Education plays a pivotal role in conservation. It can bring the work of thousands of scientists who arduously collect and analyze data to the front door of our communities, where it can be applied. And when facing an unprecedented rate of loss of habitats, wildlife, and plant species, maintaining our commitment to engaging the public in conservation efforts remains one of our greatest priorities.
The scarcity of the sandhill scrub habitat is a key topic when discussing the resilience and importance of Florida’s endangered plants. On January 12th, 2023, the Rare Plant Conservation Program visited Mackay Gardens and Lakeside Preserve to provide routine maintenance and cleanup to the sandhill restoration demonstration area, which has been a collaborative project between the Rare Plant Conservation Program and the City of Lake Alfred since 2017.
Selected for an educational area for Preserve visitors to learn about one of our most precious habitats, this small area has provided an opportunity to showcase an active transformation of an empty plot into a sample of healthy sandhill habitat filled with native vegetation. This multi-year project has entailed the careful removal of invasive grasses and weeds, while gradualy introducing native sandhill plants such as Long-leaf pine, wiregrass, and other flowering herbs and forbs, which has attracted resident gopher tortoises, numerous pollinators, and other native wildlife over the years.
A mulch path leads visitors around the permimeter of the demonstration area, and a plastic chain fence protects the habitat and its native wildlife. With the ongoing help of Bok Tower Gardens’ Conservation volunteer Lee Zahuranek, the educational plot continues its transformation, and the neighboring communities can still witness the ecosystem benefits and beauty of sandhill habitat. The restoration project is part of the Rare Plant Conservation Program’s continuing mission of public education, restoring habitats, and protecting the native species that call this unique habitat home.