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 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!

Emily B. Magnaghi
Associate Director

Friday, June 19, 2015

Summer Beauties

Summer in the subtropics can be very hot and humid for humans but for most plants acclimated to this climate, it is very comfortable. Along with longer, warmer days, we have been getting consistent rainfall, both of which have helped many of our plants put on new growth and become reproductively active. The Gardens are full of life, colors, textures and interesting structures.


One of the highlights of our collection right now is Cycas micronesica with its first flush of female strobili (cone-like structures). If you have taken my TYUP™ tour, you know all about cycads and their prehistoric past. Now we need a male plant so the pollen from the male strobili can fertilize the ovules in the female strobili and we can get seeds. Despite our lack of a male plant, we may be able to obtain pollen from Montgomery Botanical Center (MBC) in Coral Gables and fertilize the ovules by hand. MBC has a collection of stored pollen from some of their cycads and since our plant came from them, we may well find a match.
 
Cycas micronesica

A female strobilus similar to a (pine)cone

Note the small green ovules inside the 'cone' scales.

After at least one month of waiting for the flower buds to open, we have finally been rewarded with the fragrant blossoms of Jacquinia keyensis or Joewood (primrose family, Primulaceae). This is one of my favorite plants since the flowers are slightly unusual; the outer whorl of stamens are actually well-developed staminodes that resemble petals (see photo below). The fragrance from these blossoms is exquisite and smells like gardenia with a hint of ylang-ylang. The flowers are already fading but will hopefully produce copious amounts of fruit since I want to grow them from seed. Native to the Florida Keys and south Florida, it grows in habitats between the low-lying mangrove forest and the more upland hardwood hammock so it’s right at home along our bayfront.
 
Jacquinia keyensis in full bloom (close your eyes and inhale the perfume from the flowers!)

Floral anatomy of Jacquinia keyensis

We have a closely related cousin to joewood that is a new arrival to the Gardens: Clavija domingensis, otherwise known as Langue de boeuf or beef tongue plant due to the leaves’ resemblance to a long bovine tongue. This plant is native to the Dominican Republic and will eventually be a very interesting specimen once it grows up a bit. After one week of being in the ground it already flushed out a new set of leaves. Two of its Dominican associates are planted nearby, the zombie palm, Zombia antillarum and 2 new Dominican cherry palms, Pseudophoenix ekmanii, which are critically endangered in the wild.


Clavija domingensis or beef tongue plant from the Dominican Republic with its new flush of leaves.
Pseudophoenix ekmanii, Dominican cherry palms, in the wild they are over-harvested for their sap which is used to make palm wine.

Another fragrant favorite is Plumeria sp. or frangipani and all of our trees are in full bloom. Guests recently strung their own lei! You can see the photos on our Facebook timeline.


The little fledgling doves appreciate the canopy of our white Plumeria alba.

At Robert Is Here tropical fruit stand in Florida City, they sell mangrove honey and you may think, "What? I've never seen a mangrove flower." Well, here they are in all their loveliness...
Flowers of the red mangrove, Rhizophora mangle, are often overlooked but they are quite elaborate on close inspection.
Here are the flowers of the black mangrove, Avicennia germinans, which, although small, are very fragrant.

For more photos on what is blooming at the Gardens right now, see our Facebook page for photo albums.

Emily B. Magnaghi
Associate Director

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Spring Planting in the Gardens

With the arrival of the rainy season, we have been busy planting and refreshing our garden beds. Last fall and early this year, I obtained several new plants for the collection from Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Montgomery Botanical Center, and Silent Native Nursery/Pro Native Consulting. Many of them have been in our nursery holding area patiently waiting to be outplanted into the gardens. We carefully plan where we want to plant each different species based on the amount of sunlight the plant will receive, how much water it needs, whether it fits into the theme of the zone, and other considerations depending on the species. We must have space for the adult plant’s roots and branches so we take into consideration what is growing nearby that may compete with the new plant. In certain zones, we may remove a plant that is old and tired to make space for a new one, or we may rearrange a zone to accommodate new specimens.

Our gardens are divided into over 40 zones, each of which has a theme: fragrance, color, tropical-wet (large-leaved exotics), tropical-dry (succulents), native plants, palms, bamboos, etc. Almost all of our plants have a human use so our ethnobotanic theme is woven into each zone. As we find new plants we want to display and add to our collection, we must first make sure we have room for it. For now, we are focusing on small trees, shrubs and groundcovers since we are out of space for large trees at the moment. This is challenging since we have several beautiful palms we would like to incorporate into the collection: Copernicia berteroana, Pseudophoenix sargentii var. saone, and Sabal domingensis. Luckily, they are only seedlings and will take several years before they are large enough to plant in the ground so we have time to plan.

I walk the grounds regularly, often with our director, Joe Harris, to review changes and ideas and to check on the health of recently planted specimens. Once we decide on an idea, I talk to our grounds director, Veronika Milar, about the changes to be made and she makes it happen. When I have time or need a break from the office, I work in the gardens planting and pruning specimens. Everything we plant or relocate is recorded and added to our database to keep our records up to date. Once new plants are accessioned in our database, I can print and order accession tags and our lovely display labels directly from our records. Thank goodness for our previous Associate Director, Rick Hederstrom, who set our system up with all this in mind.

As an example of our prep work, our newest bed in Zone 20 has been in flux for several months. We removed a mature sea-grape (Coccoloba uvifera) tree in December of last year, which provided shade to the gallery and office entrance. Our practice of displaying orchids nearby has been on hold due to the increase in sunlight and plants being sunburned (plants can get a sunburn or bleach-out like anything else with too much sun exposure). We thought there might be enough shade cast on the new bed from nearby mahogany trees so we planted a few ferns hoping to establish a primitive plant display with ferns, whisk-fern, and horsetails. We installed a short rock wall to protect plants in the bed from the nearby dryer vent and to train small ferns to climb along. I researched ferns from dry climates by contacting colleagues in California who grow and exhibit xerophytic ferns, we shopped for native ferns (without much success), and finally settled on a sampling of plants to see how they would fare: gnetum tree (Gnetum gnemon), native Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata), silver polypody fern (Phlebodium aureum), and a crocodile fern (Microsorum musifolium). Two months and several unhappy ferns later, we decided to change course and plant sun-loving, pollinator-friendly, native plants. We have focused on butterfly and bee nectar plants with only a couple of butterfly host plants, as there are others in nearby zones. The plants are settling in nicely and the bed is now almost complete. This will be a great talking point on our TYUP tour to draw attention to gardening with native and pollinator-friendly plants. The ferns were transplanted into another zone in the shade and are doing much better. There are many different species of ferns in south Florida, several of which are endangered due to habitat loss. Once our shady fern grotto is complete we should have another welcome addition to the TYUP.


You can find a map of our garden zones and our complete inventory of everything that has ever been planted in the gardens on our website here.


This photo and below are two shots of our newest, pollinator-friendly bed
Note the rock wall to block hot air from the dryer vent
Several happy ferns in the grotto



We planted a Caryota mitis or clustered fishtail palm where the royal poinciana used to reside

Our hidden-in-plain-site pet gator has new neighbors of dropseed grass (Sporobolus virginicus) and quailberry (Crossopetalum ilicifolium)

Emily B. Magnaghi
Associate Director

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Earth Day!

I recently attended an Earth Day event at the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge on north Key Largo. A group of about 20 volunteers including members of FAVOR (Friends And Volunteers Of Refuges) and local state park and wildlife refuge staff and volunteers, came out to plant native trees. We were at an overgrown, cold-war era Nike Missile Site that the tropical hardwood hammock is reclaiming. Due to the sensitive environment, this area is off-limits to the public unless there is a special project. The Wildlife Refuge was originally created to protect the federally endangered American crocodile but there are several other endangered species that fall under the protection of this "umbrella" species.



We planted over 90 Torchwood (Amyris elemifera; Rutaceae) trees which are the host plant for the federally endangered Schaus swallowtail butterfly (Heraclides aristodemus ponceanus). The Bahamian and Giant swallowtail butterflies also lay eggs on this plant. The caterpillars of all three species feed on the young leaves of torchwood. Besides being important for insects, this tree provides interesting and important uses for humans, as well. Torchwood is in the citrus family and has edible fruit and some medicinal oils. The common name comes from its use as a torch; the young green branches are full of volatile oils which are easy to ignite.

The native plant nursery for Dagny Johnson Botanical State Park grew the plants from seed and nurtured them along for several months. Apparently, torchwood is very difficult to grow from seed and many of the seedlings did not make it; we were lucky to have as many as we did. The soil in the planting area was coral limestone rock with little topsoil. Torchwood likes to grow on open edges so holes were dug along the edge of a dirt access road, out in the full sun. The native soil in the planting holes was mixed with a small amount of potting soil and a few fertilizer pellets to give the seedlings a fighting chance in this harsh environment. At least three inches of mulch in a three foot diameter was laid down around the seedlings and two gallons of water were given to each plant to help them establish. Refuge staff will continue watering the plants periodically. 

Many of our local butterfly experts who perform annual surveys for the Schaus swallowtail joined the group. Historically, the Schaus swallowtail butterfly was found throughout the southern tip of Florida in Dade and Monroe counties, extending south to lower Matecumbe Key. Now its range is restricted to several small islands in Biscayne National Park and north Key Largo, with less than 100 butterflies counted per year during annual surveys. Scientists were worried that the Key Largo population had blinked out, after not seeing any butterflies for several years in a row. Luckily, two Schaus swallowtails were observed flying on Key Largo last spring
. One individual male butterfly was observed flitting around volunteers' heads for over 10 minutes! Even though he was observed "on the wing" they were able to take several hundred photos and got a clear shot for a positive ID. In June 2014, several hundred hand-reared Schaus swallowtail butterfly larvae and a few adults and pupae were released on nearby Elliott Key in Biscayne National Park, we are hoping that some will end up flying down here and re-populating the hammocks on Key Largo. Hopefully our torchwood trees will thrive and become a flaming beacon to the Schaus swallowtail butterflies.

An old launching shelter being taken over by a strangler fig.
Refuge superintendent, Jeremy Dixon, with his righthand man/son, Connor, describing the day’s activities (foreground) with Dagny Johnson Botanical State Park Nursery manager and torchwood grower, Jackie DeGaynor (back middle) looking on.
A torchwood seedling awaits its new home (which doesn’t look too inviting with all that rock). We were lucky to have pre-dug planting holes waiting for us!
The FAVOR (Friends And Volunteers Of Refuges) group listening to site details from Jeremy.
Dagny Johnson Botanical State Park Nursery manager and torchwood grower, Jackie DeGaynor, provided a planting and mulching demonstration. 
Yours truly, Emily Magnaghi, helping to restore the habitat one plant at a time!

Emily B. Magnaghi
Associate Director

Friday, March 27, 2015

A Perspective on Preservation

Preservation versus Conservation versus Restoration, what do all these terms really mean and where did they come from? The history of these ecological terms in the United States has roots in Manifest Destiny, the European settlers’ westward expansion through the country. The early advocates of what is now considered the ‘conservation ethic’ were John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, Aldo Leopold, Rosalie Edge, Henry David Thoreau, and Rachel Carson. Although they were all committed to the environment, several of these visionaries had clashing opinions on how to protect natural resources ranging from complete preservation with no more human interaction than hiking and camping to conservation of natural resources for managed use of timber, fisheries, mining, and other resource extraction. The most famous of these battles was between John Muir and Gifford Pinchot over the damming of the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park to make a reservoir for the growing city of San Francisco. John Muir died soon after he lost this battle and the bitter taste of losing Hetch Hetchy lingers in the memories of many Californian conservationists. But I digress... The short story is: preservation equals very limited human use, think National Parks and Wilderness Areas; conservation equals human resource use, think National Forests and certain Marine Sanctuaries; and restoration equals any degraded area that we want to bring back to a more natural system.
Our first National Park was Yellowstone, created in 1872 to protect the unique geological features found there. It was also the first national park in the world, setting the precedent for environmental action for the world to follow. Photo by Yellowstone NPS, Flickr Creative Commons.
Although we may be able to restore natural areas to a semblance of what they once were (see my last blog), there is no way to fully replicate what was lost. The only way we can be certain we are protecting the majority of species within an area is by protecting the entire area and limiting resource use to light recreational activities. (This is not always possible, especially in developing countries, but that is another blog.) Scientists agree that no place on earth is untouched by humans; either prehistoric humans or current changes in climate leave no stone unturned, so to speak. However, there remain many habitats all over the world with unique life that need to be protected before they are destroyed by our quest for resources. Ecosystems provide humans with valuable services like water production and filtration. Plants especially, provide us with CO2 sequestration, O2 production, and air filtration. By protecting and preserving natural areas, we only help protect and preserve our human health into the future.

The complexity of the natural networks and webs within ecosystems are so elaborate that we do not even understand them yet. For instance, in just the last 10-15 years we have discovered that plants’ roots are networked underground via specialized mycorrhizal fungi that connect to the roots with their hyphae, the branching filaments that make up the fungal mycelium. Plants may share or steal resources, alert each other to insect pests and threats, and undoubtedly, more exciting discoveries will be made as research is on-going into the complexity of this fungal internet. Once a forest is clear-cut however, how do we replace that network? How do we replace species that we do not even know exist yet?

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Hyphae. Photo by TheAlphaWolf, Wikimedia Commons
In arid and semi-arid habitats there are cryptogamic crusts otherwise known as biological soil crusts that cover areas of ground between vegetation and are composed of mosses, lichen, fungi, algae, and cyanobacteria. This “endangered soil” is highly susceptible to trampling disturbance by humans (that’s right hikers! watch where you walk), livestock, and off-road vehicles. Some of these crusts may recover from trampling in up to a mere 20 years, but others may take hundreds of years to reform. Biological soil crusts are important for retaining soil moisture, providing nutrients to the soil, and helping with seed germination. Desert plants need all the help they can get with such low rainfall (<10 inches/year) and these biological soil crusts play an important role in water retention in this ecosystem. I myself have inadvertently trampled delicate areas of soil crusts while out botanizing in the California deserts; I winced with each step as I heard the soft crunch underfoot. This gave me new meaning to the familiar quote by Chief Seattle, “Take only memories, leave only footprints” as I did not want to leave even a footprint. We think of deserts being full of loose sand, like Lawrence of Arabia crossing the dunes, but many arid regions have compact soils with little or no water-holding potential. Once we develop these areas for suburban sprawl, military activities, and even parks for hiking, there is very little we can do to restore the biological crusts and the limited plant life may not be able to reproduce due to unsuccessful seed germination.
Cryptogamic crust in Utah with trail. Photo by Jason Hollinger, Flickr Creative Commons.
On the flip side, consider the rainforests of the Northwest Pacific coast. The Pacific temperate rain forest ecoregion is characterized by high rainfall of up to 120 inches/year and moderate temperatures averaging between 50-70℉. In Oregon and Washington, less than 10% of the original old-growth Douglas-fir forest remains. These coniferous forests, including the coastal redwood forests of northern California and southern Oregon, are relicts from 5 million years ago when conifers covered much more of the Earth during a cooler ice age. What little we have left, only about 4% of which is old-growth redwood forest, requires serious protection. With climate change and global warming, these forests are already at risk of extinction and with added logging pressure, these magnificent old-growth stands are certainly doomed unless they are within park boundaries. Luckily, Redwood National and State Parks protects 45% of that remaining 4% of coastal redwood forest for us and the creatures that live there. How do we replace trees that may live up to 2000 years? Haven’t we cut enough down already or do we really need to hit the 100% mark?


Redwood National and State Parks. Photo by Michael Klaas, Flickr Creative Commons.
Humans have an innate affinity for nature. We are genetically programmed to feel comfortable in a savanna setting, the type of habitat where we evolved into modern humans. The first time I experienced a true savanna and prairie was on Walpole Island nestled between Michigan and Ontario at the mouth of the St. Clair River. The indigenous 1st People, a blend of Ojibway, Pottawatomi, and Ottawa tribes, have always lived on the island, never ceding it over to the Canadian government. Because of this, Walpole Island has the largest existing prairie and savanna ecosystem left in the Great Lakes. I never thought I would see these habitats despite my attempts to seek them out in little slivers along railroad lines and at the edges of graveyards. Most of the great prairies were turned into agricultural fields long ago and the remnants that remain are difficult to manage since they need to be burned periodically. The Walpole Island prairies and savannas have been actively managed with fire by tribal members for as long as their history exists, which is centuries before the introduction of the European settler. There are hundreds of species of plants that occur nowhere else and I could not believe my eyes as I stood in the middle of their majestic tallgrass prairie. A photo does not do it justice, one must experience the grassland, as is the case with most awe-inspiring events. Maybe it was my genetic programming that kicked in or simply the beauty of the grassland, but it certainly was a very moving moment that brought tears to my eyes. I wanted everyone to have an experience like that in nature as we all need it on a fundamental level.

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Walpole Island savanna. Photo by Dave Kanaga.
Places like Walpole Island do not exist in our reality anymore. Unless they are protected and shared by governmental organizations or we are fortunate enough to live or work in a park, nature has been largely removed from our lives in the Western world. Having public parks with open access for non-impact recreational activities is important to keeping us human. And I don’t just mean large national parks or biosphere reserves, but on a smaller scale, state & county parks are effective ways to preserve habitats and afford direct access from nearby communities. Indeed, in Miami-Dade county there is a program called Connect-to-Protect which is tasked with connecting the remaining pine rockland habitats within the county through private landowners’ properties. By planting native pine rockland species, homeowners can facilitate gene flow between plant populations by encouraging insect pollinators and connecting the remnant pine rocklands on a regional level. This extremely threatened habitat was once found along the rock ridge from northern Miami Beach south and west into Everglades National Park. Just 2% of this habitat remains outside of the national park and numerous endangered species of plants and animals are hanging on by a thread. By preserving what remains and educating the public on its importance, there is hope that this endangered habitat and its inhabitants will grow and flourish once again.

Local students on a ranger-led hike in Biscayne National Park, Homestead, Florida. Photo by Biscayne NPS, Wikimedia Commons.
We need to preserve what is left not only for our sanity but for our children and future generations to enjoy and learn from. Most importantly, we are the voices for plants and animals who cannot save themselves from our civilization. We are all connected and as different parts of our ecosystems break down, they become more and more fragile, breaking our society down with them. When we are cooped up in cities with no outlet to natural spaces, we lose touch with the Earth and where we come from, we lose the desire to protect natural areas since we have lost our connection with the outdoors, and we become grumpier and less happy. Nature-deficit disorder has been coined has the phrase to describe modern children (or people in general) who are growing up without unstructured play in the outdoors, and their propensity towards depression and obesity. Education is the key and the outdoor classroom is the best place to learn. No one is too old to learn how important and useful plants are, how fascinating insects can be, and how interesting birds are. We are naturally happier when outdoors, as long as predators are not lurking in the underbrush!

Emily B. Magnaghi
Associate Director

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!

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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