Tag Archives: historic pond apple forest

Rebuilding Lake Okeechobee, Leaving Some Clues For the Next Generation, SLR/IRL

With my niece Evie Flaugh at Women of Distinction 2018. Evie was recognized for co-founding River Kidz seven years ago.

I hope everyone had a happy Mother’s Day yesterday! One of our “around the table” family discussions went like this:

Jacqui:” I’m getting a new headshot this week because now my hair is gray.”

Sister Jenny: “Why? Are you running for office?”

Jacqui:” No, not now. But I want my blog photo to look like me.”

Sister Jenny: “Why!” 🙂

Whether it’s my hair, or our natural landscape, things are always changing! I think it’s important to let young people, like my niece Evie, Jenny’s daughter, almost 18 and entering the world,  know what our natural landscape looked like “before,” as they will be dealing with water issues we can’t even imagine.

One of the least documented changes of Florida is the demolition of the pond apple belt of Lake Okeechobee. I hope in time, the younger generation finds a way to recreate its original natural purpose that was to strain, slow down, and clean the lake water flowing south into the sawgrass plains of the Everglades. Another benefit was flood protection. Nature’s adapted protections out-do mankind’s every time…

Full image, Lake O pond apple belt. The Boyer Survey: An Archaeological Investigation of Lake Okeechobee, 2011.
The pond apple belt today is gone, replaced by the cities/areas of  Port Mayaca, South Bay, Belle Glade, Pahokee, and Clewiston. The pond apples were torn out to access the value muck soil beneath them. Google Earth image.

In pre-drainage times, the  original features of Lake Okeechobee helped contain it. There was the Okeechobee Sand Ridge; the Southern Ridge; the Spillover Lands;  and the fossilized coral ridge.

The Sand Ridge extended from Martin County to Palm Beach County ~just north of Pahokee. There was a cut in this ridge where water could more easily escape east at today’s historic village of Sand Cut along the eastern shoreline. Archaeologists believe this Sand Ridge running along the lake was an old shoreline. It is stated in the research of the Boyer Survey, An Archaeological Investigation of Lake Okeechobee, by Christian Davenport, Gregory Mount and George Boyer Jr., that only the eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee was “defined by a sand shore.” Today the Army Corp has built a dike along and over this sand shore with the addition of extra boulders for protection. Very unattractive. The original pond apple forest would not just have been more lovely, but would have helped in times of storms ~ similar to how mangroves, even in front of a seawall, do today.

The Southern Ridge was a high muck ridge that had formed at the southern end of the lake and was located in a “massive belt of pond apple trees.” This forest was completely mowed-down to access the deep muck for agricultural purposes. It was 32,000 acres! (Lawrence E. Will) The towns of *Port Mayaca, Pahokee, Belle Glade, South Bay, and Clewiston south today’s Lake Okeechobee are located in what was once the pond apple forest. Surreal, isn’t it?

These trees grow closely together and can get very large. They have weird roots kind of like mangroves. My husband Ed and I bought a lot along Overlook Drive in Stuart and oddly or interestingly enough in this area there are pond apple trees. According to the study, the original lands of Lake Okeechobee sloped towards the lake, meaning the lake  would have been as much as two miles wider during periods of  high water. (The forest and the shape of the land held the water in the lake.) Along the southern edge “dead rivers” cut through this muck ridge and were the primary outlet during times of high waters. (Boyer Survey)

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Giant pond apple trunk, near Overlook Drive in Stuart, FL.2017.JTL
Florida Memory photo, pond apples belt at rim of dead river/creek. John Kunzel Small 1869-1938.

Spillover Lands was the archeological term for the lower-sawgrass plains extending beyond the southern side of the pond apple forest. Here sheet flow was created that moved and melded into the Everglades, basically a littoral marsh.

By the way the “dead rivers” were anything but dead, some very deep and very long. The word “dead” was applied as some of the original explores could not find “the end,” and I believe this word suits today’s powers well as the word “dead” makes one think they had no life. The complete opposite is the truth. They were full of life! All the animals of the Everglades, including hundreds of birds colonies lived in these areas that were completely DESTROYED.

The final formation mentioned in the Boyer Survey is an ancient Fossilized Coral Ridge (Reef)  that runs from approximately Okeelanta to Immokalee. In pre-drainage times, this muck covered reef caused a higher elevation that is thought to have helped retain some of the water within the Spillover Lands during times of low water. Hmmm? Another Nature feature that works better than our manmade ideas for drought protection today – deep well injection, and other brilliant ideas….

Well, I hope you enjoyed today’s lesson! And I hope some young people like my niece Evie in the photo at the beginning of this blog read this post some day. Gray hair can be dyed or glorified, but the natural features of Lake Okeechobee in the heart of Florida, they must be rebuilt as part of today’s modern eco-system.

River Kidz workbook 2, “mythical pond apple forest,”
Julia Kelly, 2014.

Former posts on the Pond Apple Forest, JTL:

Agriculture’s Eradication of the Mythical Pond Apple Forest, Lake Okeechobee,SLR/IRL: https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/tag/pond-apple-tree/

What the Muck? SLR/IR: Lhttps://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/tag/historic-pond-apple-forest/

Remembering Lake Okeechobee’s Moon Flower This Easter, SLR/IRL: https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/tag/moonvine/

1850s map of Florida

 

“What The Muck?!” SLR/IRL

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Flying over the black gold of the EAA. JTL
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Fields in Pahokee, JTL

Road Trip Series.

Since I began my Glades “Road Trip” Series, I have read three books by Lake Okeechobee historian, Laurence E. Will: Okeechobee Hurricane, Swamp to Sugar Bowl, and A Cracker History of Okeechobee.

These books hold amazing stories of the Glades; if Mr. Will hadn’t written, there would be very few first-hand accounts of farming that became a Florida mega-industry just over the first half century of the 1900s. Today, I will transcribe some of his most interesting descriptions of Lake Okeechobee, the magical landscape that was transformed into today’s contoversial Everglades Agricultural Area, for none other than its MUCK.

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EAA below Lake Okeechobee. (Public map SFWMD)
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Photo of pond apples also know to locals as custard apples in Big Cypress- shared on Flicker by photographer Mac Stone, allow us to envision what this incredible forest looked like. 32,000 acres rimming the southern and eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee. The best muck built up over thousands of years under these roots that worked like a seine as the lake overflowed its edge then running south through the sawgrass. The Everglades….

When I was on my recent tour with former mayor of Pahokee, J.P. Sasser, I learned the nick-name for Pahokee is “The Muck,” named so for the “black gold” soil that accumulated over thousands of years under the roots of a custard apple forest that rimmed the lake. (Kind of like fresh water mangroves today in the Indian River Lagoon.)

When one drives deeper into the Glades, one finds similar nick-names or “muck mottos,” that have to do with the muck. For instance, Belle Glade’s motto is “Her Soil is Her Fortune;” Clewiston’s is “America’s Sweetest Town,” and South Bay’s refers to its highways, “Crossroads of South Florida,” named so for its intersection of two major roads, East-West State Road 80, and North-South, U.S. Highway 27, roads that get one into the muck, or out of it….

Will first experienced the Lake in the early 1900s as a boy when his father was developing Okeelanta, located about four miles below today’s South Bay. Okeelanta, today a mill location for the Fanjul holdings, was located not in an apple custard forest, but rather in the miles of sawgrass lying south. Although the soil here is excellent, it is different, more peaty and not as “mucky.” Thus the most productive lands lie closer to the lake, deep in the MUCK.

Here is a moving account by Will about the land of muck in “Cracker History of Lake Okeechobee:

“Before the dredges crashed through the custard apple woods to start the first canals, the lake most always stayed high and clear, unbroken except for those islands Kreamer, Torry, and Observation. When I first saw the lake it was still wild. Excusing the trifling settlements at Utopia, Ritta, and Tantie, a score of fishing camps, and the openings to four unfinished canals, it’s swampy shores hadn’t changed since Zachary Taylor found the redskins or probably not since DeSoto anchored in Tampa Bay. It sill was just as the good Lord had fashioned it. The lake was lonely Mack, silent and mysterious as well. But I tell you boy, it was beautiful, and sort of inspiring too.”

Will was absolutely pro development, pro farming/agriculture,  but he, like most of the old timers, recognized the tremendous awe-inspiring beauty of the place.

Most all the natural beauty the lakeside shoreline in Martin County, where the FPL Power Plant is today, and north to the town of Okeechobee has also been radically altered as well.

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FPL solar plant and “cooling pond” in Martin County looking west towards “Barley Barber Swamp.” This area was once a forest of mostly giant cypress trees and others. JTL

Excerpts by Lawrence E. Will:

“Dense forest ringed the lake around. Along its northern half water oak, maple, cypress, potash, rubber and palmetto trees crowded each other on the lakeshore ridge…the south shore and half way up the eastern side was something else… Here were custard apples, a solid belt of tropical trees, blanketed with a moonvine cover, which stood, two miles or more in width, without break or opening, from near Clewiston’s Sand Point, slap around to Port Mayaca. 32,000 acres of custard apple woods there were, the most of these trees, I wouldn’t doubt, on the whole blamed continent of America.”

“…Although the shores were for the most part black muck, low and flat, there were some fine sandy beaches too. Along the east side for eighteen miles lay beautiful East Beach…”

“Now if Zachary Taylor or Hamilton Disston could return to Okeechobee they would find that farmers have exterminated the custard apple woods. Highways, service stations, super markets and housing projects have replaced the cypress, rubber and maple trees along the ridge. A levee occupies the onetime shore and drainage has lowered by half a dozen feet the water’s elevation. Tractors cultivate the former seining grounds, and unless you as old–and no amount, as some of us, your never heard of town of Tantie, Utopia or Ritta. Civilization has re-made the lake and I’d be the last to say it isn’t better so, but the lakeshore’s one time natural beauty is long gone, and man, wasn’t that old lake a fascinating place.” 

Well, to the land of Lake Okeechobee! For all she was, and for all she is. It’s enough to make one exclaim:”What The Muck?!!!”

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Agriculture’s Eradication of the Mythical Pond Apple Forest, Lake Okeechobee, SLR/IRL: https://www.google.com/amp/s/jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2015/04/15/agricultures-eradication-of-the-mythical-pond-apple-forest-lake-okeechobee-slrirl/amp/?client=safari

Black Gold and Silver Sands, Snyder/Historical Society of Palm Beach County https://floridafoodandfarm.com/book-reviews/turning-soil-gold-silver-look-back-palm-beach-county-agriculture/

Lawrence E. Will: http://museumoftheglades.org

war map
War map of the Everglades created during the Seminole Wars, 1856.

*Custard Apples are also known as Pond Apples. The old photos of the trees are from Mr Will’s books or the Florida Memory Project.

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Pond apple blossom. Photo by Lisa Jefferson, 2015.

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Proposed land purchase in the EAA, Senator Joe Negron 2016/17.