florida Wildlife Commission to mitigate for gopher tortoises who have lost a lot of their habitat due to development in southwestern Florida.  However, from what we saw while wandering on the trails of this park, feral hogs seem to have taken over this land.  Not sure how the tortoises appreciate that!.  While hiking many parks and preserves in this area we have seen how they churn up the soil while rooting for food.  They eat everything from plants, tubers, snails, and fruits to carrion.
Pictured above is a section of the trail at the Bald Cypress Bridge which has been totally obliterated by the hogs.  Some trails at this park were a bit treacherous, not only because of the ruts made by the hogs, but also by the presence of saw palmetto roots.  It still is a beautiful park, with wide expanses of saw palmetto, slash pine, and live oaks.  The scene below is on the pine palmetto trail.
  Hickey Creek runs through a section of the preserve, and that was perhaps the trail we enjoyed the most.   Even though it is the dry season at present, this area is quite moist; moss and ferns can be see on the ground and on the trees.  Along the creek is a lot of the same plants and trees which we saw last week at Six Mile Cypress Slough.  I mentioned in that posting the many different ferns we saw, but only showed the shoestring fern.  Pictured below is the leather fern, unlike most ferns its leaves are coarse in texture.
One other fern I found fascinating is the whisk fern.  It looks like it could be used as a broom.
You may notice a white area on the tree, below the fern.  That is lichen which is formed when algae and fungus take a liking to each other (a joke we once heard from a park ranger).  We learned from Russ our guide last week that white lichen is healthy- any other color indicates pollutants in the environment as sulfur dioxide or heavy metals.  We did not see any wildlife during our time in this park, however many birds were flitting about, some of which were robins.  That was a surprise to me as I did not realize they came this far south during the winter.