The flora and fauna of South Florida are quite diverse, made up of microclimate environments called communities. Each of these communities has its own plants and animals that rarely leave their own area. These are broken out as coastal dunes, hammocks, freshwater swamps or wetlands, saltwater wetlands, sand pine scrubs, dry pineland and pond and river margins. Marco Island has areas that would apply to all of these communities.
The majority of our flora is tropically oriented. Nurseries tend to sell a lot of imported exotic plants from other places but there is a trend back to native plants as awareness of water and energy issues arise. True native plants can better survive our seasonal weather extremes without special care and watering. They also provide habitat for local fauna.
A lot of the more colorful shrubs, which were imports long ago, have become such a common site they are considered by most to be native. Hibiscus, bougainvillea and ixora are a few examples that fill our landscapes with color. While they are beautiful, they require constant care from insects and disease, cold damage and extra watering.
As our island develops the last remaining habitats for our local fauna are disappearing. Some, such as the egrets and eagles, have adapted to life with man. Egrets will get in front of my mower and I have to come to a complete stop as they go after the bugs I stir up. A nesting pair of eagles lived in a nest for over 25 years, and may still be there, two feet from the back yard of a house I maintained on Shadow Ridge Court. This lot happens to be at the end of the practice driving range of the Island Country Club. These eagles endured my lawn mower, weed whip and hedge trimmers as well as the big machine that traverses the driving range picking up the golf balls at the end of the day. Not to mention the occasional wild ball that probably hit the nest. I watched many baby eaglets fledge from this nest. Others, like the pink flamingo and the quail, have slowly perished. I never got to enjoy the pink flamingos but used to love watching quail families cross the streets. You rarely see them anymore. They, like the burrowing owls, lived in our vacant lots, which are mowed regularly. We now protect the burrowing owls but still watch as their populations decline.
One thing we could do to try to save some of our local fauna is to create backyard habitats for wildlife. This does not necessarily mean you have to have a wild yard. You should simply think about your plant choices and consider how these plants could help the wildlife you would like to attract. Provide small fruits and seeds for birds and a source of water. Have tall grasses or a brush pile for animals to hide in. Leave open sandy areas and begin a burrow to attract owls or tortoises. Native plants are a better choice since Florida wildlife evolved with Florida plants. Maybe the city would consider allowing vacant lots to return to a native state to become mini wildlife refuges.
Next week: Some tips for planting native.
Eileen Ward and her husband Peter have owned and operated Greensward of Marco, Inc., a lawn maintenance and landscaping company, since 1981.