Tiny plant topples big development plans

Photo by Gil Nelson

Rare habitat among several saved from bulldozers

An imperiled habitat just south of Miami was about to be turned into a strip mall when the discovery of an endangered plant, the deltoid spurge, changed the future for the 39-acre property.

Developers had planned to expand a bus way through the middle of the pine rocklands property and build the mall on the side bordering U.S. Highway 1 in southern Miami-Dade County. Then the small, inconspicuous deltoid spurge was found on the property, and preservation became the priority.

The deltoid spurge, a plant with pairs of small, bright green, rounded triangular leaves that sprout from a wiry stem, grows only on limestone in the Miami-Dade County pine rocklands. The leaves and stems often spread flat across the limestone in patches that look a little like small green place mats.

Florida Natural Areas Inventory

Native pine rocklands, which exist only in South Florida and the Bahamas, once covered 185,000 acres, or about 12 percent, of Miami-Dade County. After rapid development to accommodate the growing population, only about 2 percent is pine rocklands. There are 225 native species inhabiting the pine rocklands, and five of them are either threatened or endangered. Of the plant species in pine rocklands, more than 20 percent do not exist elsewhere in the world. The deltoid is among them.

After the deltoid spurge discovery, Miami-Dade County’s Environmentally Endangered Lands Program purchased the property with 50 percent matching funds from the state of Florida’s Preservation 2000 program.

After the acquisition of the property, now called the Rockdale Pineland Preserve the Environmentally Endangered Land Program made several restorations, starting with demolition of a building. Management of these native lands requires constant maintenance. The program works with other government programs, nonprofit organizations and community volunteers to remove invasive species, clear debris and plant native species.

During a recent event coordinated with the nonprofit organization TREEmendous Miami, about 100 volunteers planted 700 native trees in the Rockdale Pineland Reserve, according to Amy Creekmur, the project coordinator for TREEmendous Miami. She said volunteers planted trees bought from local nurseries with a grant from the Florida Division of Forestry. People of all ages come to planting events, including students seeking to complete community service volunteer requirements.

Florida Natural Areas Inventory

Carmily Coello, 11, attended with five classmates from St. Agatha Catholic School. The group planted 10 plants, including three trees, which they proudly named George, Matilda and Penelope.

Almost all of the natural areas remaining in Miami-Dade County are publicly owned and under preservation as a result of the program’s acquisitions, said Joy Klein, an environmental resource supervisor for the Environmentally Endangered Lands Program and technical adviser for TREEmendous Miami.

Klein, who has worked with the county’s environmental departments since 1987, said she is sure that if the county’s existing natural habitats had remained in private ownership, they would have been developed into businesses, neighborhoods and agricultural land.

Florida Natural Areas Inventory

The Environmentally Endangered Lands Program has brought more than 18,350 acres of natural land into public ownership and continues to preserve, restore and maintain those lands. Freshwater wetlands comprise more than 91 percent of the acreage. The remainder includes rockridge pineland, tropical hardwood hammock, coastal wetlands and scrub habitat. The program also manages nearly 3,000 acres of natural lands in Miami-Dade County parks.

More like this: Wild Things

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