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