Stop #5: Walk Along the Boardwalk
Coin Vine/Fish Poison Vine (Dalbergia ecastaphyllum)
Coin vine is a native shrubby tree that is drought and salt tolerant. Notice how horizontal the branches grow. This characteristic, as well as an extensive root system, helps to cover, bind, and stabilize coastal dunes and this specific hillside.
The name “Coin Vine” comes from the seed pods which resemble coins.
The common name of “Fish Poison Vine” comes from the fact that the bark and leaves contain a substance that prevents oxygen uptake in fish. The crushed roots and bark were used by Native Americans to stupefy and catch fish.
Coin vine is a bee attractant and is listed among the honey plants of the Dominican Republic. If the plant is flowering when you are here, you will notice how many other insects are also attracted to it.
Wild Grape (Vitis)
Florida is home to six native species of grape vine. They’re in the same genus, Vitis, as the wine grape (Vinis vinifera).
Here are three of our native species:
Muscadine Grape (Vitis rotundifolia) is found in dry to moist flatwoods and floodplains.
The Vitis genus is mostly dioecious, which means there are female and male plants. Only the female plants will have fruit and unfortunately most of our wild grapes are male.
If you find a female muscadine, keep it your own special secret.
Muscadines can be distinguished from other native grapes by the unbranched tendrils with which it climbs.
Muscadines ripen in July through September.
Summer grape (Vitis aestivalis) has similar leaves but has a branched tendril and hairs on the bottom of the leaves.
Calusa Grape (Vitis shuttleworthii) is found in moist hammocks.
What type of grapes can you find along the boardwalk?
Horsemint/Spotted Beebalm (Monarda punctata)
Horsemint is a non-invasive mint that excels in sunny, open woodlands. It is tolerant of pests and diseases and has some salt tolerance.
Crush the leaves and you will smell an oregano-like scent. They can be used as a substitute for oregano or thyme and can be brewed into a mild tea that is said to promote relaxation and has long been used by Native Americans to make a “sweating tea.” It also has antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiseptic properties and was used historically to treat ringworm and hookworm infections. What an amazing plant!
Horsemint produces fragrant, beautiful pink flowers which rise above the foliage in the summer and fall.
The long-lasting flowers can be used fresh-cut or dried. In winter it will die back to the ground in colder areas.
Horsemint is known as perhaps the best Florida wildflower for attracting vast numbers of bees, butterflies, and moths, as well as hummingbirds.
Hercules Club (Zanthoxylum clava-herculis)
This is a salt-tolerant, native, spiny tree in the citrus family that grows in full sun in dry, sandy locations.
Toothache tree is another common name for it because the bark has served as a home remedy for toothaches and the pains of rheumatism. Chewing the bark, berries, or foliage numbs the pain.
It has distinctive corky lumps along the bark when mature.
The clusters of shiny black fruits provide an excellent source of seeds and fruit for birds.
The dried berries can be used as a spice like Sichuan peppers in Chinese cooking.
It is a larval host for the Giant Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio cresphontes).
Sea Grape (Coccoloba uvifera)
Sea grape is a highly salt-tolerant native of coastal beaches throughout tropical America and the Caribbean.
It is often planted to stabilize beach edges. Any sea grapes growing along Florida’s coast are off-limits because they are a protected species on sand dunes and coastal shorelines along Florida’s coast. You cannot destroy, damage, or consume these plants along the shoreline without a permit.
If you are hoping to enjoy this classic Florida fruit, your best bet is to add it to your home landscape, away from the waterfront.
Sea grapes bloom from spring to early summer and develop fruits containing a single pit that resemble green grapes on the vine. The edible fruit turns red or purple as it ripens in the fall and is said to taste like muscadine grapes.
Sea grape is dioecious. This means that individual plants are either male or female. Fruiting occurs only on the female plant.
The tasty fruit can be used for jam, eaten directly from the tree, or fermented into sea grape wine. The sap has been used for dyeing and tanning leather. The wood has occasionally been used in furniture, as firewood, or for making charcoal.
Sea grapes are also a protective habitat for small animals.
Varnish Leaf/Hopbush (Dodonaea viscosa)
You will find varnish leaf along the boardwalk as well as a large specimen near the front entrance to the Lagoon House.
Varnish leaf is a fast-growing native that makes a nice specimen tree, hedge, or background plant in the landscape. It tolerates dry sandy or rocky soils, salt spray, windy areas, and drought conditions. It is also hurricane-wind resistant and has no pest or disease concerns. Wow, what a plant!
Bonus: The dense foliage makes a good nesting habitat for birds, and the tree attracts many pollinators.
Varnish leaf is noted for its showy fruits that emerge green, turn yellow-green, then pink and red, and then brown as they mature.
This pan-tropical tree has been used for a variety of medicinal uses, typically as an extract or tea. The treatment list ranges from skin rashes, sore throats, and stomach ailments to a variety of serious diseases.
The hard wood has been known to be made into weapons and also used for medicinal applications.
Fruits have been used as a substitute for hops and yeast in making beer. Cheers!
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
If you hang out on the boardwalk very long you will probably spy one of our resident ospreys flying out over the water to fish. And you may get lucky enough to see one succeed.
Ospreys are year-round residents in Florida. They live near water and are unique among raptors for their fish-based diet.
The osprey species is at least 11 million years old and is so well-adapted to its sea-faring lifestyle that it has evolved unique characteristics that set it apart from other raptor species.
Because its primary diet is fish, the osprey’s nostrils can be closed during dives.
The osprey’s unique talons have an outer toe that can be angled backward to better grasp a fish and rearrange it so that it faces forward as it is carried to the nest.
With the exception of Antarctica, the osprey — the second-most widely distributed raptor species after the peregrine falcon — can be found on every continent.
In most instances, ospreys are monogamous and mate for life. The male osprey attracts a mate with an aerial display near a nesting location. The pair gathers materials to build the nest, typically set on a tall tree or pole near the water.
After several years of adding materials, osprey nests can grow as tall as ten feet.