Return to Shark Valley

Shark Valley Loop

Not a single alligator reared its head during a bike ride through the Pahayokee last July. Much cooler now, they’re all over.

Ardea herodias

Alligator mississippiensis

Cirsium horridulum

Alligator mississippiens

Nuphar lutea

A Coconut Grows in Bokeelia

Cocos nucifera

It takes about a month for the verdant shoot to emerge, so this one likely washed ashore while Hurricane Ian spread millions of tons of natural and man-made debris from Manatee to Collier County (and beyond).

Bokeelia is a tiny island community on Pine Island settled by the Calusa Indians, a doomed advanced coastal society that relied heavily on fishing and shellfish.

Henry Ford came along in the 1920s and purchased land on Bokeelia for a fishing village. He also built a large dock and a hotel on the island, and he established a botanical garden. The village never took off, and a hurricane destroyed the the hotel in the 1940s.

In the 1960s and 70s, the island began attracting retirees and vacationers. Many homes were built as it became a popular destination for boating and fishing. Today, Bokeelia is a small community of permanent residents and many more seasonal visitors. Pine Island’s scenic routes and trails, including flat terrain, winding paths through nature preserves, palm nurseries, mango farms, and picturesque coastal roads make it a rad place to ride your bike year-round.

Bokeelia is also home to several parks and preserves, including the Randell Research Center, an archaeological non-profit researching the Calusa Tribe.

Sea Purslane

Sesuvium portulacastrum

Sea purslane is a salty, crunchy trailside nibble. One hundred grams of raw sea purslane has 32 milligrams of vitamin C, 267 milligrams of potassium, and 69 milligrams of calcium. It’s also a good source of antioxidants, including beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.

Click here for a sea purslane chimichurri recipe.

Resilience

Danaus plexippus

The monarch’s chrysalis stage lasts about ten to fourteen days. That means this one formed between September fourteenth and October eighth. Hurricane Ian made landfall on the afternoon of Wednesday, September twenty-eighth.

Imagine this caterpillar completing its final molt, spinning a silk pad, attaching itself with its hind legs, shedding its skin, and emerging as a viridescent chrysalis.

While this tiny arthropod does its thing under a water spigot on the side of the house, a one hundred forty-plus mile per hour wind gust snaps a six-story tall royal palm a few yards away, roofs along the street peel off in seconds, and a ten-foot storm surge drowns residents of Sanibel Island, Fort Myers Beach, and other coastal communities.

Reflecting on this remarkable demonstration of evolutionary resilience brings to mind a Norman Cousins quote, “The capacity for hope is the most significant fact of life. It provides human beings with a sense of destination and the energy to get started.” As 2023 nears, let’s follow the monarch’s example and get started.

Firewheel

Gaillardia pulchella

The legend of the firewheel dates back to the Aztecs when it was just a simple, all-yellow wildflower. Women often wore the bright, cheerful flowers in their hair or as adornments, and kids played among the fields of firewheels, basking in the sun.

But all of that changed with the arrival of Cortez and his conquistadors. They brought death and destruction. Aztec blood soaked the land. The firewheel flower, moved by pity and grief, caught the falling blood in its petals. And so the legend goes, the firewheel changed forever, its bright yellow hue turned to a deep, rich red.

The firewheel is known as a symbol of the Aztec people and their enduring spirit. Its red petals are said to be stained with the blood of those who fell in the fight for their land and their way of life. And despite the passage of time, the legend remains a powerful and enduring reminder of the strength and resilience of the Aztec people.

The four spindly Gaillardia plants we picked up at The Butterfly Estates appeared to be on their way out for the season. Only a few blooms held on to the warm colors they’re known for. After planting them in the pollinator garden, they bounced back and bloomed with the winter solstice a few weeks away.

Biking the Pahayokee

Shark Valley Bike Trail

The Shark Valley Bike Trail is a ~fifteen mile loop in the Florida Everglades. Pahayokee is the Seminole word for the region, which means “grassy waters.” (Marjory Stoneman Douglas had a similar thought.)

Ardea herodias

Among others, alligators, park rangers, Athenian expats, great blue herons, Germans, fish, French Canadians, pig frogs, turtles, and Midwesterners mingle in the summer heat.

Shark Valley Bike Trail

Cyclists meander to the midpoint of the trail, a forty-five foot observation tower providing panoramic views from the highest elevation in the Everglades.

Shark Valley Bike Trail

Before ascending the concrete loop, massive cocoplum bushes offer up trailside nibbles.

Shark Valley Bike Trail

Shark Valley Bike Trail

Shark Valley Observation Tower

Shark Valley Bike Trail

Macro vistas stun.

Ipomoea sagittata

So do the micro ones.

What If?

Canal in Naples, Florida

The shopping cart in an algae-choked Naples canal brings to mind Rob Hopkins’ 2019 book, From What Is to What If. With a teacher’s luxury of extra time to wonder (and wander) during summer months, both the inspiring and disgusting trigger daily “what if” questions. The first four are chapter titles from Hopkins’ book…

1. What if we followed nature’s lead?

2. What if we started asking better questions?

3. What if we took play seriously?

4. What if school nurtured young imaginations?

5. What if we replaced lawns with native plants?

Pollen Bathing

Helianthus annuus and Apis mellifera

“So the colors of flowers have evolved to ideally tickle the eyes of bees, and I think that’s a truly wondrous result. It means that beauty, as we know it, is not only in the eye of the beholder, it arises because of that eye.”

-Ed Yong

Helianthus annuus

Quick Work

Danaus plexippus on Rudbeckia hirta

A sharp-eyed third grader discovers this black and yellow curiosity tucked under the leaf of a black-eyed Susan while planting the butterfly garden at school.

Danaus plexippus on Rudbeckia hirta

The caterpillar morphs into this chrysalis in under an hour’s time. We’re awestruck.

Shaving Brush Tree

Pseudobombax ellipticum

Elongated acorns occupy branches once all the leaves fall in late winter.

Pseudobombax ellipticum

Pink blows up brown every night.

Pseudobombax ellipticum

Pseudobombax ellipticum

The Pseudobombax pollinator block party swarms for weeks. Can you hear the dembow?

Ubiquitous Fruit

Chrysobalanus icaco

Cocoplum shrubs are everywhere in Southwest Florida, and the fruit is high in vitamin C.

Chrysobalanus icaco

Tasty trailside nibbles, cocoplums are often found near water. Click here for a cocoplum jam recipe.

Naples Botanical Garden Littoral Zone