Sunday, November 29, 2015

Effects on Plant Collections due to High Tides and Flooding

During the month of September we experienced one our annual highest tides, sometimes called the King Tide. These are normally occurring tides throughout the months of September, October, and November during the full moon phase. This year, it was coupled with low-pressure systems bringing strong northeast winds that impacted the flow of the Gulf Stream, causing it to back-up water in the Keys and Florida Straits. There have been numerous flood warnings this fall and there has been plenty of footage in the news of the flooding in Ft. Lauderdale and Miami Beach.

Due to the unique, porous geology of the limestone in south Florida, and especially in the Keys, which have formed on an ancient coral reef, we cannot shore up our waterfronts with sea walls and levees; the water will eventually come up from below. We also have very flat topography so once the sea rises, it will not matter how far inland you are. What do botanic gardens do in this situation? How do we effectively preserve our collections in the face of sea level rise?

Currently, we have many native and exotic salt-tolerant plants on our Florida Bay waterfront. Aside from sea level rise and extreme high tides, this environment is tough for plants in general with salt spray during winter storms that blow in from the north and full, hot sun throughout the summer. Salt-tolerant plants, however, are just that, ‘tolerant’, and some of our plants may soon reach their thresholds. One potential casualty from last month’s high water is our Argusia gnaphalodes, sea-lavender or beach heliotrope.

Our sea-lavender after this summer's high tides
This evergreen shrub is highly salt-tolerant and extremely drought-tolerant once established. Our specimen is over 13 years old and has a 5-foot, gnarled trunk with branches sweeping down to the ground. Apparently, beach heliotrope is difficult to establish so I feel lucky to have such a mature specimen in our collection. Unfortunately, all the leaves fell off after the high water and we are waiting to see if it will regenerate. A similar situation occurred in 2011 and our BG-Base records indicate that it “came back well after storm damage” so my fingers are crossed.

Sea-lavender regrowth after 2011 storm damage
 Other salt-tolerant species we have along our shoreline are Coccoloba uvifera, sea-grape; Hyophorbe verschaffeltii, spindle palm; Jacquinia keyensis, joewood; Pandanus utilis, screw-pine; Serenoa repens, saw palmetto; Sesuvium portulacastrum, sea purslane; Uniola paniculata, sea oats; and all four native mangrove species: Avicennia germinans, black mangrove; Conocarpus erectus, buttonwood; Rhizophora mangle, red mangrove; Laguncularia racemosa, white mangrove.

Not only are we concerned with protecting our botanical collections, but more importantly, we need to protect the rare plant populations in the wild that are being affected by sea level rise. The inhospitable conditions produced by salt-water make it impossible for many species to survive in their present locations. Even common plants are unable to deal with excess salt, their seeds unable to germinate, they will eventually be displaced by mangroves or other salt-tolerant species. In this case, botanic gardens and nurseries are their only hope for continued propagation.

In the Florida Keys, we have many rare species that have been propagated for years by local conservation institutions such as Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and a handful of local nurseries. Regional watchdogs like the Institute for Regional Conservation have performed baseline inventories for monitoring rare plant populations so we know how they are doing over time. Without human intervention, these plants and their habitats will disappear and we do not fully understand the implications of this on a local level, and much less on a global scale.

After each storm and high tide, as I notice the multitude of mangrove propagules deposited along the shoreline, I wonder how long it would take for the trees to return our developed shoreline back into mangrove forest. I guess we’ll see over the next 30 years! Hopefully, we will be able to change the way we live and use our resources more sustainably so life in coastal areas may continue and we will not have to relocate our garden to the Lake Wales ridge – the previous shoreline of Florida.

Emily B. Magnaghi
Associate Director

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Public Gardens Across The Country and Beyond

The APGA, or American Public Gardens Association, is an organization whose vision is “a world where public gardens are indispensable.” The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai is a member of APGA since they are “committed to increasing the knowledge of public garden professionals throughout North America and internationally through information sharing, professional development, networking, public awareness, and research so they have the tools to effectively serve visitors and members.” In essence, they are here to help us better serve you!

After attending my first APGA conference in Minneapolis, MN, I was delighted by how friendly and welcoming everyone was. People who work with plants run the gamut of sociability and this group was very gregarious. I was also surprised to see speakers from many gardens I had already been to or recognized. Public gardens range in size from thousands of acres to barely two acres; from large, research institutions like the New York Botanic Garden to small gardens such as ours; from having conservation collections of rare plants from around the world to native plants particular to that region and everything in between. There are botanic gardens literally everywhere! I have been fortunate enough to have visited many gardens throughout my years of travel (see lists below) but have so many more to visit that it will take me years. I had better stay away from a BGCI (Botanic Garden Conservation International) meeting or I will be flying around the world for the rest of my life; there are 144 gardens in Australia alone!

Next year’s APGA conference will be in Miami and we are hoping to promote our idea of a "Transforming Your Understanding of Plants" (TYUP™) garden tour to other garden administrators. Every garden should have a tour focusing on the current and historic uses of plants and on modern plant science and technology as public gardens are charged with educating the public about Why Plants Matter™. Our lives on this planet are fundamentally linked to plants: the oxygen they produce, the ecosystems they have created which provide us food, shelter, and clean water, the medicines they provide, and the new perspectives on evolution and technology they provide. Points like this are not usually offered on a standard botanic garden tour as we take them for granted. At our garden, we combine these stories of the importance of plants with their beauty and histories for a more comprehensive understanding of their richness and our dependence on them.

Gardens are easy to visit, near many metro areas or tourist destinations, and usually require only about a 2-hour stroll for a quick survey or guided tour. For those who enjoy excitement and crowds, festival weekends at large gardens provide a glimpse into the local culture and are a fun way to see a garden come alive. And of course, booking a guided tour is a great way to learn about the plants and the history of a garden.

Below are lists of gardens I have visited with photos I've taken at a few of my favorite gardens, and a wish list of gardens to visit in the future. Of course, if my travels take me anywhere near an interesting botanic garden, I make sure to visit. Any additional suggestions are welcome!

Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Balboa Park Botanical Building in San Diego, Huntington Botanical Gardens, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, University of California at Santa Cruz Arboretum, San Francisco Botanical Garden, Japanese Tea Garden & Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley, Tilden Regional Parks Botanic Garden, Ruth Bancroft Garden, Luther Burbank Home and Gardens, Portland Japanese Garden, Maui Nui Botanical Gardens, University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, Chicago Botanic Garden, University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum (my old stomping grounds during college), Montreal Botanical Garden, New York Botanical Garden, The High Line, Atlanta Botanical Garden, Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, John C. Gifford Arboretum, The Kampong National Tropical Botanical Garden, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Montgomery Botanical Center, Pinecrest Gardens, Block Botanic Garden, Naples Botanical Garden, USF Botanical Gardens, Bok Tower Gardens, and Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Walnut Creek, California

Santa Cruz, California

Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve – Bahamas
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden – South Africa*
Harold Porter National Botanical Garden – South Africa*
Parc Botanique et Zoologique Tsimbazaza – Madagascar
Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens
* South Africa has an amazing commitment to botany with their network of nine unique National Botanical Gardens scattered throughout the country.

Betty's Bay, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa

Missouri Botanical Garden
Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew & Edinburgh
Quarryhill Botanical Garden
Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm
The Polly Hill Arboretum - recommended by my tour guests
Harry P. Leu Gardens - recommended by my tour guests

Emily B. Magnaghi
Associate Director

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Inspiring Students to Discover Why Plants Matter

2015-2016 Teacher's Information Meeting Kick-off
We kicked off the Upper Keys Fairchild Challenge (UKFC) last Saturday with our annual Teacher’s Information Meeting. We are excited for this year’s Challenges as the themes of The Everglades for elementary school and The Voyages of Plants for middle & high school are interesting and relevant not only to the environment and ecology of South Florida and the Keys, but on a global scale, as well. A first for this year will be a teacher’s workshop and professional development points for teachers participating in a Challenge.

2014-2015 Award Ceremony
Last year we had over 1100 students and 62 teachers participate in our program, the highest number to date, and we expect to grow even more this year with additional participation. Last year also marked our first offering for high school Challenges, of which four were submitted by the winning high school. Hopefully we will have another high school jump on board this year for more competition. Competition or not, the students learn many important ecological principles while doing their Challenges. These include plant-animal interactions, plant life cycles, how to take environmental action to the community and state levels, critical thinking skills involving conservation techniques, and using art as a tool to convey environmental awareness, just to mention a few. Speaking of art, last year we provided a student art workshop for elementary school which we have expanded this year to accommodate middle and high school students.

Yummy Sugar Citrus Squares were submitted by Coral Shores High School for the Green Cuisine Challenge
Key Largo School students working hard on their school garden!

Follow the handmade mosaic stepping stones to Treasure Village Montessori School's garden

Environmental Action by Ocean Studies Charter School.
Where else can students participate in coral restoration?!
The Fairchild Challenge program is developed by Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden and as a satellite partner we use their framework but tailor it to the needs of our schools and the environment of the Florida Keys. We are able to compete with other satellite partners from around the world with a Global Challenge where students’ submissions are entered into an online forum to be judged against each other. This year’s Global Challenge is related to environmental change and how species are adapting to climate change through a comic strip storyline.
All is all, it’s shaping up to be another great school year in the Upper Keys!

The UKFC is supported by Kona Kai Resort and donations from private individuals, organizations and corporations. If you are interested in supporting our program, please click here:

Emily B. Magnaghi
Associate Director