Sunday, February 22, 2015

Reclaim and Restore

Our human footprints are found all over the world, in every habitat on each and every continent. Areas that we consider truly wild have the faintest imprint of humans on them, but there is no where on this planet that is untouched and pristine. We are everywhere because we are part of nature and have successfully spread around the world colonizing every habitat. Now, in order to escape our built environment that seems so far removed from nature, it seems we must travel long distances to seek out solitude.

Mt. Banner and Thousand Island Lake in the Ansel Adams Wilderness Area - Inyo National Forest, California
Wilderness is an area that we crown with this title. According to The Wilderness Society, ‘Wilderness is a type of protection given to the most pristine wildlands - areas within national parks, forests, recreation areas and other wildlands where there are no roads or development”. Webster’s Dictionary defines wilderness as, “a wild and natural area in which few people live”; but there are still people, if even only a few. In order to obtain a sense of wilderness and peace in nature, to maintain habitat for other species to coexist with us, we must now restore areas we have degraded through human industrial activities. In order to protect our urban habitats from storms, which are becoming fiercer and more frequent, we must build our environment as close to a natural system as possible so that it will withstand the strong winds and waves that come with each passing storm and help protect our homes and businesses from damage.

Damage along the New Jersey shore from Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Without a natural buffer of barrier islands, these coastal habitations were flooded and many of them uninhabitable after the storm. (Photo by U.S. Air Force)
Restoration is the act of returning something to its original condition by repairing it. This can happen naturally in areas that are adjacent to intact, undegraded habitat where there are plants nearby to supply seeds for regrowth. Over time, seeds will drift in or be carried in by animals allowing plants to regain a foothold, or rather, a roothold. Terrific examples of this abound: Pripyat, the town near Chernobyl, and areas of cities like Detroit where after decades of being abandoned, plants and trees have sprung up through the old buildings and factories to reclaim the land; and right here in North Key Largo, where the land was scraped and leveled for agriculture then cleared for housing developments that were never built and has now returned to hardwood hammock, complete with several endangered species that are under Federal and State protection.

The ghost town of Pripyat in Ukraine (Photo by Gerd Ludwig for National Geographic)
A cabin succumbing to the hardwood hammock in North Key Largo
An endangered Key Largo Woodrat (Neotoma floridana smalli) nest in the base of the trees' roots. This area was likely a key lime orchard in the 1940s and has naturally returned to hardwood hammock over the years. Due to the alteration of the topography, land managers must now create artificial nests for the woodrats. This nest was created by power washing the bases of the trees to create an underground living quarter.
Plants are highly adaptable, especially here in a hurricane zone. Coastal plants around the world in subtropical to tropical latitudes have evolved with tropical cyclones (hurricanes are one type of cyclone) and all the chaos that comes with them: pounding rain, high winds and flooding from storm surges. Right here in our Gardens, a native Sea-grape tree (Coccoloba uvifera) at the beach was blown over and nearly uprooted by Hurricane Wilma in 2005 but has resprouted and is a stunning shrub. We also have a stubborn little fire bush (Hamelia patens) in our parking area that has made a coral rock its home for a quarter of a century! Designing our future shorelines and barrier islands for storm protection really hit home after Hurricanes Katrina in 2005 and most recently Sandy in 2012. Many municipalities are looking to innovative green building designs coupled with restoring marshes and beaches with locally adapted native plants for their resilience and tenacity in the face of these storms.
Coccoloba uvifera - Sea-grape tree that was nearly uprooted during Hurricane Wilma in 2005 is thriving once again
Restoration can also be facilitated by us, think of gardening on a landscape level with bulldozers recontouring the land and native plants repopulating the landscape. Seeds are collected and either grown out in a nursery or directly seeded across the landscape to reintroduce the local native flora back onto the site. This type of restoration must be done when the degree of disturbance is high, such as with mining operations and other large-scale land disturbances like landslides and hurricanes. It may also be useful in brownfields and abandoned agricultural areas. 

Genesee Coal Mine & Power Plant in Alberta, Canada- Reclamation projects have been in place since 1990, returning mined lands to agricultural use and wildlife habitat. 
The largest restoration project east of the Mississippi River is in North Florida on the 51,000-acre Nokuse Plantation. This formerly neglected land is being turned back into longleaf pine forest (Pinus palustris), of which only 3% remains in the southeast United States. By repairing our damaged landscapes, we may bring a bit of wilderness back into our lives, right in our own backyards and cities. Wilderness does not need to be an out-of-the-way, untouchable resource that only a few hardy individuals can make the trek to experience.

A hiker along the Florida National Scenic Trail heading into Nokuse Plantation longleaf pine forest
If we are fortunate enough to live near a national park or forest, a wild and scenic river, a state or county park, or even undeveloped land, we can experience that sense of wonder and place in nature. These parks may also provide an outlet for volunteering on restoration projects. For several years I worked in the Presidio of San Francisco where they have a community-supported restoration program. The Presidio is a former military post and over the last 2 decades it has been managed for restoration of its natural areas, to minimize landfills deposited by the U.S. Army and to help preserve its habitats for rare plants, insects, birds, and mammals. The convenience of the park being within the city limits of San Francisco encourages many citizens to come out and lend a hand in restoration activities. After heavy equipment hauls out the remains of landfills and recontours the slopes of the sand dunes and bluffs, crews of volunteers and school groups come out to assist with the restoration efforts. Needless to say, parts of the park have been transformed back into wilderness areas with coyote and gray fox prowling amongst the rare wildflowers on the dunes once again. If you plant it, they will come!

Our wildlife ecologist managed to snap a picture of a rare sighting of a grey fox! The last record of a grey fox sighting in the Presidio was in 2004. The fox scrambled onto some branches along with a raven as a coyote prowled around a bush below. Thanks to Jon Young for the incredible picture! (Feb. 2015)
No matter where you live, you can rewild your yard by planting native plants or becoming involved with an organization in your community that is restoring a local natural area. Being out in nature is beneficial to our spirit and mind and experiencing a restoration project adds an extra layer of care for the earth; we become personally invested in our natural areas. It is a great way to learn the local flora and fauna and connect with other community members. We can all contribute to creating wilderness a little closer to home. As David Byrne said in his 1988 hit (Nothing But) Flowers, "Once there were parking lots, now it's a peaceful oasis".

Emily B. Magnaghi
Associate Director

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Spring-Cleaning in the Nursery

While we do not exactly have a spring season in south Florida, I use the common phrase “spring-cleaning” to denote this particular activity. I initiated an effort to clean out some of the weedy and invasive species that we have growing in our nursery and shade house. We have very limited nursery space to grow seedlings, cuttings and pups from some of our collections, therefore space is at a premium. Last month we obtained new plant specimens from nearby Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and last week we received several new arrivals from Montgomery Botanical Center. While we finalize garden planning on where to place these specimens, they may wait in the nursery area for several weeks before being out-planted. By cleaning out the nursery and taking stock of what we have, we can make space for new arrivals, focus on keeping plants healthy, and most importantly, remove invasive species.

I realized that we had several plants that are considered invasive species in south Florida and the Keys, while doing an inventory of our nursery stock. This issue is important to me since I have worked on the land management side of botany and seen what havoc invasive species can wreck on the environment, not to mention the hours spent removing the pests and the amount of tax-payer dollars spent trying, in vain, to control these weeds. While oftentimes these plants are beautiful, if they make it out of gardens and into our natural areas, they become invasive and threaten our native, south Florida species, many of which are already rare. Our Gardens are about 0.5 miles from the nearest natural area to which birds could potentially spread seeds. By having these plant species in our Gardens, visitors may be inspired by their beauty and possibly plant them at their homes, spreading the problem further afield. I would like to inspire people to plant native plants and non-invasive exotic plants. By eliminating the potentially invasive species from our Gardens, we can rest assured.

Among the plants we have removed from our nursery so far are wart fern (Microsorum scolopendrium) and Asian sword fern (Nephrolepis brownii), tropical almond tree (Terminalia catappa), Mexican fan palm (Washingtonia robusta), and cardboard palm (Zamia furfuracea – a cycad). We have begun removing fountain and napier grasses (Pennisetum setaceum/ P. purpureum) from our landscape and are replacing them with native grasses. There are a few specimens of other invasive exotics in the Gardens that we are grappling with: strawberry tree in our fruit garden (Muntingia calabura), arrowhead vine (Syngonium angustatum) climbing up a palm trunk, Governor’s plum (Flacourtia indica) & Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius) providing privacy along a property line and actually rooted on the adjacent property, and foundation plantings of Queensland umbrella tree (Schefflera actinophylla) that provide shade and block road noise for guests and have been on the property for over 20 years.
Removing plants from the nursery is one thing, but how do we deal with these mature plants in the ground? To remove a Schefflera is a huge task with a high price tag, and with nothing large enough to fill its place, would leave a gaping hole. When is having a specimen that you can educate the public with more beneficial than removing it? These are some of the tough decisions that botanic gardens must make when potentially invasive species are part of our collections.

Cardboard palm (Zamia furfuracea) ready to be composted. This species has been added to the Florida Keys list of invasive plants due to its tendency to spread from the landscape into natural areas by seed dispersal. It pops up all over our Gardens from existing plantings which we are working on replacing.
A Tropical almond (Terminalia catappa) sapling on its way out. Seedlings of this species pop up throughout the Gardens even though the mature tree was cut down years ago. New seeds may arrive in mulch deliveries, as well.

Wart fern (Microsorum scolopendrium) that has escaped its nursery pot and started to grow along the ground. Watchful botanists in Miami Dade county are adding this plant to the state invasive species list as it is showing up in natural areas. It is not yet invasive in the Keys, and in fact may not become invasive down here since we have a drier climate, but we have many visitors from the metro Miami area and do not want to encourage them to plant this fern.

Asian sword fern (Nephrolepis brownii) specimen. This species is listed as invasive for Central and South Florida and is invading hammocks in the FL Keys. It is also invading nearby pots in the orchid house (see photo below). Ferns can be particularly tricky due to the multitude of spores they release. The Old World climbing fern and Japanese climbing fern (Lygodium microphyllum, L. japonicum) are both major problems in Florida and in several other southeastern states. Since its introduction in the 1960s, Old World climbing fern now covers 50,000 acres of habitat in Florida, literally climbing over every other plant in its path.  

Small sporophyte of Asian sword fern growing in adjacent pots.

On the flip side, botanic gardens may be some of the first places that a new species’ invasive potential becomes known, or a new pest becomes evident. It is then our obligation to spread the word and inform the local extension service and regulatory committees of the threat. Having staff members that are part of a local invasive plant watch group is helpful to stay abreast of developing issues in your surrounding area. It is our duty as botanical gardens to educate the public about these issues and promote the sale and use of local native plants and non-invasive exotic plants.

In the Florida Keys, our local eradication network is called the Florida Keys Invasive Exotics Task Force. This group includes local, state, and federal agencies and non-profit and public utility personnel who are responsible for removing invasive plants from local natural areas like state and county parks. By working with this group and others like it in south Florida (Everglades Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area & Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council) I am able to stay informed and help prevent the spread of invasive exotic species. Publications such as the AlterNatives Plant Guide are a great way to share local knowledge on landscaping and gardening with the public. 

Emily B. Magnaghi
Associate Director

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Grateful Guests and TYUP Attendees to Finish 2014

Small spaces are the rage these days. It seems that every gardening and architecture magazine has featured innovative ways to design and be comfortable in small spaces; from using raised beds and vertical gardening techniques to repurposing items like shipping containers into homes. Stores like IKEA have made huge headway into American markets and while promoting our seemingly endless desire for goods, have also shown us ways to do more with less, capitalizing on this European tradition.

And that is exactly what we do here at the Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort!

When I first visited the Gardens last spring, I was very curious how they were laid out on less than 2 acres of property. Coming from a larger botanical garden (at the time I was fresh out of 83 acre Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables) I was used to sprawling grounds and long rambles between the collections looking for plants. There is even a tram tour to give visitors an overview of the entire property! While that garden is extensive and beautiful, our Gardens are also beautiful, packed with variety and easy to navigate during our botanist-led TYUP* tour.

During Christmas week, I had a family of 10 book my TYUP and they were delighted at how many plants we have in our Gardens. The patriarch of the family, a long-time volunteer at Fairchild, commented that our collections were very easy to see during the tour and that some of our plants, our cycads in particular, looked very healthy and happy. I was shining with pride! What a great compliment to end the year with.

We do our best to have a good diversity of plants with the limited space we have to work with – remember we are part of a resort and the buildings take up real estate. However, we have managed to collect over 360 plant species, cultivars and hybrids including 25 edible tropical fruits, over 20 Florida Keys natives, 38 species of palms, and 15 bamboo specimens. Not bad for less than 2 acres! We are busy adding more this year so come down to visit and see for yourself how we maximize our space.

*Transforming Your Understanding of Plants tour – see this blog here.

Dioon mejiae, Honduran dioon, a cycad native to Honduras and Nicaragua [Zamiaceae]

Annona squamosa, sugar-apple, a fruit of the tropical Americas and West Indies [Annonaceae]

Byrsonima lucida, Locustberry, a south Florida native [Malpighiaceae]

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Importance of Our "Transforming Your Understanding of Plants™", or TYUP, Tour

Here at the Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort, we provide a garden tour to visitors as a way to experience the Gardens. This is not simply a standard garden tour showing off our collections, but an educational tour describing how important plants are to our lives from centuries past to the present day and into the future.

Leading visitors through the Gardens on our tour provides a way for me to share my knowledge and love of plants. Not only do I get to talk to people about plants (one of my favorite topics!) but it also provides a welcome break from the office and a chance to be rejuvenated outdoors, which is part of our mission: Education - Restoration - Transformation. Nearly everyone comes to the Gardens with some connection to plants, usually with experience growing houseplants or gardening, and I try to build on that existing appreciation. For those who join the tour with no previous experience with plants, I can really start to open their eyes. I stress the importance of plants to our lives, our environment, and the future of both. By sharing information on human uses of plants over the centuries (ethnobotany), current uses of plants in technological applications, and how plants are more like humans than we realize, I hope to transform our visitors’ understanding of plants. This is the essence of the visitor experience at the Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort. Instead of seeing plants as simply a green backdrop or landscaping tool I hope they will be seen as our vital green lifeline. 

I also hope to change the perception that we (humans) are masters of our domain and here to rule the world, taking whatever we want from the plentiful bounty of nature. We know that the reserves of nature are not limitless and we are running into shortages of many fundamental components for our survival: fresh water, fish, arable land, to name a few. We are part of the biosphere and all organisms are interdependent on each other for survival. Certain endangered species may disagree with me if they could talk. They may consider humans to be the biggest threat to their survival, the biggest weed on the planet, and I tend to agree with them. However, looking at it from a different point of view, I realize that many species rely on us. Domesticated animals, hybrid plants, heirloom variety vegetables and flowers are all organisms we have created through centuries of genetic engineering. Would these organisms persist if we were not here to tend them? Also, we have introduced so many  biological "weeds" to different environments (think Brazilian pepper trees and kudzu vine, sprawling urban development, Ambrosia beetles, etc. ), we must work to eliminate these threats and save the endangered species and habitats they threaten. Although it is self-serving to promote saving the environment for the sole benefit of our species and disregarding the rest of the species on the planet, it is a useful approach it it will teach people how important ecological health is.

Plants are essential to our existence and in order to preserve and protect them and the ecosystems they build and support, we need to see them for their true value and worth. Short of having a fully functioning farm to showcase our agricultural systems and the food we rely on for survival, or an entire watershed with oxygen (O2) production, carbon (CO2) sequestration, and water and nutrient cycling highlighted, or a trip into the atmosphere to see the full extent of the oceans and the large amount of Obeing produced by marine algae (estimated at over 70% of Oproduction for the planet), I work with our 21st century collection at the Gardens to educate on a more intimate scale.

Many times, the tour is too short to convey all the information I want to share. Vistors have so many great questions, as well. There are many stories about the plants in our Gardens that cannot be covered due to time constraints so I suggest to visitors that they learn more about them from our website, Our website is full of information, videos, photos of the plants in bloom, and will keep you occupied, entertained, and engrossed for quite a while. It is a great way to experience part of the Gardens at home and a way we are able to reach a broader, global audience. We frequently update our featured videos and articles in the 21st Century Botany section and a new feature of a virtual garden tour is in the works for 2015, so stay tuned. Of course, there is nothing quite like our TYUP so the next time you are in Key Largo or planning a vacation to the Florida Keys, please come in for a tour and experience it for yourself.

Emily B. Magnaghi, M.S.
Associate Director

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Plant Immigration and Naturalization

Coconut palm at Kona Kai
Nothing exclaims "tropical paradise" more than the coconut palm. They are so common in our landscape in south Florida that they seem to be native to our region, but alas they are not. Where exactly does the coconut palm come from and how did it get here?

Historic records on the introduction of Cocos nucifera, the coconut palm, are difficult to trace since humans have been carrying this portable source of nutrition throughout the tropics for thousands of years. Coconut DNA analysis has shown that two varieties originated in Asia, one in the South Pacific and one in the Indian Ocean region. As far as when the coconut arrived in Florida, I located two articles. One recounted a tale of coconuts from a shipwreck floating up along the Palm Beach coast in the 1800s and another indicated the presence of coconuts in the Florida Keys in the mid-1800s. DNA analysis of Cocos nucifera which, combined with historic shipping records, show that the Indian Ocean variety of coconuts were brought to Africa by Portuguese sailors; this variety was then brought to the Caribbean. Either way, they have been here for over a hundred years and have made themselves right at home.

Coconut palm at Kona Kai

The coconut is one of the most useful plants for humans, especially due to its portability for travel on sea voyages. They have nutritious water and fleshy meat which is also processed into milk and oil, the oil is used for cooking and in cosmetics and soaps; building materials are obtained from the husks, leaves and trunk; the coir on the outside of the fruit has many traditional and commercial uses, also coconut husks are used culturally for decoration, and on and on. Early farming records in the Florida Keys indicate there were plantations of coconut trees, pineapples, tomatoes and other hardier vegetables. It was, and is, a valuable crop. It is also a valuable botanical teaching tool as people readily recognize and enjoy coconuts and are interested in learning about their various attributes. However, the coconut is not a native plant to Florida and has naturalized in the Florida Keys to the extent that it is now on the Keys' invasive species watch list.

Coccothrinax argentata, Silver palm, at Lighthouse Beach,
Eleuthera Bahamas
Close-up of Silver palm's silvery leaf
The coconut has become a problem locally at two popular tourist destinations, Bahia Honda State Beach and Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park. Coconuts are washing up on the beach dunes at Bahia Honda and becoming established, potentially outcompeting the native Silver Palm, Coccothrinax argentata. Coconut palms persist in the tropical hardwood hammock at Lignumvitae Key, where they were planted early in the last century by private landowners, and their thatch and debris is inhibiting the germination of native plants. Left unchecked, coconut palms become established in the ecosystem and may alter the ecology for the remaining native plants and animals. In the photo from Lighthouse Beach on Eleuthera, Bahamas to the right, there are numerous coconut palms in the distance, their canopies popping up out of the native scrub. We are not sure what their long-term impacts will be, but state and county land managers in the Keys are not taking any chances. They are on the lookout for newly sprouting coconuts and actively removing trees, but they have their hands full with other, more invasive, species that are a bigger threat to the habitats in the Keys, so they need our help.

Coconut trimming at Kona Kai

How can we help reduce the number of coconuts in the environment? We need to ramp up our collection efforts and harvest them! I'm not kidding! If you have coconut palms on your property, you likely have someone come cut down the coconuts so they don't endanger pedestrians and property when they fall. Keep up the good work!
These delicious fruits also provide many cottage-industry product ideas to local artisans: homemade Keys coconut soaps, body scrubs, lotions and hair oils; locally sourced coconut milk for cocktails and coconut pies - who says we can only be famous for Key Lime pie?; cooking oil for fried lionfish fritters - another invasive species that we are hunting and eating! We need to jump on the locavore band wagon and start providing tourists with locally grown food and locally sourced ingredients so their experience in the Keys is even more memorable. 
Raw coconuts and two clever uses for cleaned/dried coconuts 
By actually using this valuable resource, we can help remove the coconuts from the environment, limiting their ability to disperse and grow in the wild. There are so many coconut palms throughout the state that it is inconceivable to think about removing them all so we need to come up with other means of control. I'm going to start by cutting the coconuts down from the tree in my front yard. I can't think of a tastier way to control invasive plants!

For more information on the genetic research done to decode the origins of coconuts, follow this link: 

Thanks for reading!
Emily B. Magnaghi
Associate Director

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Settling In

Since moving back to Florida from California in the summer of 2012, I have felt like a newly transplanted seedling on oolitic limestone; my roots have been creeping along looking for a space to reach down and anchor into. I waited patiently for an opportunity to continue my botanical career in south Florida, networking and meeting all the right players, taking on temporary part-time jobs while biding my time, but never finding a permanent position. That space in the limestone was eluding me. I knew I wanted a new challenge, something that combined my love of plants with education. Just as I was about to throw in the proverbial towel and reassess my mission, I finally found my space at The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort!

There are many different activities I enjoy that are now part of my job: working with my team to plant new specimens in the garden, planning different tour routes throughout the garden as the flowers come and go, presenting information to the local schools, learning new information about plants every day, networking with fellow botanists and horticulturists, and working with a great group of people who share my passion and enthusiasm for plants and botanical education. I am thoroughly enjoying my new position and getting to know everyone I work with. 

Enthusiastically describing light sensing in plants on a TYUP tour
Veronika breaking up the roots of old Hibiscus plants to make room for new poolside additions

Myristica fragrans, nutmeg and mace, by Pauline A. Goldsmith
One of my first "field trips" outside the garden was to see the Tropical Botanic Artists Bizarre Botany exhibit at the Coral Gables Museum. Our Executive Director, Joe Harris, Director of Education, Ronnie Harris, and I made our way up to the mainland to preview the exhibit from the Miami-based group before it came to our gallery at the resort. We also wanted to see author Michael Largo speak about his new book, The Big Bad Book of Botany. It is an A-to-Z encyclopedia of ordinary to bizarre plants and their interesting culinary, medicinal, ecological, and agricultural histories. The book is a great primer for budding plant enthusiasts and seasoned botanists alike! And the botanical artwork is beautiful! We are fortunate to have this exhibit at The Gallery at Kona Kai Resort for the next few months. All the drawings are either pen and ink or graphite and some of them rival the best scientific botanical illustrations I have seen. I have my eye on the Myristica fragrans (nutmeg) drawing and several others. Between the artwork in the gallery and the plantings in the garden, I am not sure which is more beautiful!
Artemisia absinthium, absinthe, by Silvia Bota
I am happily settling into life in the Keys and at The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort. Soon I will likely be that "Keysie" tour guide with all the flowers and seeds adorning my sun hat, telling everyone how amazing coonties are...wait you don't know what a coontie is? Well, you need to come down and take my tour!

Emily B. Magnaghi - Associate Director

Thursday, August 28, 2014

New Associate Director of The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort

As promised, in this post you'll be introduced to the new Associate Director of The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort. Her name is Emily Magnaghi and we met in December of last year, when she came down to Key Largo to take a tour with me and see what The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort was all about. At the time, she was living in Miami and working in Everglades National Park monitoring plant populations after a restoration project. We got along very well and it was great having someone come by for a tour who really knew their plants. After the tour, we kept in touch and got together a few times for day trips throughout the Keys. On one of our trips, I mentioned that we had been trying to acquire a few specimens of Pilosocereus robinii, a Florida Keys native cactus, and she happened to know one of the people up at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden who was propagating those plants for their conservation program. After a few phone calls and introductions and a proposal for our intentions of use for the cacti, we had three specimens here for the Gardens.

One of the specimens of Pilosocereus robinii (Key tree cactus) Emily helped us acquire, at home in the Gardens.

About this time, I was pretty sure my time at Kona Kai was limited, so after getting to know Emily better and seeing her enthusiasm for plants and her understanding of their importance to humans and the world as a whole, I began to think she might make a great successor to my position here at the Gardens. Once I was sure I was going to be leaving, I encouraged her to apply for my position, as I thought she'd be a great fit. After a number of interviews with Joe and Ronnie, everyone seemed to agree, and so we welcomed her as the newest addition to The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort just over a month ago, during which time I've been helping her learn all she needs to know to take the Gardens into its next stage of life, which I have no doubt will be a beautiful one. And so, it is with great pride that I now hand this blog over to Emily, whom you'll get to know a bit better by the time this post is through...

Here's Emily beside Alpinia purpurata, a beautiful ornamental ginger plant.

Thank you SO much Rick! He has been a wonderful, patient mentor to me during this past month as I have been learning all the ropes here at the Gardens. I have been fortunate to overlap with him for several weeks now which, I think it's safe to say, is making the transition easier for everyone. Rick has done such a wonderful job building the program over the past 3 1/2 years. His organizational skills are outstanding which has made finding all the files and information I need very easy. His presence and energy on the tours are always very calming yet enthusiatic. He is a good role model to strive to emulate. We will have to find a way to commemorate Rick in the Gardens! We will all truly miss Rick and wish him well on his next journey in life. I hope he will come visit us again in the future.

I know, it's a tough one...Magnaghi. Say: "mahn-YA-ghee" and be very expressive like you're really Italian. You can even use your hands to get into the role, or come by the Gardens and we can practice Italian together!

I grew up in Florida as a snow-bird, like many folks here. My summers were spent exploring National Parks elsewhere in the United States, while during the school year I was in Naples (Florida, not Italy). My path to botany was via the underwater world which I greatly enjoyed as a child. Along this path, I happened to take a botany class and this changed everything. Plants fascinated me! In the middle of winter in Michigan, here were these vibrant creatures growing in the greenhouses at the University of Michigan's Matthaei Botanical Gardens. I looked forward to that hour once a week more than anything that semester, as the plants and sunlight in the glasshouse chased the winter blues away.

After reconsidering my path of study, I decided to change course and follow the greenery. Many years later, after practicing restoration with native plants, studying plant taxonomy, pressing herbarium specimens in San Francisco and performing plant surveys for the California High Speed Train project, I find myself back home in South Florida finally enjoying the tropical diversity.

Here I am leading one of my first tour groups around the Gardens. I hope I received high marks from Rick on this one!

I am very excited about my new role at The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort. Stay tuned for more information on what I hope to learn and accomplish in my role as Associate Director in my next blog post.

Emily B. Magnaghi
Associate Director