Tag Archives: native plants

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, sand and longleaf 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.

John Whiticar SLR/IRL
Florida Native Plant Society: http://www.fnps.org/natives/native-plant-communities

Florida Friendly Yards and Native Plants: http://floridayards.org/fyplants/

Original plant communities of Broward Co, (very similar to Martin Co. St Lucie mentioned):
http://journals.fcla.edu/browardlegacy/article/viewFile/77908/75344

US old forests: https://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/rmap/rmap_nrs4.pdf

John Harshberger:http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/chronob/HARS1869.htm

6-9-17 JTL

Going Grassless Along the Indian River Lagoon

The area of my back yard where grass has slowly been removed and planting areas enlarged.
The area of Ed and my back yard where grass has slowly been removed,  planting areas enlarged, and mulched with leaves.

In 2010 the Town of Sewall’s Point passed a strong fertilizer ordinance, the first on Florida’s east coast. It was during this time, that I became “anti-turf grass.” Today when I look at a “beautiful” sprawling yard of green grass, all I see is fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide, and heavy water needs that are contrary to a healthy St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and a successful Florida future.

Native coontie.
Native coontie.

In order to put my “money where my mouth is,” in 2010, I informed my husband that I was going to start removing the grass from our yard and mulching with leaves from our oaks, strangler figs, and other trees. As usual, he looked at me like I was slightly crazy, but as usual, he agreed.

This decision was made easier in that around this same time our well was starting to go dry and I had gotten estimates in from $5000 to $8000 to replace it. Not to mention the well guys said if they did drill, as it is well-known wells are going dry in this high hammock area of Sewall’s Point, and they were unsuccessful, Ed and I would still have to pay half.

“Not my kind of odds.” I thought, especially knowing water issues regarding wells, and salt water intrusion are only going to increase. Last week, in 2014, I changed the house over to “city water” as our well has finally died. I am very glad that over the past few years I have de-grassed the yard for the most part, a heavy water user, and filled it with Florida Friendly (http://www.floridayards.org) plants that  do not require much watering. I am hoping to irrigate  only once a week, or never, and just water by hand.

City water is expensive! The South Florida Water Management District states that “up to 60% of a south Florida homes’ water use can go to irrigation. That’s insane and a huge waste of water and money.

I have read that Florida produces 25% of the WORLD’S turf grass.(http://floridaturf.com/about/) Considering that, I’d say the state has an interest in keeping us “in grass.” This is a problem…a conflict of interest. I wish they were investing  in inventing an attractive low-water/low-or no fertilizer,  ground cover other than floratam type grasses; they would make billions, and help save the state’s precious spring, lake, and estuary waters rather than encouraging us to destroy them. The sod and fertilizer industries are multi-billion dollar industries that want to keep us “addicted.” 

Well, I have broken free. 🙂

Back to my family, I have to say, also, that my brother-in-law, landscape architect Mike Flaugh (http://mikeflaughla.comand my mother, always ahead of her time, also inspired me on this issues. As they too have de-grassed their yards years ago and their yards still look beautiful. Mike has “natively” and “Florida Friendly” landscaped some of the newest and finest homes in the area with no or little grass and these homes are examples of the “new yard,” “the conscious yard,” “the yard of the future.”

Today, I’d like to share some photos of my de-grassed yard in hopes of inspiring you, should you wish to be inspired, and hopefully are already! 🙂

Font of house is now ferns and other plantings.
Font of house is now ferns and other plantings.
Creeping jasmine vine has replaced grass in the front yard. Loves shade or partial sun, but not full sun.
Creeping jasmine vine has replaced grass in the front yard. Loves shade or partial sun, but not full sun.
Back yard where grass was removed and repaved with stepping stones and Florida Friendly plants.
Back yard where grass was removed and replaced with stepping stones and Florida Friendly plants.
Front yard with stepping stones and edged with plantings.
Front yard with stepping-stones and edged with ferns and plantings.
Leaves from the trees in the yard are used as mulch.
Leaves from the trees in the yard are used as mulch, as they break down they enrich the soil.
One area of the house in the front was left grass for our dogs to run and play and...
One area of the house in the front was left with grass for our dogs to run, and play, and…
Bird houses for wildlife.
Bird houses for wildlife; wildlife increases dramatically once grass and chemicals are removed. The birds eat bugs.
More native plants like this satin leaf started to germinate and grow once the grass was gone.
More native plants like this satin leaf started to germinate and grow once the grass was gone. I am letting more natives grow-letting the yard “be itself.”
Native Beautyberry provides food for wildlife and color.
Native Beautyberry provides food for wildlife and color.
Wild coffee grows like craze in our area once the grass was out. It has colorful berries for wildlife and a shiny green leaf.
Wild coffee grew like crazy in our area once the grass was out. It has colorful berries for wildlife and a shiny green leaf.
Native firebush attracts butterflies.
Native firebush attracts butterflies.
Golden dew drop  with its pretty purple flowers is a butterfly magnet.
Golden dew drop with its pretty purple flowers is a butterfly magnet.
Lantana
Lantan, another butterfly and low water plant.
Purple porter
Purple porter, yet another butterfly and low water native.
Flowers.....
Once grass was gone, this Mexican star, or something like that, started to come up all over the yard; it has a pretty yellow morning flower and is native.
Century plant needs little water.
this century plant needs little water and has an interesting shape; native beach sunflower vine in rear.
Crotants are not native but use little water and add color.
Crotants are not native but use little water and add color.
Side yard
Side yard…no more grass, with lots of  blue flowering plumbago, also a low water, butterfly attracting,  Florida Friendly plant.