Glimpse From the St Lucie, and its Lost Pine Forests of Yesteryear, SLR/IRL

Historic postcard, St Lucie River looking from “Dudley’s,” today’s Palm City, near Sandhill Cove, across the river to Stuart, undated. Courtesy, Sandra Henderson Thurlow.

In this historic postcard we see many things that today we often do not see: a well dressed man in a hat; women also with lavish hats and donning long dresses; tall grasses along the shoreline; and an extensive pine forest across the St Lucie River…

Martin County, like most of Florida was once a giant forest. Logging companies harvested much of the area starting in the mid 1800s. We can only really guess what it looked like, and only imagine what the world was like for the animals and native peoples that lived under its cover.

Harshberger vegetation map 1913.

The famous Harshberger vegetation map of 1913 gives us an idea of what Martin County would have looked like, noting mostly pine forests of Caribbean and Sand Pine, but other plant communities near the St Lucie River would have included: beach; strand; tropical hammock; mangroves; low hammock; scrub; dry prairie; wet prairie; pine flat woods; swamp and marsh. The United States woodland density map of 1873 shows Florida to be one of the greenest areas of the continent having had the most trees. Wouldn’t that have been something to see!

Woodland density map 1873, William H. Brewer.

We cannot return the forests, but we can choose what plants and trees to put in our yards. The business of landscaping has us in a cycle of turf, fertilizing, pesticides, and often bushes and trees that don’t really “go” here.

One way to help the St Lucie River is to take into our own hands what we plant in our yards. This can take time and that’s part of the fun of it. Creating a Florida Friendly yard using a mixture of native and Florida tolerant plants, less turf, requiring  fewer chemicals and maintenance really does help. What if everyone did it?

When you drive across the bridge, or look across the river, or look at your yard, just for fun, ask yourself: “What would have been here, what would have been naturally beautiful, what would have attracted wildlife one hundred years ago?”….and then if you feel like it–recreate!

A photo from DEP showing a yard along the North Fork of the SLR. In instances like this it is easy to see the negative effects of fertilizer runoff in river from a yard that is mostly turf grass. A better choice would be like the image below. 

John Whiticar SLR/IRL

Florida Native Plant Society:

Florida Friendly Yards and Native Plants:

Original plant communities of Broward Co, (very similar to Martin Co. St Lucie mentioned):

US old forests:

John Harshberger:

6-9-17 JTL

4 thoughts on “Glimpse From the St Lucie, and its Lost Pine Forests of Yesteryear, SLR/IRL

  1. When we moved here in 1956, there were no manicured lawns; mostly sand and sandspurs. If it was green we mowed it, but it was not “manicured.” Can’t blame northerners from wanting to re-create the lawns and yards they had back “home” but it is completely foreign to Florida ecosystems. We have not only dumped Lake Okeechobee muck in the river through the St. Lucie Canal; we have brought it to our shores in 1 X 2 rectangles called “sod.” It looks pretty, but it is completely bad to be anywhere near the salt water estuary or the tributaries which run into it. Natural Florida vegetation which does not require fertilizer is much more responsible and much less expensive to maintain.

    Mac Stuckey

    1. Loved your insights and commets Mac. I bet you old family photo albums are really something. My fathers photos of early Stuart show white sand roads and lots of palm trees. Very appealing.

  2. Thanks for another informative and interesting article. Would’ve love to see the natural shorelines back in the day!

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