Jeanne’s Garden | Discovering the nature coast | Home and outdoor living

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Many native plants bloom in late fall along the nature coast. November morning temperatures can drop into the 40s just before sunrise and afternoon temperatures may not reach 80 degrees. Modern, well-insulated homes have little need for heating or cooling in the fall.

Florida is the third most populous state in the United States. More and more people are arriving every day to live here permanently. Entire forests and building plots are clearcut, leaving no shade trees to cool new homes and housing estates. Trees and green plants use carbon dioxide to help mitigate global warming, produce oxygen for humans and animals to breathe, store carbon, and provide wildlife with shelter from predators, perches, nesting sites, pollen, nectar, seeds and food.

One indicator of approaching winter is the return of West Indian manatees to Florida’s coastal waters and hot springs. Tourists gather on the Nature Coast to see and swim with these large marine mammals. Visitors from all over the world contribute to our local and national economy.

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Last Sunday morning I took visitors in search of plants, wildflowers, birds and manatees. We checked out Blue Run of Dunnellon. Cypress knees grew through the inundated wetlands along the riverbank. There were few birds and no tubes or kayaks on the Rainbow River. Where were the otters and alligators that lived between Bridge 484 and the Withlacoochee River? The riparian park west of US 41 yielded few wildlife sightings except for a great egret and migrating warblers foraging in the middle of mown grass.

Heading west across County Road 484, herds of Cattle Egrets and pairs of Sandhill Cranes foraged in fallow fields. The road north of Rousseau Lake was flooded, forcing a detour via US 19 and then back to the Inglis Dam. Below the female dam Wax Myrtle, Morella cerifera, the shrubs were covered with tiny wax-covered dark purple drupe fruits. The foam lined the banks with a thick foam of man-made pollution. Our binoculars did not spot any manatees or alligators.

Osprey platforms and power line towers contained no nest of sticks. People were casting lines, but not catching any fish. From a cliff next to the launch pad, we didn’t see any fish swimming underwater, jumping, or ringing. Ospreys and cormorants perched on snags and perch patiently searching for prey. We crossed paved roads at Crystal Manor where dozens of vacant woodlots were inundated.

Along King’s Bay to Crystal River, Saltbush, Baccharis halimifolia, tall native perennial shrubs that resemble miniature trees, were covered in parachutes of snow-white fluffy seeds waiting for the wind to disperse. The pontoon excursion boats go slowly with few passengers. We didn’t see any manatees.

Then we strolled through Hunter Springs Park. The imported beach sand had eroded far into the murky waterway. Floods invaded the concrete retention wall. The white ibis approached the picnic tables where tourists were happy to share their food. The wetlands in the park consisted of a mass of bright yellow narrow leaf sunflowers, Helianthus angustifolius, and the pale purple climbing aster, Symphyotrichum carolinianus. Florida has 25 species of asters from the Asteracea family. This woody-stemmed perennial shrub extends from Florida to North Carolina in moist habitats, in full sun or partial shade.

Finally, from the Southwest First Street Bridge, we spotted manatees resting at Magnolia Spring next to the Three Sisters Springs unit of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Established in 1983 to protect manatees, our 80-acre refuge is managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Crystal River NWR contains 20 islands and several small patches of land.

To date in 2021, there have been approximately 1,000 manatee deaths in Florida, mostly due to the decline in seagrass that manatees need for food. It is illegal to harass manatees – harassment includes feeding them!

Manatees are now starving to death, even though it is human behavior that has caused habitat destruction, water pollution, excess nitrates and toxic algal blooms. Sea grasses die in murky water. The number of manatees has dropped to 6,000, and that’s before cold winter fronts arrived to kill the weak and starving manatees.

Restoring habitats that improve water quality and replanting marine grasses will take years. Do we need a decree to allow manatee feeding, or are we just letting them go extinct?

Jane Weber is a gardener and professional consultant. Semi-retired, she cultivates thousands of native plants. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at 352-249-6899.

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