Friday, October 23, 2020

Garden Club Members Learn About Conservation at Otter Mound Preserve

Photos by Maria Lamb | CGC members with one of many Strangler Figs on the Preserve—a favorite showstopper with its roots strangling its host plant.

A Bobcat caught on camera as it goes through the Preserve.

The Otter Mound Preserve in Marco Island is a combination of wildlife, Calusa history and archaeology and Ernest & Gladys shell mounds. In the 1940s, Ernest and Gladys Otter constructed a winding wall of lighting whelk shells around their property and the shells we see today at the Preserve are part of the Calusa mound site.  

Otter Mound Preserve is barely 2.4 acres and is a tropical hardwood or a Maritime Coastal Hammock and is considered a rare and endangered habitat. It is considered by Collier Ordinance as the highest priority habitat for preservation. Big trees that are salttolerant are found here along with threatened plant species that support a wide diversity of wildlife. 

Molly DuVall of Conservation Collier met up with members of the Calusa Garden Club and introduced them to some of the 57 species of birds and 127 plant species that have been recorded at Otter Mound Preserve. Molly mentioned that the Preserve includes the Gopher Tortoise, Virginia opossum, raccoons, grey squirrel and trespassing bobcats. 

Most of the shrubs, trees and ground covers are identified with signs. An outhouse from the Otter era is the only structure on the property and is well marked. 

Molly showed the group the newly planted native dune sunflowers that once established will provide soil anchor and produce brilliant gold flowers. Garden Club members were familiar with most of the names of the native vegetation. 

Why Is the Gumbo Limbo Called the Tourist Tree?  

Molly DuVall—the one in green—of Conservation Collier, speaking to Calusa Garden Club Members about Otter Mound Preserve as Virginia Read—a member since 1989—listening intently.

Because the tree’s bark is red and peels off similar to the skin of a sunburnt tourist. Jamaican Dogwood has white or pink showy flowers in the spring and is a host plant to the skipper butterfly. It supports the native snail species that crawls up its soft bark and feeds on insects mostly during the summer. 

The Strangler Fig is a favorite at Otter Mound. It begins life as an “air plant” or “epiphyte” as the seed lodges in a bark fissure of a host plant such as a cabbage palm tree. It sends out air roots that reach the ground and develop on their own. Strange but trueit will eventually entwine its roots and trunks around a host tree strangling it to death! It produces a continuous crop of seeds and fruits for wildlife. 

Molly’s favorite is the Paradise Tree with glossy green and roughtextured leaves. It stands out from other plants with its glossy leaves formed like feathers. Privet Cassia, a host plant for the Sulphur Butterfly lines the winding path around the Preserve. 

A non-native tree at the Preserve is an old weather-beaten Mango tree. Each year it produces lots of fruits that drop to the ground. Molly noticed that each mango had a small bite mark. A raccoon, possum, rat? The mystery was revealed one day as Molly encountered one gopher tortoise leaving the area with its jaw smeared yellow! The mango will stay for a while. The preserve is home to about 20 gopher tortoises. 

Otter Mound Preserve is part of Conservation Collier. In 2002, voters approved a ballot referendum for funding the acquisition and management of conservation lands. It has acquired 20 properties and 4,300 acres of environmentally sensitive lands with high natural resource value such as Shell Island Preserve and Pepper Ranch in Immokalee. The voters again supported the measure in 2006. 

In November, the voters will again decide whether to bring back a special tax to support Conservation Collier. The quarter mil tax would run for 10 years starting in 2022 and translates to $75 a year for residents with home worth $300,000. 

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