What Charley taught us
Boss at the nursery spoke at a Boca Grande Garden Club luncheon last
week, so beforehand he had a dry run with his Administrative Assistant
and me [Master Gardner]. Was interesting stuff. The club had asked him
to evaluate whether native plants or exotic plants had handled the
hurricane better. On its way up the middle of the state, Charley had
passed just to the east of Boca Grande when it entered Charlotte
Harbor, which resulted in much damage on the island.
The first thing to realize, Stephen said, is that Boca Grande was a
salt-water swamp before the railroad arrived. Sometime in the mid-20th
century an oil tanker port was established on the southern tip of the
island and a railroad viaduct was built so the tankers could be off
loaded. When the rail line was built, Charlotte Harbor was dredged and
the fill was used to build up the island so it would support the rail
tracks and necessary buildings to maintain the port.
People who worked for the port planted trees--all exotic [except some
were native to the mainland a couple of miles away]--for shade. Then
the port closed and some smart folks saw an opportunity to create
destination real estate for the wealthy. And that's pretty much what's
happened. Lots of exotic trees [coconuts, gumbo limbos, schefflera,
white birds. on and on] have been planted to provide a canopy that the
true natives of the island [wild coffee, Florida privet, mangroves]
could not provide.
So what happened when Charley kissed the island was that this canopy of
exotic plants [and native plants, especially mangroves] created a
buffer, not unlike the shelter-belts of the midwest, that caused the
wind to uplift over most of the structures. Structures--houses and
such--that were densely landscaped sustained minimal damage. Structures
without landscape barriers sustained major damage. Most of the
landscapes were trashed--but a $250,000 landscape is easier to replace
than a $4 million house.
27.0 N, 82.4 W
Minimum 30 F [-1 C]
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