Tag Archives: pond apple tree

Agriculture’s Eradication of the Mythical Pond Apple Forest, Lake Okeechobee, SLR/IRL

Photo of pond apples in Big Cypress, a shared flicker photo by Mac
Photo of pond apples in Big Cypress, a shared Flicker photo by Mac Stone, 2014.
Pond apple also known as custard apple--this is the custard apple forest as depicted by artist Julia Kelly in the River Kidz second edition workbook, 2015.
Pond apple is also known as custard apple–this is the custard apple forest as depicted by artist Julia Kelly in the River Kidz second edition workbook, 2015.

In Florida, the pond apple is also known by many locals as the “custard apple,”(http://www.regionalconservation.org/beta/nfyn/plantdetail.asp?tx=Annoglab)

The mythical pond apple forest….Imagine, for a mile or two back from the water’s edge the trees grew, and like God’s magic sieve, their colossal roots strained the water of Lake Okeechobee before it inched its way south through the river of grass to the Everglades. Over thousands of years, the lake’s muck built up inside, around, and under, their gigantic roots, a forest grew, until one day the farmer came, the engineer came, the “white man” came, and took it all.

“We are chosen!” they said. “We are chosen to have dominion over the earth! Strip it! Cut it! Burn it! Tear it out! Expose the muck, the precious muck, and let us build an empire. Let us lift ourselves from poverty, feed ourselves, and become rich!”

Pond apple
Pond apple public photo.
Pond apple blossom. Photo by Lisa Jefferson, 2015.
Pond apple blossom. Photo by Lisa Jefferson, Stuart, Florida, 2015.
Pond apple blossom opening, photo Chuck McCartney.
Pond apple blossom opening, photo Chuck McCartney.

And many of today’s generations have become rich from this soil.

The story of the explosion of agriculture, and the sugar industry below the great lake known as “big waters,” or “Okeechobee,” as the Seminole people called it, is a not a tale for the weak. It is the story of the nature of man, and his destruction of the environment of which he is part. It is the story of “success,” and the difficult  journey of a culture to define what “success” really means.

Lawrence E.  Will, in his book, “Swamp to Sugar Bowl,” writes in his cracker style in 1968:

“That part of the woods along the south shore and half way up the eastern side, was a dense forest of tropical custard apple trees. For a mile to two miles back from the water’s edge they grew, and on all the islands as well. About 33,000 acres of solid custard apple tress there were, and that’s a heap of woods.”

33,000 acres of custard apple trees destroyed. Gone. Forever.

Today, the Everglades Agricultural Area is 700,000 square miles south of the lake. It produces sugar and vegetables.  The growth of the area is the reason why the overflow waters of Lake Okeechobee are directed thorough the northern estuaries killing local economies, rivers, and wildlife. Thus the story of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

Once during a conversation with Mr Tom MacVicar, a respected engineer who works with the agricultural and sugar industry, I was told that Lake Okeechobee used to be about “30% bigger.” At the time, I wondered what he was talking about, but over the years through reading and study I have come to understand.

Let me explain. In the late 1800s when the early farmers planted their crops they would do so in winter when Lake Okeechobee’s waters had “receded back” as it was the “dry season.”  This would be after the back-breaking work in some areas of tearing out the pond apple trees in order to get to the rich muck, “black gold,” that lies underneath. Over the years the edge of the southern shore of the lake was pushed back and then the “smaller” lake was entirely diked. This is one reason why the lake can’t hold its historical water level. Through Florida and Congress, the history of the South Florida Water Management District and the Army Corp of Engineers is linked to this history of pushing back the lake and building the agricultural empire, although now their mission includes environmental restoration.

Hmmm?

I think it would be fitting to replant some pond apple trees each year until one day, perhaps, we can regain part of the soul of that lake that was ripped out at the roots.

Old military map from 1846 shows how the fingers of water south of Lake Okeechobee that are no longer there today as the lake is diked.
Old military map from 1846 shows the fingers of water south of Lake Okeechobee that are no longer there today as the lake is diked. This would have been one area where the pond apple grew.

 

EAA below Lake Okeechobee. (Public map.)
EAA below Lake Okeechobee. (Public map.)
Today's black gold south of Lake Okeechobee. (Photo JTL, 2014)
Today’s black gold south of Lake Okeechobee. (Photo JTL, 2014)
Photo from Swamp to Suagrland, showing pond apple with moon vines around Lake O. (Lawrence E Will)
Photo from Swamp to Sugarland, showing pond apple with moon vines around Lake O. Lawrence E Will, 1968.
Close up of small pond apple on Torry Island, by Lawrence E Will.
Close up of small pond apple on Torry Island, by Belle Glade , by Lawrence E Will, 1968.
Florida Memory Project, photo by John Kunkel Small 1869-1938.
Florida Memory Project, pond apples in a creek of the  Lake Okeechobee area photo by John Kunkel Small 1869-1938.

 

History of EAA: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everglades#Everglades_Agricultural_Area)

Nature for Your Neighborhood, A Program of the Institute for Regional Conservation: (http://www.regionalconservation.org/beta/nfyn/plantdetail.asp?tx=Annoglab)

Mr Tom MacVicar: (http://www.macvicarconsulting.com)

ACOE Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee: http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Missions/CivilWorks/LakeOkeechobee/HerbertHooverDike.aspx