Native Plants Bring Birds & Butterflies

Native Plants Bring Birds & Butterflies
native plants - Jeff Nurge of Delray Beach went native in his yard
native plants – Jeff Nurge of Delray Beach went native in his yard

Jeff Nurge went native eight years ago. He planted native flowers, bushes and trees in an effort to attract wildlife. You can’t really tell from the front – native trees and bushes are spaced apart. It is the sides and back of the house that get your attention.

Native plants attract birds and butterflies

These areas pulse with dense green foliage not unlike well, wild Florida.

Narrow paths make passing through possible. Seemingly random growth turns out to have specific lures for wildlife – a red bay, for example, has tiny flowers that bees love and the tree is a good shelter for birds.

native plants
native plants

“I wanted to see birds, snakes, owls, butterflies,” says the Delray Beach resident. And he does. In addition he wanted to conserve water. That too is happening.

A back fence has completely disappeared, hidden under flourishing firebush.

“This is a huge butterfly attractor,” Jeff comments. “Firebush is the number one native plant. This is the first plant to start with.”

I’m startled and surprised by what it means to go native. It means forget neat and manicured. This was once a conventional yard with grass underfoot and fence to mark the property line. Now it vibrates with exuberance and yes, a touch of chaos, all for a good cause – there is only so much space and so many natives to plant and so little time.

You see our wildlife is in trouble.

“So many landscapes are loaded with exotics,” notes Jeff. “They are beautiful but they are dead zones for wildlife. They have color and texture but where are the bees, the birds, the lizards?”

Native plants are good for water conservation

Dead zones? Beauty that kills here in Florida? Sounds like a science fiction novel but no, this is the real deal.

“The bird population and butterflies are not finding the food they need – the migrating birds need to feed in Florida to migrate to South America. If they can’t find the right food, they don’t make it.”

In my back yard, a haven with water fountains and bird feeders, or so I thought, the bird numbers have been dwindling in recent years. I was hoping they got a better offer and are happy somewhere else. Now I wonder if they made it from one year to the next.

Going native turns out to be a call to action – do you want to save native wildlife? Then turn your dead zone into a native buffet and you can do it one plant at a time. Before visiting Jeff I thought my side yard would become a fruit orchard. Now it is going native.

I planted firebush along the fence line. You go, you native you. Do your thing. The butterflies will love you.


• Jeff recommends several native plant nurseries in his area including Pan’s Garden in Palm Beach, Meadow Beauty Nursery and Indian Trails Native Nursery, both in Lake Worth.

• “A Gardener’s Guide to Florida’s Native Plants” (paperback) by Rufino Osorio, here is the Amazon link and it is in our bookstore on my Website.

• Jeff, who is also a Master Gardener, has turned his native passion into a consulting business. Visit his Website to know more.

Master Gardeners, an outreach program by IFAS University of Florida, may have an office near you. They can be immensely helpful, especially with micro irrigation and drought resistant plant suggestions.

Florida Native Plant Society has chapters throughout the state.

• Here is the link for University of Florida IFAS Extension section on native plants. IFAS means the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

• Native plant nurseries will only flourish if people vote with their wallets and buy native. Here is a listing of native plant sources from Florida Gardener.

While milkweed is not a native it is the necessary larval plant for monarch butterflies. Learn more at the Live Monarch Foundation.

©2009 Lucy Beebe Tobias, all rights reserved.


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Five Fun Things to Do in April

Five Fun Things to Do in April

Ah, spring. Open the windows. Let in fresh air. Inhale. Find fun things to do.

Makes you restless, doesn’t it? Have I got a cure for you – five fun events for April all happening in places from my book “50 Great Walks in Florida.”

Chapter 1: The Joys of Meandering: Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park, Tallahassee.
Saturday, April 5 at the Gardener’s Cottage from 3-5 p.m. is a program on spring arrangements for your Easter table. Program is free with park admission.

And did you know that every Monday you could volunteer to work in the gardens and the greenhouse and learn gardening techniques? Call 850-487-4115 to let them know you are coming.

Chapter 13: Traverse Two Terrains: Little Talbot Island State Park, Jacksonville.

Beach at Little Talbot Island State Park

Saturday, April 11 at 1 p .m. join a park ranger for a talk on shark’s teeth and the kinds found on the area’s beaches. Also check their Web site for ranger-led nature and beach walks.

Chapter 29: Garden of Delights; Harry P. Leu Gardens, Orlando.
Friday, April 3 is Date Night at the Gardens. Gardens open at 6 p.m. and a movie “Mama Mia” shows at 8:30 p.m. Bring a blanket or chairs and dinner picnic basket. Admission $7 plus tax for adults and $2 plus tax for children.

Hibiscus in bloom

Come back on Saturday, April 11 for their Hibiscus Show and Sale. The Plant sale starts at 9 a.m. and a hibiscus show runs from 1-5 p.m. Free admission to the show. Expert advice on taking care of your hibiscus from the Central Florida Hibiscus Society.

Chapter 33: “Gardens, Landscapes, and Native Habitats: Florida Botanical Gardens, Largo.
Celebrate Earth Day on April 18. From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. admission and parking is free. The usual produce and products with their Saturday Market in the Park will be there plus exhibits and experts to share easy ways to protect Mother Earth.

Come early. The first 60 participants receive a free native oak tree.

Chapter 36: Mangroves, Orchids, and a Bo Tree: Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Sarasota.

Walkway at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Through April 18 is an exhibit and sale called Rainforest Masks featuring master carvers from an indigenous reserve next to a rainforest in Costa Rica.
Visit on a Sunday afternoon and hear live music in the gardens from 1-3 p.m. On Sunday, April 5 music is by the Swing Merchants.

So, fill up the gas tank – go forth and enjoy. Oh, yes, and take 50 Great Walks with you!

Copyright 2009 Lucy Beebe Tobias. Lucy is the Authentic Florida expert for VISIT FLORIDA and the author of 50 Great Walks in Florida, University Press of Florida

Rainbow Springs State Park has Azaleas

Rainbow Springs State Park has Azaleas
Azaleas in bloom at Rainbow Springs State Park
Heatherann Cundiff and azaleas in bloom at Rainbow Springs State Park. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

Yes, all the azaleas are blooming! That’s the good news from Rainbow Springs State Park in Dunnellon.

Rejoice. Do not hesitate. Pack up the kids, the family dog and its leash. Alert your neighbors, get together and carpool or caravan. This is huge. The azaleas blooming at Rainbow Springs means spring has officially arrived to North Central Florida.

Rainbow Springs State Park has amazing azaleas everywhere you walk

It is a sight worth seeing – masses of azaleas blooming along old brick walkways, meandering up the sides of waterfalls and cascading down the hillside to the headwaters of the Rainbow River.

In the Florida timeline there are two eras: BD and AD. Translation: Before Disney and After Disney. Rainbow Springs was a thriving private attraction in the BD era. A Wild West theme had cowboys and their horses – the old stable are still visible in the back area of the park. Glass bottomed boats glided on the Rainbow River. Overhead, gondolas went through the air on a suspension cable, going into tropical bird aviaries. And the azaleas, ah yea, they were here, by the hundreds, a blooming reminder that landscaping in Florida doesn’t have to be tropical to be beautiful.

waterfall at Rainbow Springs State Park. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias
waterfall at Rainbow Springs State Park. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

When Interstate 75 arrived, everyone drove straight to Disney. In the AD era, old time attractions like Rainbow Springs died. The horses were sold. The glass bottom boats sank to the bottom of the river. And the azaleas? They stayed on, blooming in the fullness of Florida springtime, oblivious to the economic downturn.

A developer bought the headwaters and surrounding property. The Rainbow Springs residential area began to grow. Being able to go to the springs was a perk of having a home nearby. Some green thumbs noticed that under the jungle of overgrowth were beautiful azaleas and other plants. They formed a garden club called the Friends of Rainbow Springs and began weeding. In the fullness of time the developer decided to build condos at the headsprings.

Condos? The green thumbs thought not.  They fought to save the springs and won. A combination of county and state monies purchased Rainbow Springs State Park in 1990.

Rainbow Springs State Park volunteers keep flowers blooming

But there was no money at first for staff so the same homeowner volunteers became the Friends of Rainbow Springs State Park. They kept it open, kept it maintained and waited for improvements. For one dollar you could visit the park. The park has staff now, and many amenities including covered picnic, a swimming area, gift shop and restrooms. It is still one dollar to get in the gate. Such a deal!

Guided garden tours are given the first and third Saturday of the month through April. Tour starts at 11 a.m. No reservations necessary.  The walk around the gardens is about one mile. Some of the walk is on uneven brick surfaces with slightly steep grades going uphill.

You’ll go by beautiful manmade waterfalls leftover from the private attraction days, get a glimpse of the old stables, hear about the springs and how what we do with our lawns affects its water quality, see the Rainbow River Run and of course, lots of azaleas.

Rainbow Springs state park - Headwaters of Rainbow River. Note canoeists on the river. Photo By Lucy Beebe Tobias
Headwaters of Rainbow River. Note canoeists on the river. Photo By Lucy Beebe Tobias

On the second Saturday of every month except June, July, and August, there is a guided bird walk that starts at 8:30 a.m. On your own, you can take a backcountry nature trail that meanders for 2.5 miles. The free trail guide is in the gift shop or ask for it at the main gate.
Dogs are not allowed on the bathing beach or concession areas. They may walk the trails of well behaved an on a six-foot hand held lead.

Want more? Ranger programs also include guided canoe/kayak trips, guided snorkeling trips and on the third Saturday of each month there is Music on the Grounds – open mike and coffee house at 8:30 p.m. Bring a chair, a mug a musical instrument, perhaps some poetry and hang out with local talented artists.

Rainbow Springs State Park address is 19158 S.W. 81st Place (off U.S. 41), Dunnellon, Fl. 34432, phone (352) 465-8555. Their Web site is under:

Admission is $1 per person, children under the age of six admitted free.

Lucy Beebe Tobias is the Authentic Florida Expert for VISIT FLORIDA and the author of “50 Great Walks in Florida.” Chapter 18 in “50 Great Walks” is all about Rainbow Springs. She lives in Ocala.

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