No, not a meadow planted with the ubiquitous turfgrass used here in Florida, but a ten-year-old wildflower meadow located in the nation’s oldest city.
So how did this organization come to embrace a 19,000 sq. ft. wildflower meadow when in 2001 some detrators were worried the meadow would become "just a bunch of weeds"? It was the patience, persistence, and politeness of a dedicated group of volunteers. But support for the meadow has grown as meadow tours have educated the public about the beauties of a native wildflower meadow. Now the club takes pride in the meadow and lists it as one of their assets. Note item #4 on this sign. The wildflower meadow is on the way to the pier.
Who are these volunteers?
According to one of them, Gail Compton, “We now have about six regular volunteers that have been with the meadow for 10 years. We've lost a few and gained a few over the years, but this basic group of six has been with us for the whole 10 years. Most are residents of the St. Augustine Shores but a few of us (including me) live elsewhere in St. Johns County. We do not belong to any organization and try hard not to become so organized that the organization takes over. We all prefer being outdoors, learning about plants and wildlife, and sharing discoveries as we work in the meadow. The meadow has become our teacher.”
One of the volunteers, wearing her Florida Native Plant Society (www.fnps.org) t-shirt, talks about the grounsel tree (Baccharis halimifolia) that was left standing in the meadow. In the background you can see the split rail fence marking the border of the meadow near the sidewalk to the community pier.
Next to another corner rail, the long-time resident of the meadow, a female gopher tortoise, makes an appearance.
Several years ago someone donated some sunshine mimosa seeds (Mimosa strigillosa). To increase the germination rate, the volunteers covered part of the meadow with black plastic for six weeks before sowing the seeds to kill off the competition. Now they have a good stand of this wonderful native groundcover with its pink puffy flowers. Other plants have also moved in including another showy native, scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea).
Near the tortoise burrow a native painted leaf poinsettia (Poinsettia cyathophora) grows amongst the tall grasses.
While most of the meadow is mowed once a year or so, this part is not mowed to provide some cover for the tortoise. Now some of her offspring have dug their own burrows and the mowers will also skip those areas.
One of the volunteers trims back some of the more vigorous plants. >>
Ten years ago when they got the go ahead on the meadow project, they paid to have the whole 19,000 sq. ft. (a little less than 1/2 the size of a football field) plowed to get rid of the grass, except for a few trees and shrubs. They seeded it with native wildlfowers and others adapted to the Southeast. For a few years the meadow was filled with black eyed susans, coreopsis, and similar plants, but over the years it has matured. The volunteers have learned to be patient with the meadow and to follow its lead.
The day I visited the meadow was a tour day when the public is invited and volunteers, including a county extension agent, tell people about the whole project and provide guided tours of the plants and animals that live there.
Here in Florida, most people call this native grass in the foreground Fakahatchee grass, but I always knew it as gamma grass (Tripsacum dactyloides). It does make a show when it blooms, but not as showy as the native coralbean (Erythrina herbacea) behind it.
This assasin bug on the coralbean is a welcomed beneficial insect. >>
And next door to the Riverview Club property (and immediately next to the meadow) is a tract of land owned by St. Johns County. Canopy Oaks, a 33-acre coastal hammock, was saved from development and will become a St.Johns County Park which will eventually include a nature path and picnic pavillion. The Shores Meadow group hopes the wildflower meadow will be a resource for educational programs that will complement the programs given in the Canopy Oaks. So our intrepid volunteers have been paying attention to this as well.
Again, according to Gail, “The ‘development’ of Canopy Oaks (one of the few marine or coastal hammocks left) as a St. Johns County park has been put on hold for budgetary reasons, so we've enjoyed having a ‘wild’ area next to the meadow. Birds, a huge variety of insects, deer, gopher tortoises, fox and bobcat now either visit the meadow or take up residence there--you may have seen our resident female gopher tortoise. We keep in touch with the county and keep up with any plans to try to keep them on the track of creating a 'passive' park with as little development as possible. At first park planners presented plans that supporters of the Canopy Oaks felt would have a negative impact on the 33-acre oak hammock. There were Cooper's Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks and Great Horned Owls nesting in the treetops. Supporters of the park urged modifications that would be more in keeping with the quiet and serenity of the shaded oak hammock. New plans now include a small parking area, a nature walk and picnic pavillon. We keep up with any announcements about Canopy Oaks and attend announced meetings to make sure we make this little park into an educational park where people learn about the quiet side of a plant and wildlife community. We hope the wildflower meadow will eventually be a natural educational complement to Canopy Oaks.”
Two volunteers walk along the mulched path next to a wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera) with the sunshine mimosa and coreopsis (Coreopsis spp) in the foreground. In the background you can see some of the glorious live oaks (Quercus virginiana) on the county-owned property next to Riverside Club's lot.
Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis)
It’s my opinion that all communities need intrepid volunteer activists to act on behalf of the environment. What do you think?