What’s growing on: Plants and their power

Published: Jun. 30, 2022 at 4:27 PM EDT
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - If you’re like me and are a nerd for nature, with a particular fondness for fungi, you may be curious about what other kinds of species of plants, and vegetation is growing in our region. What I’ve come to learn is, that we have plants, bushes, mushrooms, moss, flowers and so much more that grows in and out of the water, in north-central Florida.

Alan Franck is a botanist and is a collections manager at the University of Florida herbarium - that’s the fancy word for a dried plant museum.

As a grad student, Franck helped create the online ‘Atlas of Florida plants,’ “which basically is, trying to stay up to date with plant diversity in Florida, mainly wild plants. They’re not working on cultivated plants,” he explained. The online encyclopedia of plants was started by a group of scientists at the University of South Florida in the 90′s.

The group has documented more than 1,400 plants just in Marion County alone so far. In Alachua County, more than 1,800 plants can be found. Franck said the database is based on what they can find and research.

“The vast majority are plants that have evolved in Florida and have been here for thousands and thousands of years,” he said.

Many of these plants we can see by simply stepping out into our own backyards. I joined Jacqua Ballas and Deborah Curry of the Pioneer Garden Club of Ocala at Silver Springs State Park as they showed me around the four different gardens they have helped plant.

Jacqua Ballas (left) and Deborah Curry (right) of the Pioneer Garden Club of Ocala. They...
Jacqua Ballas (left) and Deborah Curry (right) of the Pioneer Garden Club of Ocala. They explain their role in helping Silver Springs State Park 'go green.'(WCJB)

The plans to plant the gardens began in April 2014 and came to fruition in the spring of 2016. Each one has a different purpose, whether it’s to attract bees and butterflies or to educate visitors on native vs. non-native plants. (There are dozens of volunteers that help maintain the gardens and park each week.)

“Oh this is the weeping yaupon, isn’t it lovely?” Curry, the native plant expert, said brightly as we stopped at the Osceola garden.

“Oh this is the weeping yaupon, isn’t it lovely?” Curry, the native plant expert, said brightly...
“Oh this is the weeping yaupon, isn’t it lovely?” Curry, the native plant expert, said brightly as we stopped at the Osceola garden.(WCJB)

By developing the four gardens, Ballas explained that they’re not only trying to improve the looks of the landscape but to help the environment and ecology of the park.

“Since Silver Springs has become a state park, which happened about eight years ago, they have really really tried to improve the footprint the park has on the water,” Ballas explained.

The springs first became a tourist attraction in the 1820s, according to the Florida states parks website. In 1924, Col. W.M Davidson and Carl Ray acquired the rights to the park and quickly developed a “gasoline-powered version of the Glass Bottom Boat,” according to the Silver Springs park website.

There was even a zoo with giraffes, Curry pointed out.

“And they were right next to the springs,” Curry said with disappointment. “It’ll take decades to get that cleaned out.”

Both native and non-native plants are planted at Silver Springs State Park. The second vice...
Both native and non-native plants are planted at Silver Springs State Park. The second vice president of the Pioneer Garden Club, Jacqua Ballas explained that the group is replacing the non-native, invasive plant species with native plants once they die, at the gardens they planted.(WCJB)

But there is hope, Curry said. These plants are not only pretty to look at but also can be used to help reverse some of the negative impacts of global warming.

“If you just take half of your yard and convert it into a garden that any kind of insect and birds can use to survive, we may in fact be able to turn back some of the global warming[s].”

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