A member of the Verbenaceae family, the American Beauty Berry (Callicarpa americana) is a small lanky bush. It can be recognized by its clusters of shiny purple berries growing in the leaf axils in late Summer. In the Spring it can be recognized by its pale pink flowers. Its pointed leaves grow alternately on tall stems. Native of Florida, the Southeastern U.S. and the Caribbean basin, this plant is drought-tolerant and can be seen in scrub areas as well as in moist soils. It can undergo full Sun to partial shade and is a great native adition to Floridian gardens, providing year-round beauty and a food source for birds and other wildlife.
Black mangroves (Avicennia germinans) usually grow just inland of the shoreline and can grow over 50 feet in height. Their trunks are dark in color, and their leaves are narrow and pointed, generally dark green above and pale or almost silver below. Clustered flowers are white and fragrant. Black mangroves are able to live where water is stagnant, void of oxygen, or hypersaline (lacking fresh water).
Coral Bean (Erythrina herbacea) is a native plant with arrowhead-shaped leaflets grouped in threes on long stalks. In the winter, most of the leaves fall off and are replaced by bright red flowers. The coral bean blossoms contain nectar and attract both hummingbirds and butterflies. When in bloom, the flowering stalks resemble a string of firecrackers and are easily seen on the grounds of the Environmental Learning Center and Snail Trail.
With its sub-tropical climate southwest Florida rolls out the welcome mat to invasive plant and animal species from around the world. Some species fail whereas others thrive, getting out of control without the natural checks and balances found in their native lands. Despite millions of dollars spent statewide annually on removal and control efforts many species persist in natural areas in virtually any habitat. As you walk the trails keep your eyes peeled and ensure you do not help these wiley invaders spread further.
A member of the Cactus family, the Prickly Pear is low and branching. Its segments are flattened, thick and oval-shaped with sharp spines. Its yellow flowers bloom in late spring and summer and it fruits in late summer and early fall. They produce reddish, pulpy fruits. In Rookery Bay Reserve, the Prickly Pear can be seen growing in abundance along Cat Claw Trail and in the scrub. Songbirds and small mammals shelter in their spiny den, surrounded by the plant's stems and pads, while raccoons and gopher tortoises eat the pads and fruits.
Red mangroves (Rhizophora mangle) grow to heights of 40 feet tall. They are known for their congestion of red-colored prop roots that extend down from the trunk and lower branches and anchor the tree in the mud or sand. When submerged at high tide this tangle of roots provides hiding places for fish, and also serves as substrate for a variety of encrusting organisms such as barnacles, oysters, sponges and tunicates which in turn provide food for those fish.
Although not related to cultivated grapes, the sea grape (Coccoloba uvifera) bears red and purple clustered fruit. The edible fruits ripen separately and are an important food source for birds and small mammals. Pioneers traditionally used the berries for jams and jellies, and also found the wood to be a good cooking fuel. Leaves are large, round and leathery, with prominent veins that are often red. Reaching heights up to 50 feet, sea grapes are common in coastal strands and tropical hardwood hammocks from peninsular Florida to South America.
Sea grasses are flowering plants that have adapted to life in coastal waters. They rely on water, rather than insects, to carry their pollen from flower to flower. In southwest Florida, because our waters are full of nutrients, tannins and sediment, sea grasses typically grow where the water is shallow enough for sunlight to penetrate (usually four feet or less).