Friday, December 28, 2012

Ethnobotanic Entry

Over the past several months, Joe, Veronika and I have been re-thinking our entry garden area, which is located immediately before the palm-framed bridge at which you leave any remaining cares and concerns as you enter into our center courtyard. It made sense that these entry gardens have hitherto served a purely aesthetic function, but now that we have established the Gardens to serve an ethnobotanic mission of education about the importance of plants to people, we thought it would be appropriate for this mission to be well-represented at the entry. Once we established that this is what we wanted to do, we set about searching for plants that would not only have ethnobotanic interest relevant to our mission, but suitable characteristics for the locations in which they would be grown. We also had to be able to get a hold of these plants, which is more difficult for some than others. After narrowing down the list, we came up with a great list of plants and the nurseries where we could find them. I then set out on a couple trips to nurseries up in Homestead to bring our specimens back for planting; here are a few I visited:

Doug Ingram & Sons' Nursery is a giant facility with a very wide selection of plants. (Image source: Google Maps)
Redland Nursery specializes in palms and cycads, many of which are hard to find. You can see the many rows of plants; the dark colored areas are covered with shade cloth for plants sensitive to sunlight. (Image source: Google Maps)

Bullis Bromeliads is our favorite place for bromeliads. They have quite a large, colorful selection, as you can see in the video above.

After a couple trips up to the nurseries, we had all the plants we needed. The plants checked in for a brief stay in our own little nursery here at Kona Kai and were then laid out by Ronnie and Veronika, who both have a great sense of aesthetics, as is evident in the rest of our gardens. They not only used the plants we had acquired from the nurseries but also incorporated other plants from throughout the grounds to complete the design. After the plants were laid out, Veronika and I put them in their new homes. Veronika had worked very hard a couple weeks earlier to clear out the plants (especially their root systems) previously in these gardens, and had also worked with Ronnie and her husband Rene to rearrange the rocks in the area and dig the big holes for the new bamboo. It was great seeing the gardens taking shape as the product of so much consideration and preparation. Below are a number of photos of new plants in the gardens as well as a couple of shots Tracey (our front desk manager) took of the planting in action.

Digging homes for the new plants.
Searching for buried treasure. There were a lot of shipwrecks and pirates on and near the Keys, so you never know.
Catharanthus roseus (Madagascar periwinkle) - an example of plants used for medicine, in this case the treatment of leukemia and Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Mimosa pudica (sensitive plant) illustrates one way in which plants are similar to people - it can sense and respond to touch! You can see the leaves folding after my touch in the photo above.
Cyperus papyrus (papyrus) is the tallest sedge in this little area, which was used to make early paper by Egyptians and other Mediterranean cultures over 5,000 years ago.
Bambusa odashimae is a bamboo with especially tasty stems that are being used extensively in culinary creations. Dwarf Santa plants spring up spontaneously this time of year and can even become weedy, but we keep them under tasteful control.
The final product - beautiful! So beautiful that we had to enlist the help of a fierce alligator to protect the plants...can you spot him?

In addition to the garden beds, we also did something different with the entrance pond. What was once a chlorinated pond is now a miniature ecosystem. The centerpiece is a large specimen water lily which we are looking forward to having spread across much of the pond's surface and produce striking blue blooms. Tiny fish called Gambusia, courtesy of Florida Keys Mosquito Control, feast on the mosquito larvae, which are frequently found in ponds such as this. Creating the velvety green backdrop is a type of alga that clings to the sides of the pond and provides oxygen and additional food for the fish. It also removes nutrients from the water, thereby limiting development of undesirable types of algae such as planktonic and filamentous algae.

Nymphaea 'Blue Beauty' (fragrant water lily) - edible, medicinal, and showy.
The Gambusia seem to be enjoying the pond very much.
I'll be looking forward to telling you more about these and many other plants here at The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort during your next visit. I hope you'll find the time to take a tour with me whether you'll be staying with us or just passing through the Keys. I know you will have a great time, learn more than you can remember, and come away with a newfound interest and appreciation of plants. Until then!

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New Tour

Sometimes when I tell a guest about the tours I give here at the Gardens, they will say something about how they are not really a "plant person." If you can relate to this, then you, sir/madam, are exactly the type of person I especially want to take on a tour. Don't get me wrong, "plant people" love the tours and I very much enjoy touring people who know their plants, but I especially enjoy the reactions I get from people who know little about them.

Joe, our Gardens' Director, who has only a relatively newfound interest in plants and no formal education in Botany is a great example of this. At one time he couldn't have cared less about plants and probably would have been one to choose to skip the tour during his vacation, but after coming across some ways in which people depend on plants, he became the botanical version of a born-again Christian. One day at work, I remember he excitedly asked me, "Rick! Did you know plants make themselves completely from only water, sunlight, air, and a few ounces of soil and that they are ultimately the source of all our food???" To which I responded, "Yes..." as though he had just asked if I knew that he has two legs and sleeps at night. To him, learning something like this about plants is a sort of revelation, and although I probably felt similarly when I first learned about the same thing, I (as well as other plant people) have known it for so long that it is something I take for granted.

This orchid in our orchid house doesn't even use soil - it produces this incredibly colorful and profuse bloom from just air, water, and sunlight. Veritable alchemy!
Last year saw the development of the introductory ethnobotanical tour here at The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort, which focuses on the way people use and depend upon plants today and throughout history, as well as some of the fascinating morphological and ecological aspects of the diverse range of tropical plants in our collections. Over 250 guests and visitors have taken this introductory tour since its inception last year and the abundance of positive feedback from both "plant people" and "non-plant people" has been extremely encouraging. I've had plenty of people like Joe who have been overwhelmed by fascination and newfound appreciation for plants as well as many a veteran gardener who ended up learning more than a few interesting things, which, as one guest said, "is rare for me these days."

Food made from the underground stem of the coontie plant (Zamia integrifolia) was one of the only things soldiers gassed in World War I could eat shortly afterwards without vomiting.
Motivated by such feedback, I have been developing a second tour for those who have already taken the first and are hungry for more. This tour focuses less on how people use plants and more on the similarities between plants and people, especially when it comes to our senses. Most of the time, we live as if plants aren't much more than rocks, but I hope this tour will lead to an appreciation of just how alive and active plants are as well as the many parallels that can be drawn between plants and people.  The tour also incorporates ways in which we are dependent upon one another on a global scale, in contrast to the more specialized local scales explored in the first tour. The feedback so far from this tour has been just as good as that from the first, and it has in many cases led to some great philosophical questions and discussions along the way, which our guests have had a great time exploring further long after the tour is over.

The tendrils of the skyflower vine (Thunbergia grandiflora) have an observable sense of touch - they coil around any nearby objects they find.
I hope you'll find the time to take a tour with me during your next stay with us here at Kona Kai. You can also take a tour even if you aren't staying with us - call our Front Desk at (305) 852-7200 for details.

Hope to see you soon!

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

From Life To Death To Life

Breadfruit. I would be interested to hear what people who never heard of this tree before imagine its fruits to be like. Maybe large tan-colored spheres that taste like Wonder Bread - grab a couple jars of peanut butter and jelly and hit the breadfruit groves for lunchtime deliciousness. Alas, the reality is not as scrumptious. Breadfruit is a fairly substantial fruit, should be cooked before eating and got its name from its underwhelming blandness. Today, breadfruit is actually gaining popularity as a versatile "filler" ingredient since it is able to take on the flavor of whatever seasoning is used in a dish, much like zucchini. It is doubtful, however, that the culinary techniques used today for breadfruit preparation were as fine when it was introduced in the late-1700s (remember, spices were luxuries), and a good helping of the prepared fruit might have ended up tasting/feeling like plain pieces of tofu (roasted) or a bowl of warm, soggy bread (boiled)...yum! (more on that later) Breadfruit has also recently become quite popular because of the tree's quick growth rate and the substantial crops of fruit it can produce, making it a valuable solution for both reforestation and hunger in tropical climates. Native plant advocates, however, have mixed feelings about its use in the Western Hemisphere because of its vigorous growth and potential to displace native plant communities.

Breadfruit just so happens to be the dictionary photograph of "delicious" (from
The breadfruit tree (Artocarpus altilis) is native to the South Pacific island of Tahiti and was introduced to the Caribbean by Captain William Bligh in 1791. The retrieval of this plant was the objective of his expedition, as there was a high demand for cheap sources of food for British slaves in the Caribbean. A monetary reward for successfully retrieving this plant from Tahiti was offered and Capt. Bligh was game. His first expedition for the plant ended in disaster because of the now-famous "Mutiny on the Bounty," but after remarkably making it back home to England despite significant adversity, he tried the expedition again a couple years later and was successful in bringing the plant halfway around the world to the Caribbean, where it grew excellently. Unfortunately, the slaves refused to eat the fruit once the trees started producing it - what a disappointment! I don't know if it was the taste / texture of the cooked fruit (see descriptions above) or if it was more of a cultural aversion. Regardless, if I was Captain Bligh, I would have been a little upset to hear that all I had gone through was apparently a waste of time (well, at least he got the monetary reward).

William Bligh - breadfruit superfan
We actually happen to have one of these infamous breadfruit trees here in our tropical fruit garden. It was once a very large tree, dominating a good portion of available fruit garden canopy. During the "winter" of 2010, however, temperatures got down into the low-40s during the night for about a week, and this was enough to apparently kill the tree; all the leaves quickly turned brown and dropped. But lo! Life unseen yet remained and tiny shoots began emerging out of the bottom section of the trunk like glorious rays of light piercing through the black clouds of despair that no doubt had been gathering in the minds of Veronika and Joe. The tree was soon cut back to about five feet tall (where the shoots stopped emerging) and this is how I found it when I arrived a couple months later.

The Kona Kai breadfruit tree sprouting from its trunk.
While it was good to see that the tree was still alive, I knew that this was not the ideal way for a tree to grow. The trunk split into two trunks about two feet off the ground (less than ideal in terms of structure) and was beginning to rot at the tops of each of these trunks. In addition, the shoots, even though they were healthy, would not be very stable as they grew larger because of their weak attachments to the sides of these trunks. So after some research and talking with Veronika and Joe to get a better idea of the nature of the tree (a vigorous grower), I made the recommendation to cut the trunk entirely to the ground and then wait for sprouts from the roots to emerge, selecting one of these shoots to become the "new" breadfruit tree since these would have much better health and structure. Understandably, this approach seemed pretty drastic and risky after the near-loss of the tree, so we didn't take action immediately. A couple months after our discussion, we began to see a tiny shoot next to the tree, which you can see in the bottom-right corner of the picture above. This made the decision to cut the main trunk easier, as we could now concretely see that sprouts would indeed emerge from the roots. And so, shortly thereafter:

Breadfruit blood - don't worry, it heals quickly.
After the tree came down, we waited and watched the soil, hoping to see more seedlings emerge. Before long (within a month), we had more than a few healthy sprouts emerge, much to our relief:

And today? We're left with two "seedlings" after we thinned out less-than-ideal specimens and they have become beautiful full-fledged trees about twelve feet tall after only a year and a half of growth. Rates of growth like this are shocking to a northerner and when I ask folks how old they think the largest of the two trees is, the guess is usually 5-10 years old.

Our now-stately breadfruit trees.
We're still debating whether or not to take out one of the trees to leave the other without competition for space and other resources. While this is a practical solution, it's always hard to cut down a beautiful tree. I'll keep you updated and hopefully the next breadfruit post will include harvest and preparation of the legendary fruit, once under-appreciated but now in the spotlight as an integral part of solutions to effectively reforest areas in tropical regions while at the same time ameliorating hunger. Speaking of that, if you're hungry for more information on breadfruit and its value, visit The Breadfruit Institute's website here.

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

To Infinity ... and Beyond! - The Future of the Gardens

Last week, the Gardens celebrated its year-and-a-half anniversary. It is a milestone in that the first (and often hardest) year has been successfully completed and a second year is successfully underway; takeoff is complete and now we are gaining altitude. Anniversaries are a good time for retrospection, and during the time that has passed since the Gardens' official opening on March 21st, 2011, we've accomplished a lot. Joe recently outlined several of the more significant accomplishments as well as a few of our hopes for the future in his August 21st "Letter from the Executive Director," which you can read on Kona Kai's website here.

So, we are officially established and organized - now it is time to grow. Currently, we are expanding our educational offerings of The Fairchild Challenge this year to five local schools and are planning a schedule of symposia to be hosted by the Gardens. I am also finishing up work on a second tour of the Gardens focusing on "plant senses" for those who have already taken the first tour, as well as expanding online content on the Gardens' mobile website. In addition, we have several neat projects we would love to undertake, including a vertical garden and an exhibition hall to host fascinating ethnobotanical exhibits for visitors to experience. To support the ambitious growth we have planned in these and other areas, an additional staff member for the Gardens will be of great help.

Presenting a couple weeks ago in Ms. Nicky Laak's class at Treasure Village Montessori School in Islamorada about Ethnobotany in southern Florida in the 1800s.
Most 501c3 nonprofit public gardens start out with a large endowment from a philanthropist (DuPont's endowment for Longwood, Albert Holden's endowment for Holden Arboretum, etc.) to fund growth, but this is not the case with the Gardens here at Kona Kai. The Gardens started out as a dream of our Director, Joe, who had what he likes to call a revelation in 2008 about the importance of plants to people and their incredible complexity. Driven by a desire to help others come to a similar "awakening," Joe got all the staff excited about investing in someone to help make the Gardens a reality, even with minimal financial resources to spare and uncertainty in the economic climate that held sway into 2011, which is when I was hired. Having a certified 501c3 nonprofit botanic garden on the grounds of a resort yet operating each separately is a neat mix which is still relatively rare; Callaway Gardens is the only major example of this combination that I could find in the U.S.

We have already accomplished so much in a year and a half and it is certainly exciting to think of all the things the Gardens can do in the future as an asset to both the local Florida Keys community and the wider world. Given that the Gardens does not have an endowment, having me here is already a financial investment for Kona Kai and its owners, who put quite literally everything they had into Kona Kai to make it what it is today. While the owners have no children and so hope the Gardens will be their legacy in Key Largo, they cannot endow the Gardens with the many millions that have helped so many other gardens grow to prominence from small beginnings, so we need to be able to find ways to fund the day-to-day activities of the Gardens and more importantly build an endowment to ensure its future sustainability. Looking back through pictures the owners have kept, I can see how far Kona Kai has come in 21 years and I know that with the right funding, in 2033 the Gardens will be able to look back and see 2012 much as the Resort sees 1991 today!

Kona Kai - 1991
Kona Kai - 1991
Kona Kai - 2012
So far, we have been working on tackling this challenge of building an endowment in a number of ways. Any proceeds from my tours of the Gardens go directly to support the Gardens' work, and we have been blessed with contributions from a number of our visitors over the past year and a half who see the great value of our mission and vision. Visitors continue to come away with valuable insights regarding the importance of plants to people after tours, which they then pass on to friends and family. We have also been applying for relevant grants and offering plants for sale from our recently developed plant nursery here at the Gardens, which is full of baby plants grown either from seed or cuttings from established plants on the property. The biggest key to the Gardens' continued survival, however, will likely be the formation of partnerships with individuals passionate about educating southern Florida and its visitors about the incredible complexity of plants and the vital importance of plants to human survival and well-being, who generously invest their resources in this endeavor.

Part of our plant nursery.
Fundraising is something none of our staff have significant past experience with, so it will definitely be a challenge for us. Now that I think about it, though, I did do some fundraising back in school - all those cookie and candy catalogs for our schools and sports teams. If you are a parent or teacher, you are no doubt bombarded with requests to order from these throughout the year, frequently a day or two after you've resolved on a healthy diet you are definitely going to stick to this time. I'll admit it, I wasn't the best fundraiser in my school because I was (and am) more "considerate introvert" than "brazen extrovert" and didn't like disturbing people and asking them to buy things, especially as I could often sense the "Ugh, another one? I really don't want to buy anything but how can I say no to this kid?" on the faces of people I asked as I went door to door with my catalog to meet my sales quota. Some kids would persist unabashedly with their appeal until they got some cash, but I would always kindly respect a "no, thank you." Appreciated? Yes. Lucrative? No, at least not in the immediate future. I have a feeling that I'm still very much the same way in this area, which isn't exactly ideal in the fundraising world, but I'm working hard on it. I know I could really benefit from some serious training in fundraising, so if any of you have any advice to offer, don't be shy!

Oh, the memories! From Otis Spunkmeyer's online fundraising catalog.
So, in conclusion, while we have been able to make some progress towards our financial goals, we need to make significantly more in order to ensure the Gardens not only survives but thrives for many more future anniversaries. If you or someone you know would like to make a contribution to support the Gardens and our work, please visit the "Support Us" section of the Botanic Gardens site here. Alternatively, if you or someone you know would like to contribute by check and/or make a large contribution towards our endowment, please e-mail or call us at (305) 852-9766.

Even if you can't make a financial contribution at all, you can still help out by talking about the greatness of our little Gardens and who knows?  With enough people talking and six degrees of separation, maybe the word about us will get around to Bill Gates or Warren Buffett!  All your support is greatly appreciated by all of us here at the Gardens!

Here's to many more tours to come!

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director and Toy Story Fan

Friday, August 31, 2012


We've been quite busy this past week preparing for and cleaning up after the first significant storm to affect the Keys since I started at Kona Kai back in January of 2011. The experience is definitely different than being a spectator back in Ohio. There is actually much more talk about hurricanes up north than down here where the storms are actually likely to cause damage.

I don't know what it is, but when I lived up north, it almost seemed like tropical storms and hurricanes are like a form of entertainment, a sort of "reality TV" that people relish. When northerners get together with friends, we would exchange all sorts of information gathered with various resources (TV, Internet, other people, etc.). If you are interested in climbing the social ladder and get known in the community, you will be certain to develop a reliable reputation when it comes to weather analysis and predictions and take part as much as possible in hurricane hysteria. Endless speculation and weather maps on TV and the Internet fuel the madness and it becomes a topic of conversation with almost everyone.

Any northerner worth their salt keeps up on the very latest when it comes to strong storms that won't affect them and has in their home the tools necessary to prepare them for some serious talk of the weather. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images North America)
Talk about weather generally provides folks with a favorite topic of meaningless conversation because people, after all, have to talk about something. Local weather, however, only often provides relief from a few minutes of potentially-awkard silence. That's where hurricanes are clutch: interactions with people we only marginally know or care to be talking with become much easier, with at least a half hour of meaningless material that can be drawn upon. Conversations usually progress something like this:

"Hey there Rupert!
Oh, hey Sancho.
How's it going?
Good, how's it going with you?
So didjya hear about that hurricane?
Yeah, everybody's been talking about it...but isn't it technically a tropical storm?
Oh, yeah, that's right...what's required for it to be a hurricane?
I dunno, I think it's gotta hit above a seven on the Richter Scale or something.
(excitedly)You think it's gonna turn into a hurricane???
Yeah, probably.
Me too - and a big one at that. I think it's gonna hit Florida square in the chops with damage like they've never seen!
I dunno...I bet it'll be big too but my money's on it hitting Texas.
But Florida's right in the cone!
Yeah, but I was watching the latest update ten minutes ago on my smartphone and they said this cold front's gonna be coming down and blow it off course to the west; I've got this app from a little-known but extremely reliable military weather site that gives me updates on the storm every hour.
Whoa - I've gotta get that!
You think people are gonna evacuate?
I know I would but there's always a bunch who stay...why in the world do they do that?
I dunno but I hope the levees are gonna hold wherever it lands.
Man, you know they ain't gonna hold.
I wouldn't be so sure, my best friend's sister works for a guy who has a connection over in Washington and I guess they had the Army Corps of Engineers reinforcing them all over the coastlines since Katrina.
Well, it'll be interesting.
Alright man, catch you later!
K, later!
(phone rings) Basco! How's it going? Yeah man! I was just talking to Rupert about it and he said..."

Down here in the Keys, you won't usually hear talk like that from residents, who are used to being "in the cone" when a storm is more than four or five days out, and although people are keeping tabs on it, there's no major hype.  If the storm is still projected to affect the Keys when it is three days away or less, then people start making preparations and talking a bit about it. Isaac was a great example of how being "in the middle of the cone" several days out is often more a cause for relief rather than fear, as long-term predictions are frequently off the mark:

"Isaac will become a Category 1 hurricane with 90mph winds, the eye heading right over Key Largo!!!" Nope.
Here at the Gardens, we keep most all of the plants in good shape for storms year-round through smart plant selection and proper pruning. While we do have some plants that don't fare well in storms with high winds, we keep these plants to a minimum and if possible, keep them pruned to a low height. When Isaac came through, the main storm fortunately missed us to the west, but we did get a couple days of high winds. While some plants were damaged, we emerged largely unscathed and mostly had a lot of leaves to clean up. Even if plants do get damaged here, they are very resilient and recover relatively quickly, even from the brink of death.

This sea-grape was ripped out of the ground and onto its side during Hurricane Wilma in 2005. The staff doubted it would recover but it has been a full 20ft tall tree for some time!
The only notable damage occurred to our banana plants, which are herbaceous - they don't have wood so they lack support. Veronika and I cut out the banana plants that had fallen over and then cut them up to make a "banana leaf salad" that will feed the remaining upright banana plants - it decomposes quickly and is a pretty ideal sustainable method of fertilization. You just have to watch out for the sap from the plants while doing this because it will badly stain any clothing that touches it.

A few banana plants that blew over in our fruit garden after Isaac.
Another part of our preparations for the storm was shuttering all of the glass on the buildings here. It's a bit of work getting them up and taking them down, but it's better to be safe than sorry when it comes to hurricanes.

Veronika putting up shutters over the glass doors of our front office.
We basically slide each shutter up into the groove above the windows/doors and then secure them using wing nuts after aligning holes in the bottoms of the shutters with screws that stick out from a track installed on the window ledge or deck, which you can see to the right of Veronika's feet. Although preparing for hurricanes is a good bit of work, it is quite fun, too, in that everyone gets to work together directly; it's a great team-building exercise. After we finish prepping the Resort, we go around to the houses of any staff who need help putting their shutters up, which I thought was really cool and makes the people who work here feel less like "staff" or "employees" and more like "family."

After the storm passes, we all come back together at the Resort and Gardens as soon as possible to get everything cleaned up. Since this storm didn't hit us too hard, we didn't have many major things to clean up besides the banana plants but there were plenty of leaves and other small debris covering the gardens.

Taking a break from our cleanup efforts to pose for a photo as we all struggle to stay upright in the clearly still-strong winds.
Although this wasn't a huge storm, it was still incredible to see how quickly preparations were made for the storm and how quickly things were cleaned up afterwards.  Only one full day after the storm passed, we were back up and ready for visitors!

The weather seemed just as urgent as we were to get things back to beautiful. One day after Isaac passed, you wouldn't even guess a storm had come through.
I'm glad I had the opportunity to learn and run through many of the aspects of hurricane preparation, weathering and cleanup in a relatively small storm, which will hopefully be the last for the year. The weather continues to be wonderful here and we're looking forward to a picture-perfect Labor Day weekend - hope the same is true for you!

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Nuts and Bolts

Imagine your dream car. What comes to mind? Maybe a sleek body style, a luxurious interior, adrenalin-pumping power, or that perfect sound from the exhaust pipes. What we don't often imagine are top-quality nuts, bolts, and other supporting features that hold all that together for many years. Nuts and bolts don't get much glory but they are absolutely necessary to every dream car.

I've always wanted a Geo Metro convertible, but Pontiac took the Metro design to 'dream car' level with this paint job on their Firefly LE - the dream car that all other dream cars dream about.
How does all that relate to a botanic garden, and in particular ours here at Kona Kai? Well, the glamour and glory of our Gardens is largely what you see, smell, and taste as well as how you feel when you are in the Gardens. This usually involves a direct experience with the plants and any educational experiences we offer along with them in terms of interpretation (plant labels, etc.) and tours. These aspects are analogous to the ideals of beauty, luxury, power, and sound of a dream car. Also like the dream car, behind all the appeal to the senses you will find the "nuts and bolts" of the Gardens, which normally go on behind the scenes. I wanted to create this post in order to give you an idea about a few types of the more "behind-the-scenes" work involved here at the Gardens and at any other respectable botanical institution so that we can progress further in answering the question stated in this blog's description, namely "what on earth does an ethnobotanist / associate director of a botanic garden do???"

Our institutional plan is a major component of the nuts and bolts of our botanic garden. Joe began working on this plan a few years before I arrived at Kona Kai and we have been working on it together ever since. You could call it a document, but we actually have it set up as a spreadsheet with about forty separate worksheets within, each dealing with a different aspect of the Gardens. We have this document in the "cloud" so that we can work on it from multiple computers in multiple locations and we can be certain we are working with an up-to-date version. We can also work collaboratively on the plan in real time since it can be accessed and edited by multiple users on different computers at the same time - pretty cool! This plan serves to document what we've accomplished, what we are working on, and where we are headed over approximately the next five years. It's important to have goals so that we don't work aimlessly, so Joe and I are sure to get together for extended sessions once per quarter for in-depth discussion on our progress and goals. While it is a bit complex and overwhelming, it is crucial to our effective operation into the future.

Me (not in actuality) after an in-depth discussion of the institutional plan with Joe.
Every vehicle has a purpose based on its characteristics; the same is true for botanic gardens. Our mission statement describes what we do and plays an integral part in what is included in our institutional plan. As an incentive to explore, I'll let you check out our botanic gardens web page here to find out what our mission is even though I know you have it memorized already. Current and potential programs at our botanic garden are constantly on my mind, and I evaluate them regularly to see how well they contribute to fulfilling our mission. Just because we are doing something well, doesn't mean we couldn't be doing it better, and one aspect of "better" for me involves tweaking projects so that they most effectively contribute to fulfilling our mission. With regards to potential programs, if something sounds like it might be fun to get involved in but it is not relevant to our mission, we probably won't do it. For instance, although Joe and I would love to have regular botanically-themed circus performances at the Gardens, it doesn't really fit with our mission, unless we modified it to include "strange, low-revenue entertainment." More realistically, although research for medicinal compounds in plants is both extremely interesting and ethnobotanical in nature, we do not have the facilities or funds to carry that research out, so we haven't included it in our mission and consequently don't endeavor to undertake that sort of work. Relating to automobiles again, it would be like putting racing tires, sport suspension, and fiberglass body effects inches from the ground on a truck commissioned for snow plowing...although it sounds awesome, it doesn't fit the purpose and would negatively affect the performance of the truck for its intended purpose.

The Dodge Ram HFS Edition, designed by Russ Schwenkler, is a perfect example of a truck with a "mission" that doesn't include plowing snow. I think it needs some more spoilers for its spoilers.
When we experience cars and gardens, we are experiencing an "end product" - a result of a lot of research over a period of many years that has gone on behind-the-scenes to create that beautiful product. When it comes to gardens, we have plenty of research to do in order to decide on which plants to include on the property and where, create labels for these plants, develop interesting tours, figure out what's causing a plant to go into decline, establish an education program, etc. Research is a major part of determining what goes into our institutional plan and how to go about executing what we have planned when the opportune time arrives. I do a lot of research each day and I am so thankful to have the Internet as a resource to accomplish most of this. Although I pretty much grew up with the Internet, I can still remember times when researching meant going to a library because that was really the only place to go for extensive reliable information. In the case of gardens, a quality botanical / horticultural library has been an extremely important resource, but fortunately for gardens with limited funding, the Internet now allows quick and easy access to much of this information for free. Because information can be accessed so quickly and easily, it allows us to do more in shorter periods of time, which is great but it can get overwhelming at times, creating the need to step back to let the mind catch up with processing all the information it has been given so that good decisions can be made. I find that having restful sleep at night, reserving time for quietness/stillness, and practicing minimizing stress (but still working at a good pace) gives my brain the opportunity to do its best work. I have to realize that while technology makes exponential progress in terms of speed and information, I cannot "upgrade" my brain like I can my computer to effectively process such quantities of information at ever-increasing speeds.

A good representation of what I feel happens when I push my brain too hard. Fortunately my job does not deal with any of this (at least that I can tell).
So now you know a bit more about a few of the things I do when I'm not outside in the Gardens: developing and maintaining our institutional plan, figuring out how to best fulfill our mission, and researching, researching, researching so that we can make the best decisions possible and become a valuable resource for our visitors and the community. I didn't include any garden pictures so far in this post, so I think I'll leave you with a picture of a place in the Gardens here at Kona Kai where I like to take a few minutes to clear my mind and refresh my spirit when my brain starts to feel like the whiteboard above.

Such a beautiful contrast.
Even if you can't be here at Kona Kai to do the same, it makes a great desktop background for quick mental vacations!

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director

Monday, July 23, 2012

Snorkeling In The Gardens

The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai has a great new garden that, along with the octopus orchid in the previous blog post, might make you do a double-take after your snorkel trip. Although it is definitely a garden of terrestrial plants, it looks like it's been lifted right out of the ocean from one of Key Largo's spectacular coral reefs. The new garden goes by a number of names including "aquascape garden," "undersea garden," "coral reef garden," and "totally awesome garden" but we'll go with aquascape garden for simplicity in this post. Coral stone forms the foundation of the garden and along with the plants, which are meant to resemble a diversity of aquatic organisms found in reefs, there are a number of sea creatures interspersed throughout.

Our new "reef!"
Can you spot a few of the sea creatures?
Veronika, our grounds manager, came up with the idea for this garden a couple years ago and began trying out different plants and rock designs by the pool. About a year ago, we found out that Keri Leymaster had put together an "aquascape" garden at Discovery Cove in Orlando. Keenly interested to see the garden for some inspiration and ideas, Veronika and her husband René visited Keri and the garden on their way up north for vacation. Keri kindly took time to give them a tour of the garden, which helped Veronika form a vision for what was taking shape at Kona Kai.

Part of Keri's garden at Discovery Cove.
After visiting Discovery Cove, Veronika gained confidence that she could make her vision a reality and quietly but excitedly made plans for the garden at Kona Kai. Whenever she was out, she took notes on any plants that reminded her of something found underwater, eventually coming up with a great list of plants, then narrowing them down based on functionality (e.g. how big they grow, what conditions they prefer). With all the pieces in place, Veronika looked for just the right opportunity to put things into action, which came last month while Joe and Ronnie were away for vacation. During this time, she and her husband RenĂ© went all-out - designing, moving big rocks, buying plants, coaxing sea creatures onto the land to take up a new residence, etc. - installing the rest of what you see today in the aquascape garden. One lucky family of guests, some of whom were staying in the Pineapple Suite with a front-row seat on the porch, was staying on the property during the building of the garden, often coming out to enjoy watching the Gardens evolve in dramatic and beautiful ways before their eyes.

The Harris family witnessed Gardens history in the making during their stay.
Below are a couple of up-close teaser photos of what you might see while "snorkeling" around the aquascape garden. Check out the Aquascape Garden photo album on our Facebook page for more pictures as well as comments on each (including plant names) by Veronika, the master aquascaper herself. While you're there, check out the rest of our page and "Like" us if you haven't already for more great tropical pictures and to keep up with not only what's going on in the Gardens, but at the Resort as well.

Pretty "totally awesome," right? Be sure to take a "swim" and explore the aquascape garden during your next visit and learn more about the plants on a tour with me!

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Octopus Orchid And The Orchid House

One of the hidden gems here at Kona Kai is the Orchid House, for which Ronnie (Joe's wife) has been collecting orchids for many years. We currently have about 250 orchids in the house and it's fun to visit because you never know what will be blooming next and there's almost always something new to see from week to week.

Follow the pink brick road (in my best munchkin voice), not to find a wizard...

...but to find Kona Kai's "Emerald City" in the orchid house, the way to which is quite free of flying monkeys and wicked witches, I assure you.

Definitely nothing like Kansas and fortunately the flowers don't make you fall asleep.

This past week, we had a special surprise in the Orchid House with the native octopus orchid (Prosthechea cochleata) coming into bloom. The flower gets its name from its thin tentacle-like petals and its upside-down orientation. Whereas most orchids have their labellum (the highly modified "lip" petal) on the bottom of the flower, the octopus orchid has it on the top and it happens to resemble an octopus head.

Octopus orchid in the Orchid House.

I had never seen anything like it and the resemblance is so striking, I actually thought the plant had bloomed live octopuses until Veronika informed me otherwise.

It's a great specimen in our collection since we are so close to the ocean; if you're lucky you might see both the orchid and the cephalopod equivalent while on a snorkel or dive trip during your stay here!

Mucilage extracted from the pseudobulbs (the enlarged storage sections of the stems) of this orchid have been used as a natural adhesive, so if you're prone to breaking things, you might consider keeping a few of these around. The people of Belize must really enjoy this bloom because the octopus orchid is their national flower...either that or they break lots of things.

The octopus orchid is only one of many beautiful blooms to see in the orchid house, so be sure to check it out during your next stay either on your own or on a tour with me! Here are a few other orchids I found in bloom today for you to enjoy:

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director