Did Dr. Seuss take a walk in Boca?

About a year after we redid the landscape at our house, Florida native style, the landscaper we worked with sent Eric the classic book on environmental thinking for the young: Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax. You remember it, I’m sure: truffula trees, brown bar-ba-loots, swomee-swans, all cavorting in a pre-development paradise.

Well, one of the things I’ve always sort of enjoyed about south Florida is how Seussian the landscape is. Even more than southern California with its joshua trees (although those are native), the flora here in Florida seems to have come straight from the pages of Dr. Seuss. Read more

Wet season = swim season

The rainy season began last week in south Florida, a full 10 days ahead of schedule. But the swim season, which coincides pretty closely with the rainy season, officially began this weekend, courtesy of our friends Jennifer and Mark, their backyard pool, and their collection of pool toys.

Everyone’s first swim can be tough, but Eric seemed to take to the water fairly nicely. After a while, that is. Quite a while…

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Cubans in Florida

With Fidel Castro’s health in serious decline the last few years, the media here in south Florida are waiting with bated breath to hear of the long-reigning leader of the island nation, and its communist government, to expire. Waves of human and animal exodus from the island have marked Florida, though. I discovered one in my garden this morning. Read more

The wet season is upon us!

After a long, dry winter, it looks like the rainy season has come to south Florida a bit early. May 21 is the median date of onset of the summer season, with a good chance of it being up to 10 days early or late. Yesterday the house rain gauge showed nearly a tenth of an inch, and it rained again today, so perhaps our long dry spell is coming to an end. Rain is forecast for the weekend, too:

The rainy season arrives at last

The rainy season arrives at last

Limbless lizards

It was a dry winter here in subtropical Florida, with quite a bit less rain than normal since November. The temperatures haven’t been too unbearable, but the weekend before Easter brought a taste of summer: mid-80s, humid, and plenty of sun. That weekend also happened to be one of the few that I had time to get my hands a little bit dirty in the garden. So, there I was, weeding the cocoplum/palm/oak islands in the front yard. And then, when I couldn’t take it any longer and moved over to a shady corner of the house, I discovered an Eastern Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus ventralis) hanging out in the cocoplum.

As you can see from the picture, I was actually getting my gloved hands dirty:

Eastern Glass Lizard, dorsal view

Eastern Glass Lizard, dorsal view

Readers of this blog may remember that finding a glass lizard is a fairly rare occurrence around our house; I’d only seen one of these little beasties previously. Read more

Science, big and small

Aaron E. Hirsh’s guest column yesterday in The Wild Side, one of the New York Times‘ science blogs, touches on a subject near and dear to my heart: the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, one of the longest-running experiments in Citizen Science this country has ever seen. I’ve participated in the last 5 years of counts in Palm Beach County, and look forward to doing many more.

The CBC is an example of how to do “big science” in ways that involve the people who pay for it. On the one hand, it’s blatantly self-serving: without a public that is sufficiently interested in (i.e., educated about) science, cool projects like the Large Hadron Collider would never get off the ground (or, in the LHC’s case, under it). So it pays to have projects that the public can participate in, so they’ll be more sympathetic to the projects where they can only participate via their tax dollars.

On the other hand, when I’m filling out my forms for the CBC, there’s no denying the sense that I’m connected to a larger enterprise, and that sense of connection is, in a word, fun. I enjoy participating in these vast enterprises, even if my participation barely even registers. One year my party was the only one with a Florida Scrub-Jay in our circle; it felt like I had really contributed then. Most years, though, my data is just one small part of the picture. And that’s fine.

What’s in a name?

Really, I’m asking. What is in a name? Tarflower is a beautiful plant of Florida’s scrub and pine flatland areas. It’s a large wildflower or good-sized shrub in the Ericaceae, or heath, family. The flower is distinctive, with its 7 pinkish white petals, completely free (i.e., not joined together), arrayed around those central pistils. The common name gives a good idea of its strategy to deter nectar snatchers (ants, houseflies, etc., who might be tempted to take its nectar without “paying” for it–that is, without performing the pollination services for which plants evolved their nectar-facilitated reproductive strategy): it traps freeloaders with a sticky secretion from the hairs on the stems.

Its scientific name, though, is a bit of a mystery. Several authorities (Taylor and Bell, Austin and Bass) call it Befaria racemosa, as does the University of Florida webpage that I link to at the beginning (the #1 Google hit for “Tarflower”). Austin and Bass go so far as to mention that the genus name is derived from the name of a Spanish officer named Bexar. Many authorities, among them the ISB website, simply correct the name to Bejaria without commentary. Other authorities, though, (e.g., W.K. Taylor) point out that Befaria is actually a mistake; the proper form of the name is Bejaria (which makes more sense if it truly is derived from Bexar).

Now why such learned writers as Austin and Bass would give the “incorrect” spelling to a name that they obviously know the derivation of, is beyond me. So far beyond me, that I went straight to the source: According to the USDA GRIN Taxonomy, Befaria is a “rejected original spelling that is unavailable for use.” Rejected by whom, I ask?

Bejaria, on the other hand, gets the comment “this spelling conserved (nom. cons.)(Vienna ICBN Art. 14.11 & App. III) against the original spelling ‘Befaria‘.” In other words, Etienne Pierre Ventenat named the plant according to Linnaeus’s misspelled Befaria, and later on, I suppose, someone named Mutis changed it to Bejaria? Or, is Mutis just the latin for changed, and everyone knows that the spelling of the genus name was changed?

To find out about the natural history of the genus, it would be hard to do better than this page from the New York Botanical Garden; if you’re too lazy to click the link, here are a couple of representative sentences:

It is characterized by 7-merous flowers, free petals, capsular fruits, non-appendaged anthers, and viscin threads intermixed with the pollen tetrads.  It is sometimes considered morphologically and anatomically isolated within the Rhododendroideae.

If you’re still with me, you deserve a treat, so here is a little gallery of Tarflower from the Yamato Scrub:

But the question remains: what’s in a name? More specifically, what’s in this (generic) name? (So should I have asked, “More generically,” what’s in this name?)

Park substitutes

Broward County parks are closed on Tuesdays, so Fern Forest is off limits. On my intermittent searches for a substitute park, I’ve run across some pretty nice places. Windmill Park, on Lyons Road just north of Atlantic (less than a mile from Fern Forest, actually), is OK. Today, though, I went back to the first park I visited when I started working at the soon-to-be-vacated office location: Hampton Pines Park, in North Lauderdale. It’s just a few miles west on McNab Road. Read more

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