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  MIAMI'S FRUITS AND FLOWERS

THE FLORA of the Miami region is essentially tropical in charac ter but it includes many plants common to both the Middle and South Atlantic States. From the Keys and Cape Sable to the head of Biscayne Bay, the terrain is marked by a great diversity of soils which gives rise to a large variety of plants and, at the same time, sharply delineates the usual confines of the several plant associa tions. These areas of local distribution of plant species are known as "pinelands," "hammocks," and "Everglades." In addition, the waters of Biscayne Bay and the dunes along the coast have a vegetation that is peculiarly their own.

Palms, especially the coconut palm, are more widely planted in Miami than any other tree. Its usually curved trunk is topped with a rosette of leaves that bend outward and at the tips, abruptly down ward. In trojpical America the coconut often grows to a height of 100 feet, yields about 100 nuts a year, and supplies food, shelter, and clothing. It is less important in the latitude of Miami where its commercial use has been supplanted by its ornamental value. The royal palm is another widely planted pinnate-leaved palm that thrives only in the southern part of the state. Its gray, spindleshaped trunk, like a pillar of cement, is straight and topped by a long, green, cylindrical, sheathing base for the leaves. Long lanes of this stately tree line Biscayne Boulevard northward from Bayfront Park.

Another common tree belonging in this group is the Washingtonian or "petticoat" palm distinguished by a dense sheathing of dead leaves hanging downward along its upper trunk. Scattered widely over vacant lots throughout the city on dry or pineland soils is the scrub palmetto. Although these dry soils are frequently swept by fires, the underground stem of this palm protects it against damage.

The Australian pine, widely planted in the past as an ornamental tree, grows tall and plume-shaped. It may be pruned into almost any shape for use in formal gardens, as in the old Royal Palm Hotel gardens at Southeast Second Avenue and Second Street. The native Caribbean pine, scattered over much of the unde veloped lands in and about Miami, is distinguished by its rough, branchless trunk and rounded but ragged looking top.

Rows of young almond trees adorn both sides of Seventeenth Avenue north of Miami River. The large leaves, growing close to long slender branches radiating horizontally from the trunk, take on a rich, red color in cool weather.

A baobab tree, (dansonia digttata} imported from Africa in 1912 stands in Columbia Park in front of the Miami Senior High School. The trunk of this specimen is beginning to acquire the char acteristic bulge for which it is noted in its native habitat. A rarity in Florida, this tree, late in summer, bears huge creamy white blos soms that are remarkable for their strange shape.

South of Miami River, Brickell Avenue as far as Fifteenth Road, is lined with black olive trees, an importation from Jamaica. The black olive is a rapid grower with small, dark-green leaves forming a fine, round-topped tree something like the sugar maple. Older trees of this variety border Lummus Park on Northwest Third Avenue between Second and Third Streets.

Brickell Avenue, which extends southward to the James Deering estate, was originally cut through a hammock covered with a dense jungle growth. Many fine specimens of the gumbo limbo, the strangler fig, and the live oak may be observed in this area. The gumbo limbo, sometimes known as West Indian Birch, has smooth copper-colored bark that may be peeled off in thin sheets. Glue and varnish are obtained from the tree which also yields an aromatic gum.

The strangling or strangler fig (ficus aura) , belonging to the same genus as the edible fig and rubber trees, derives its name from its peculiar habit of growth. It may start from a seed germinating in the ground but, since the fruit is favored by birds, the seeds are frequently lodged in the bark of some forest tree, often the cabbage palm. In such cases the seed sends to the gound slender roots that branch, grow, and merge with one another, until the trunk of its host is completely encased and eventually killed. This fig, like the wild banyan (altisima) seen along the newly landscaped Coral Way, drops aerial roots that become props for the lower limbs. The leaves of the fig are narrowed at the base; those of the wild banyan are rounded. The majestic, wide-spreading live oak (quercus virginiana} fre quently draped with Spanish moss, is the largest member of the beech family and is usually confined to hammock lands. It is distinguished from the smaller myrtle-leaved oak (quercus myrtifolia), which also grows in hammocks, by its larger leaves and nuts.

South Miami Avenue, just west of Brickell Avenue, is lined on both sides for a considerable distance with royal poinciana trees. In June their spreading, umbrella-shaped tops are transformed into canopies of flaming scarlet blossoms. The center parkway of this avenue is planted with Phoenix or date palms.

Near the James Deering estate on Miami Avenue is a planting of Spanish bayonets. The plant has no trunk; the strong leaves are clustered at the base, diverge, and terminate in sharp points. The flowers, about three inches across, are borne on stems from three to ten feet tall and apparently attract only one insect, the yucca moth. This moth lays eggs in the capsule and crowds collected masses of pollen into the stigma, thus fertilizing the ovules. The larva uses a few of the seeds for food, spins a thread to the ground, enters the pupa state, and emerges as a moth when the flower blooms again the following year.

Among the climbing plants is the flame vine, a native of Brazil, which is widely planted throughout the city and especially in Coral Gables. Its light-green foliage and brilliant clusters of deep pink flowers, appearing in early winter make it easily recognizable. Another vine is the bougainvillea, a woody, thorny plant adapted for many uses. The purple varieties, strong and dense of growth, lending themselves to mass effects, are easily trained, and often used for hedges. The red varieties, are more effective when trained against a white background. They are frequently used to soften the effect of barren wall areas, especially at Miami Beach. Other common ornamental vines are the yellow allamanda and the thumbergia with lavender-blue orchid- like flowers.

Of the shrubs, the hibiscus or rose mallow, is more widely planted than any other excepting, possibly, the croton. Three varieties of hibiscus are popular, the (H. rosa sinensis) being the most common. This native of China is a vigorous shrub or small tree adapted for hedges but is often planted singly. The petals are rose-red. A smaller variety (H. Sabdariffa) has dark red flowers. The H. cannabinus, more difficult to cultivate, has white or pink, sometimes darker colored petals, that shade to purple at the base.

The croton, a shrub from one to six feet in height, is a member of the spurge family, a group remarkable for its foliage rather than its flowers. The leaves of the cultivated croton are generally green, often splashed with brown, red, or yellow in varying shades. Rare plants, especially new cuttings, sometimes have yellow leaves. One plant may put forth leaves that are erect, broad, and wrinkled; another may have smooth, drooping leaves that are less than a quarter inch across. The "corkscrew" croton is marked by the twisting habit of its leaves.

The plants of the spurge family, like the croton and the poinsettia, often have a milky sap and yield a variety of products includ ing edible fruits, medicines, poisons, and rubber. The cultivated poinsettia, a woody plant with dark green leaves and scarlets bracts, has a group of less conspicuous relatives sometimes called "wild poinsettias," or "hypocrites." They are smaller plants that show the same brilliantly colored bracts and may be found on pineland or in gardens. Another common shrub is the oleander which sometimes reaches a height of 30 feet or more and is found along boulevards and in gardens everywhere. Collins Canal at Miami Beach is bordered with oleanders having pink blossoms but other varieties show colors in cluding white, rose, and red. A native of the Levant, the oleander is a member of the dogbane family.

Many plants of this family are poisonous as the termination "bane" indicates. The pink and the white periwinkle, growing un noticed in back yards or vacant lots, belongs to this group. The blue periwinkle of Europe, often planted in the North, is sometimes called "the flower of death."

After the sun goes down, the small white blossoms of the nightblooming jasmine, closely related to the well-known yellow jessamine, send out a penetrating odor of cloying sweetness. This plant also belongs to a family of poisonous plants. Its Asiatic cousin, strychnos nux-vomica, yields strychnine and another supplies the virulent poison for the arrows of savage hunters.

Among the commoner air plants is Spanish moss which, besides softening the beauty of rugged live oaks, is the source of a "vegetable hair" used to fill mattresses. Spanish moss is not a parasite. It has no roots but takes its food from rain and air by means of hairlike structures. It belongs to the pineapple family as do also the wild pines which, having clustered leaves, are more characteristic of the cultivated pineapple. The leaves, at their bases, catch rainwater and dust on which the plant feeds.

The phlox, petunia, marigold, sweet pea, and a host of other flowers that flourish in the North in June, bloom in Miami during the winter months. These annuals of the temperate zone are really the exotics of this tropical area but they may be successfully grown by careful tending.

Miami is the meeting place of the plant zones. Southward ex tends a country that, in its natural state, becomes increasingly tropical in types of vegetation. The Everglades has a flora that is peculiarly its own and northward the plant life changes to that of the southtemperate zone.

Although most of the rainfall occurs during the summer, there is sufficient precipitation together with a relatively warm temperature during the winter to remove seasonal habits and extend the growing and flowering time throughout the year.

FAUNA OF DADE COUNTY

THE ZONE of Florida fauna begins in the Everglades west of Miami and occupies the remainder of the peninsula, while the mainland, or north Florida, lies in the zone of Louisiana fauna. What is designated as the tropical life zone is contained in a narrow strip of land extending from Jupiter southward along the lower east coast, including only a small portion of the Everglades and lower west coast.

Much of the tropical zone is coastal land or low, marshy ground in which water birds abound. Besides the gulls and active little sand pipers, the most common water birds are the brown pelicans. Their nearest breeding places are Cape Sable and Brevard Island. The flamingo, vermilion scarlet in color, with a wingspread of five feet, once common in Southern Florida, is seldom seen out of captivity.

Dr. J. B. Holder, author of Along the Florida Reef (1871), observed many "snake birds" on his trip to this area, which dived and disappeared when approached. He decided that they plunged to the bottom where they grasped weeds to hold themselves under until danger had passed. These strange birds, known as water turkey, snake bird, and American darter, swim with their bodies submerged, only the long slender neck and serpentine head showing. The plumage of the male is a glossy greenish black, with its broad tail tipped with pale brown. The female has much the same coloring, but her head, neck, and breast are grayish buff. They are seen perching in low trees or bushes overhanging the water from which they feed. The egrets, now rigidly protected, are becoming more plentiful. The "aigrettes" for which they were hunted are long white plumes resembling spun glass, that grow out from the bird s back during nesting season. Their gregarious habits make them easy prey for hunters but their slaughter left the young birds to die. Egrets, herons, and cranes inhabit the swamps and edges of the canal along the Tamiami Trail. With them in the Everglades is the ibis, held by the ancient Egyptians as sacred to Thoth, god of wisdom. Wild turkey and quail are found in the Everglades, but the crow and vulture are much more common.

Wild hogs, once common to the prairies, are said to have been descended from animals imported by Spanish exploring parties. When President-elect Herbert Hoover visited Brighton, to receive a delegation of Indians from the near-by reservation, the braves alone appeared. Their leader apologetically explained that wild hogs had been reported that morning and the women could not resist the opportunity to secure fresh pork for their tables. There are no land animals or birds in Florida today, that have any great commercial value. They are preserved or protected either for sentiment, for study, or for sport, and for the less tangible eco nomic value arising from the benefits obtained through a balanced natural life.

Although some forms of animal life are becoming scarce, the deeper Everglades is still a paradise for hunters. In October, 1933, William T. Belvin, former preacher and boilermaker of Fort Myers, returned from an exile in the Florida wilds where he voluntarily spent a year to prove that it was possible, even in these days, to live in primitive fashion. Belvin, who took with him neither clothes, tools, nor weapons, lived on fish and wild game which are the main foods of the Indians who now inhabit these same wilds.

Only two species of alligator are known to exist in the world. One is found in the region of the Yangtze Kiang River in China and the other in southeastern United States. The American species are thick, dark brown or black, sluggish animals that favor fresh water and spend much of their time basking in the sun on open banks or on logs. They grow to a length of 16 feet but specimens over 12 feet are now rare. Like most wild animals they recognize man as an enemy and, when approached, will attempt concealment by hiding in holes or "caves" which they dig in or near the water. They are not noisy except during the breeding season when the male utters a roar that may be heard a mile away. The female builds a crude nest six to eight feet in diameter, lays 20 to 40 eggs, and covers them deeply with vegetation that ferments and liberates heat which hatches the eggs after two months. The emerging young, about eight inches long, are usually taken for disposal to tourists but most of them die from want of proper care. In the Everglades they add nearly a foot to their length the first year. By the fifth year they average about six feet and weigh approximately 70 pounds.

The crocodile inhabits the salt marshes of southern Florida and is a vicious animal that will often move to attack instead of hiding as does the alligator. The more active crocodile is grayish in color and has a triangular head with a pointed snout. It is the largest survivor of the reptile age.

Another survivor of life that swarmed in ancient oceans millions of years ago is the garfish or Everglades pike that throngs the waters of the Miami River and nearby canals. Like the reptiles, the vertebrae of the gar have ball and socket joints and the head moves on its neck independently of the body. The scales, so hard that fire may be struck from them with a piece of steel, form a veritable armor. These scales do not overlap but are laid side by side like metal plates and are fastened to each other with a system of hooks. It is said that pioneers used gar skin to cover wooden plows and that the savage Caribs, when they went to war, used this armor for breastplates. The third staple of Indian diet, the gopher, is a land tortoise which, being composed mostly of shell and digestive organs, is little more appetizing than the gar. The shell of a full-grown gopher is 1 8 inches long but the Seminoles hunt them so assiduously that smaller specimens are the rule. They are found in dry, forested elevations where they excavate large burrows in the ground. In the vicinity of Miami, where the limestone rock lies very close to the surface, the gophers are adept at finding pot holes, or "sand seeps," in which they dig their underground homes. Numerous beetles, crickets, and even toads share these underground chambers which are often 20 feet long and reach a depth of eight or nine feet. The gopher burrow may be recognized by a low mound, a foot or more higher than the surrounding land, and extending to a diameter of 10 or 15 feet.

The banks of the Miami and adjoining canals still abound in snakes which are hunted both for their skins and for medicinal pur poses. Only three poisonous snakes are known, the coral snake, the diamondback rattler, and the moccasin.

The moccasin, or cotton mouth, rarely found far from the water s edge, is a stout snake, about four feet long at maturity. When striking, its widely opened mouth shows cottony white. The body is a dark copperish brown and its lips usually marked with white. It is frequently found on a log or in a low bush, hanging over the water, ready to drop on some fish which it pursues under water with remarkable speed.

The coral snake, its body covered with brilliant rings of yellow, black and crimson, is smaller and although one of the deadliest, is generally less dangerous because its fangs are shorter and it cannot strike so deeply.

Although game is less plentiful than it once was there are still deer, quail, and turkey for the sportsman. Bears climb and tear the tops out of palmettos to get at the tender cabbage. Indians trap muskrat, mink, otter, and raccoon for their fur. Panthers, which inhabit the desolate wastes, are rarely seen and still less often hunted. The lowly possum, also found in the Everglades, is the only North American animal that carries its young in a pouch.

Still less conspicuous than the game are the great land snails and their close cousins, the arboreal species that live in dense ham mocks where shade, concealment, moisture, and abundance of food are favorable for their existence. They are rarely found in pinelands due, perhaps, to the frequent fires that sweep these areas. The common arboreal snail has a white shell marked with brown but the colors and patterns vary widely. In size the shell measures from one to one and one-half inches in diameter and up to two and one-half inches in length.

Within the city limits along the bayshore two species of crabs are encountered. The little fiddler crabs swarm in backwater mud flats where odorous, decaying vegetation provides food. Their name is derived from the peculiar motion which the male makes with his one large arm when threatened or disturbed.

The larger West Indian land crabs found from West Palm Beach to Cape Sable, are more annoying and destructive. Their widemouthed burrows and their attacks on tender plants make them a nuisance to gardeners. Automobiles kill thousands of them on hardsurfaced coastal roads every year and sometimes these casualties mean trouble for the motorist. One claw is greatly developed and sharp enough to puncture a tire. In a fight with another crab this great claw may be wrenched from the body without much harm but the slightest damage to its shell means death. They have been known to steal articles of clothing that unwary bathers leave on shore, even extending their efforts to shorts and shoes which they attempt to pull into their holes. In September, during what is believed to be the mating season, they leave their burrows in swarms and go on a wild, noisy spree, taking possession of yards and porches, clumsily clambering up walls, and filling the night with an everlasting clatter.

Sometimes the waves wash ashore the iridescent violet or blue inflated sac of the Portuguese man-of-war, a common marine animal that is often annoying to bathers. It resembles an elongated soap bubble topped with a crest which acts as a sail. Attached to the sac are a number of organs and tentacles, streamers often 40 or 50 feet long, some of which are provided with stinging or lasso cells that inflict severe pain when contacted.

The Florida manatee, or sea cow, which attains a weight of 2,000 pounds, grazes on grass growing in shallow lagoons and estu aries along the coast. The rear limbs are missing and the fore limbs are broad flappers. Its skin is bare, except for scattered hairs while the muzzle is covered with bristles. Nursing mothers rise to the surface and, head and shoulders above water, hold the young manatee to their breasts in an almost human fashion.

Even the soil produces strange fauna. Captain Charles J. Rose, one of Miami s oldest pioneers, possesses a large copper kettle inlaid with gold, product of the Aztecs or Spanish artizans, which was com pletely imbedded in rock blasted from a canal bed near the mouth of the Miami River. This rock, sometimes known as "ojus," is the same as that which underlies all the Miami area and is formed from the calcareous secretion of marine zoophytes or corals. These minute organisms build continuously and, over a period of years, their work is readily noticed. A one-inch specimen placed under water by Dr. J. B. Holder, doubled in size in a year s time. The same writer observed that branch corals sometimes grew five or six inches in one year.

Three small animals, the five-lined skink, the scorpion, and the chameleon, are common to yards and gardens throughout the city. The Cuban and Jamaican chameleon often reach a length of 16 inches but ours rarely exceed six inches. These slender lizards, noted for their rapid color changes, live on insects and drink dew. Changes in color are due to changes in light, emotion, and temperature. On cool days they are usually a dull gray, on warm days a golden green. Exposure to direct sunlight induces a dull black but in darkness they take on a cream color. Fright tends to produce lighter shades, while anger deepens the hue of lighter areas.

Young skinks are marked by five longitudinal stripes and a tail of brilliant blue. These lizards are harmless, active, and difficult to capture. The female becomes brownish at maturity and reaches a length of seven inches. The male attains a length of 10 inches and acquires a head of blazing red.

In the tropics, the scorpion s sting is sometimes fatal but the scorpions found in the United States are not dangerous except to children when their sting may cause vomiting and convulsion. This crab-like creature, black or gray in color, has a long, segmented tail tipped with a slender, curved sting. When alarmed the tail is curved over its back and the sting points forward in a threatening manner. The poison has a paralyzing effect.

Another common resident in the garden shrubbery is the Florida cardinal, often called the redbird. The crested head and underparts of the male are deep vermilion; the female is rusty brown. The Florida blue jay is a crested bird found in central and south ern Florida. It is slightly smaller than the southern blue jay and the upper plumage, suffused with gray, has a less purplish cast. It has all the bad habits of the southern blue jay but is less wary and can be trained to eat from one s hand. A noncrested bird, the Florida jay, or "scrub" jay, is found in scrub lands and sand-pine areas. Its nape, rump, and wings are blue and it is easily recognized by its longer tail. The scrub jay is more of a songster than the Florida jay and is generally less noisy.

The mockingbird is soberly dressed but its cheery, rollicking song is the most prominent and best loved of southern birds. It is silent most of the fall and early winter but from January onward its persistent medley of calls, often interspersed with imitations of other birds, make it easy to recognize. So great are its powers of imitation that birds kept in captivity have been known to mimic cats, dogs, and chickens. Morning is its favorite time for singing but it often wakes at night when the moon is bright to pour a cascade of silvery notes into the starry silence.

Recognizing the beauty of its song, the Senate designated the mocking bird as the State Bird of Florida by a resolution passed April 23, 1927. Evidence pointing to a weakness in character has been gathered by the late Dr. Charles T. Simpson, noted author and student of wild life who observed mockingbirds become intoxicated when they eat berries of a plant bearing the name, solanum seaforthianum. Inroads of civilization and drainage of the Everglades have greatly reduced the abundance of all kinds of animal life in Dade County. Alligators have been hunted relentlessly. The flamingo, once common, is now rarely seen except in captivity. In 1892 one man reported that he had shipped 130,000 birds out of the state for millinery purposes. Birds were hunted to such an extent that a colony of hunters, located on the Keys, won the name of "Redbird City." Many birds, such as the egret, barely escaped the fate of the wild pigeon.

The enactment of game laws and the work of the National Association of Audubon Societies resulted in the preservation of these birds and other forms of animal life. The Florida Federation of Women s Clubs secured the establishment of Royal Palm State Park, a sanctuary of 1,920 acres in Dade County.

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PLANNING YOUR VACATION IN FLORIDA - MIAMI AND DADE COUNTY, INCLUDING MIAMI BEACH AND CORAL GABLES
AMERICAN GUIDE SERIES - 1941

 

 

 

 

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