Sabal Success

Established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge (PINWR) is the precedent setting first U.S. national wildlife refuge. Over the years it has has been expanded from its original size. Local citrus farmer and PINWR advocate Joe Michaeel saw to it that his valuable citrus groves along Jungle Trail became part of the PINWR, and efforts to restore the groves back to tropical hardwood hammock were undertaken in the early 1990’s.

A newish trail transverses this restoration from the bathrooms at the north end of Jungle Trail to the honorary Joe Michael Trail and scenic overlook. This trail provides a look at how the restoration has progressed. The most successful native plant: The cabbage palm (Sabal palmetto), the Florida state tree. For significant success transplanted cabbage palms need to be about 10′ tall. Pictured above is a healthy, young round cabbage palm that likely is the progeny of one of the transplanted or was brought to the site by a bird.

Gumbo limbo (Bursera simarouba) also has fared well. Its fruits also are eaten and spread by birds. It is highly tolerant of salt-laden winds and can tolerate short-term inundation by salt water.

Though many live oak trees (Quercus virginiana) were planted, a goodly number of them failed to flourish in the difficult conditions of the restoration site. Pictured below is a live oak that appears that have grown for awhile before it went to glory, perhaps due to the salty challenges of Hurricanes Matthew and Irene.

Along side of the decaying oak are a gumbo limbo on the right a tall white stopper (Eugenia axillaris) on the left.

Only a few of the tropical hardwoods planted as part of the restoration seem to have survived. Further down the trail was a surviving but not thriving pigeon plum (Coccoloba diversifolia), a relative of the seagrape (Coccoloba uvifera) that is not commonly found in Indian River County but was included as part of the restoration.

Invasive pest plants remain problematic including the legacy of guineagrass (Urcohloa maxima), a weedy grass of citrus groves, and cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica), often characterized as one of the world’s worst weeds. Efforts to control the cogongrass with herbicide were evident …

Shrubby false buttonweed (Spermacoce verticillata) also appears to be gaining a substantial foothold …

Visit this new trail to see the difficulties of restoring a citrus grove to oak hammock.

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