INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – The Pelican Island Audubon Society is offering live oak, bald cypress, mahogany and dahoon holly trees free of charge in hopes of helping native Florida wildlife and waterways.
Shaded beneath oak trees, the nonprofit society’s Native Plant Nursery at 195 Ninth Street S.E., behind the Audubon House, has distributed around 14,500 native trees and plants to date.
Volunteers earlier this week unloaded 1,000 bald cypress trees, donated to the nursery from Cherrylake Farms in Groveland, about 30 miles west of Orlando.
“They’ve been very supportive for a long time,” said Richard Baker, board chair of the Pelican Island Audubon Society.
After retiring as director of the University of Florida’s Medical Entomology Laboratory in 1998, Baker was instrumental in saving the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area, a 298-acre upland and wetland environment along the Indian River Lagoon, which was, at the time, being threatened by a condominium development.
Today, the conservation area surrounds the 1-acre Audubon House property, which also provides interactive summer camps and science-based afterschool care for some schools in Indian River County.
Kathy Cunningham, a resident of Vero Beach, began volunteering at the nursery a few years ago.
“I wanted to learn more about native plants,” Cunningham said while watering bald cypress trees. “It’s been great.”
The native plants, volunteers said, help provide a solution for Florida’s increasing development.
“I’m disappointed in the huge number of houses and people that are coming in here,” Baker said. “They’re clear cutting their lands. All of that storm water runoff, just from the roads, people’s yards from fertilizers, chemicals and pesticides are going into the lagoon.”
A step in the right direction, according to the Audubon House, is planting native plants and avoiding non-native grasses.
“They require water, nitrogen, fertilizer and herbicides,” Baker said. “It’s a fairly simple solution and we’re offering lots of free things for people.”
The stated mission of the Audubon’s Trees for Life / Plants for Birds project is to collaborate with Floridians in planting 100,000 native trees to help improve community health, provide shaded roadways and increase economic stability. Trees save energy, provide shade and wind breaks for homes, cool cities and neighborhoods, reduce the need for fertilizers, remove carbon dioxide and air pollutants from the air, retain topsoil and provide for birds, butterflies, fish and people.
The insects found on native trees, Baker said, are critical for insect eating birds. “They won’t begin to nest unless they know that there is a good supply of insects available for their young.”
All native plants acquired from the nursery are added and updated regularly to a tree distribution map found on Pelican Island Audubon’s website.
“I’ve liked birds all my life,” Baker said. “My wife is big in birds, so when we got married, I got really involved. They’re beautiful to watch.”
The nursery is open to the public Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.