Everglades adventure! Part 2

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This is Part 2 of a series, 2012-06 Everglades Adventure


Last time on the Everglades adventure!, we drove down through several state parks to Chokoloskee Island, where we met with some fellow nature geeks and boarded a boat bound for adventure. We’re still on the beach at Pavilion Key, observing all the wonders heaped upon it by the tides. The horseshoe crabs were incredibly, um, active with one another. I did some research and found that they are not actually having “sex on the beach”; she is digging a hole and depositing eggs for him to fertilize. He is merely clinging to her back. Research did not indicate WHY he does this – perhaps he is shielding the hole so no one else can fertilize her eggs? It’s as good a guess as any!


A cluster of mostly oyster shells has washed up alongside some yellow-green algae, called sargassum weed – pelagic sargassum. “Pelagic” comes from a Greek word meaning “open sea”. The pelagic zone is the part of a body of water that is not the bottom, nor is it near the beach/shore. Sargassum floats around the pelagic zone on the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic. Those little spheres aren’t seeds or fruits; they are BB-sized air sacs or bladders, which provide buoyancy.


This is a rhizome from a plant known as mother-in-law’s tongue, more commonly referred to in this country as a snake plant. My mom had one of these in the picture window at the front of the house while I was growing up. They are attractive house plants, and make excellent air filters. However, on the beach in Southwest Florida, they are invasive exotics. They are native to West Africa. You can see how easily this plant must spread from island to island – all it has to do is send a rhizome out into the world and watch it float away.


Ah, here we have every gopher tortoise’s favorite – the prickly pear cactus. This was a baby, maybe three inches high, and were it not for the center “ear”, I’d be tagging this “hidden Mickey” ºoº 😉


At first glance, I took this for the biggest piece of branch coral I’d ever seen; it was as big as my hand, with wrist attached. However, when I picked it up, I found that it was light and had a chalky feel. Our guide told me it was a sea sponge. I’m not really able to identify it from the books I’ve got here at home; it looks close to what’s called a “variable sponge”, but I can’t be certain.


Here’s a little field of mother-in-law’s tongue aka snake plant, growing on the dune. The plant behind it with the round, flat leaves is probably a sea grape, which hasn’t any fruit on it at the moment.


Ah, the tree – THE TREE! This was a bit of serendipity for me. I think it’s BEAUTIFUL just the way it is, but wondered what it had been in its prime. I started googling for “trees on Pavilion Key”, thinking someone had perhaps documented the wildlife and plant inventory. What I found was a beautiful tribute to this tree, posted on Geocaching.com, of all places. I left my own picture (“Ann Terrie” is my geocaching name; private joke between me and my beloved nieces ;))This tree has been dubbed “The Sunset Tree” and is listed as a virtual cache. You can read about the tree here, and see pictures of it in its former glory. It seems the tree is in the surf pretty much all the time, and that may have contributed to its demise. It is possible that Pavilion Key is losing beach, or simply shape-shifting, which left the tree perpetually in the water. I wonder how much longer it will be there.


After my reverie at the tree, I looked up to see our guide, Bruce, pointing to something in the sand. It’s a crawl! A mama turtle came ashore on Pavilion Key sometime after the last high tide (the tracks would probably be gone otherwise). I hurried over to see if there was a nest.


At the bottom of this picture, you can see a disturbed area, which is possibly the nest. Bruce is standing up by a second disturbed area. We pondered this for a bit until I noticed lots of insect activity around the first area, and none in the second area. Thus, we speculated that the first area was more likely the nest, and the second area was merely a place to which she crawled before turning around and heading back into the sea. You can see that there’s some mother-in-law’s tongue growing in the possible nest area, and to the left of that, a small plant with bright pink flowers…


Our guide called this plant “periwinkle” and indicated that it has healing properties relative to certain cancers. It grows in the dunes on Pavilion Key in little clumps here and there. There was also a white variety (previous photo, on the upper right of the “nest”, just below where Bruce is standing). After some investigation, I’ve determined that it’s Madagascar periwinkle, with eight variants, most of which are native to – you guessed it – Madagascar. Indeed, the plant is used to make a treatment for leukemia. It amazes me how many invasive exotics there are growing in Southwest Florida, and I often ponder how it is that they got here, from far off places like African and Asia. We finished up our exploration of the turtle crawl and turned back to retrace our steps to the place where the boat was beached.

NEXT TIME: MORE Pavilion Key, and our return to Everglades City!

Take me to Everglades adventure! Part 3, The Finale

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