Flamingo Gardens Makes a Big Impact!

Flamingo Gardens made a big impact in 2023 with the most visitors and the most animals rescued in our 97-year history. The work of our Volunteers and the opening of our new Butterfly Conservatory helped expand our Environmental Conservation impact even more!

Environmental Education:

249,415 guests, almost a quarter million people, visited Flamingo Gardens in 2023. Of that total, 44,904 children and adult participants attended fieldtrips and other educational classes through our Education Department. 15,579 Title 1 school or special needs children received free or discounted educational programming through grant support. 5,979 Title 1 Pre-k or Kindergarten children received free educational classes at their schools and/or free fieldtrips to the Gardens through our On the Road program. 505 low income or special needs children and their family members received free entry and educational programming through 12 Community Access Days.

Wildlife Conservation:

Our Animal Care team cared for 1,605 rescued animals, representing over 90 species this year! This includes just over 300 permanently injured and/or non-releasable birds and animals that make Flamingo Gardens their permanent home now. 1,305 rescued birds and animals were brought to us for rehabilitation in 2023, and thus far over 350 of them have been released back to the wild.

Botanical Conservation:

341 plants were added to our collections in 2023, representing 198 species. This includes 147 orchids added and cared for by our Orchidteers volunteer group. Our Horticulture Department opened the new Butterfly Conservatory in March of 2023, and the Horticulture team, with assistance from Education staff and the Eco-teers volunteer group, raised and released 8,613 native butterflies into the Gardens.

Environmental Conservation:

487 volunteers donated over 26,000 hours of their time in 6,196 separate visits to help Flamingo Gardens provide environmental education to the public through their service, whether it be as a docent at the Wray Home Museum, greeting guests, helping at an event, or preparing meals for the animals. The Eco-teer volunteers helped to plant 1,030 trees to remove carbon from the air and 9,004 sea oats to protect our shores. They also removed 536 lbs. of trash from our beaches and waterways, and 443 lbs. of invasive plants from parks.

We couldn’t have done it without you! Flamingo Gardens appreciate all of you that donated time and money in support of our mission to preserve this beautiful property and educate the public about the South Florida environment. To see the full 2023 Annual Impact Report click below:

EPIC Water Management

You may have noticed a lot of digging going on at Flamingo Gardens lately. That is because we have EPIC improvements underway! As part of our Master Plan adopted in 2020, and our Be EPIC (Everglades Preservation Involves Change) program, Flamingo Gardens is creating additional water retention areas to help control flooding while simultaneously beautifying the Gardens.

The Everglades and Florida are facing significant water management challenges due to growing populations and increasingly unpredictable rainfall patterns coupled with rising sea levels leading to saltwater intrusion. Record-breaking floods in recent years bear witness to growing climate change-induced disruptions in the water cycle. This makes both better water management and climate adaptation planning key aspects for the Flamingo Gardens Master Plan.

Figure 1. 2019 Master planning session at Flamingo Gardens.

We must also help protect the Everglades by minimizing water runoff into the canal system. Flamingo Gardens already minimizes the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to help reduce chemical runoff into the Everglades, but retaining water on the property helps reduce extreme fluctuation and stress on the waterways of the Everglades as well. Plus, the additional bodies of water are opportunities to beautify the Gardens while providing new environments for plants and wildlife.

Figure 2. Stormwater drainage diagram.

The Master Plan calls for a series of Stormwater Gardens with native plants which will help retain runoff from the parking lots, Tram Trail, sidewalks, and other paved areas. These Stormwater Gardens are designed to be dry much of the year but will hold water during the rainy season and times of flooding to minimize overflow of the Flamingo Pond and Rookery and reduce runoff into the canal system. The native plants will filter the water as it slowly absorbs into the soil below.

Figure 3. Master Plan Water Management Plan

A long, narrow lake will be created in the middle of the Tram Trail area that will help mitigate the annual flooding of the wetlands in the far eastern end of the property. The lake will be the centerpiece of a new Palmetum, an arboretum of palm tree species from around the world. The Palmetum surrounding the lake will be raised, like the cactus and cycad gardens with a sidewalk allowing continuous access from the bear and otter habitats to the Butterfly Conservatory and back. This lake will also provide natural habitat for Everglades birds and wildlife.

Figure 4. Stormwater Garden example.
Currently we are trenching the Rookery to allow it to retain more water. This will be followed by beautification of the area with new native landscaping, new railings, fencing, and signage. Stormwater Gardens will be installed behind the Learning Center, Panther Habitat, and beside the Flamingo Pond to retain flood waters during rainy season.
Figure 5. Palmetum at Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden.

Back by the Butterfly Conservatory, we have commenced digging Phase 1 of a new lake and Palmetum to help control flooding around the cactus and cycad gardens. The dirt being dug for the lake will be used to create the new raised beds for the Palmetum on both sides of the lake. The Cactus Garden sidewalk will be extended into the Africa section of the Palmetum which will highlight our collection of Baobab trees, and large African Oil Palms which will be transplanted onto the new raised beds. It will take several years (and hundreds of thousands of dollars) to complete the lake, Palmetum, and the entire water management plan, a necessity to mitigate flooding in the coming years. The project will help protect the amazing collection of plants from flooding and create new habitats for Everglades birds and wildlife at the same time!

Plastic Recycling: What Those Little Numbers Tell Us

I’m often asked how best to reduce one’s carbon footprint. My answer is to just start somewhere- pick a project you feel comfortable with and start there. Regardless of your effect on carbon emissions and climate change, anything you do to help the environment is good for the planet. My comfort spot is recycling, but navigating plastic recycling can be tricky!

My parents were always environmentally conscious (some might even call them hippies) so my childhood in the 1970s involved weekly chores of gardening, composting, and recycling. Many weekends I was sent to the basement to wash out cans and bottles, peel off the paper labels, and smash down the aluminum. When I left for college, I swore to my parents that I would move to the city and pave my entire yard; so, it’s ironic that I now work at a botanical garden promoting gardening, composting, and recycling, as my mother pointed out to me a bit too gleefully.

It was very natural for me to start recycling in my own home when curbside recycling became available, but recycling has changed since the ‘70s. These days curbside recycling is available in most urban and suburban neighborhoods, and we don’t have to peel off the labels from glass jars or smash the aluminum cans. But one of the biggest changes is the amount of plastic that we recycle -or rather the amount of plastic we don’t recycle.

To me, plastics are one of the most egregious threats to the planet. Plastics started to become mainstream in the 1970s. The plastic bag was first introduced to the grocery industry as an alternative to the paper bag in 1977. Some estimates put plastic production today at 9 times higher than in 1973. It is estimated that 380 MILLION TONS of plastic is produced every year now, and just 9% of it is recycled!

It is estimated that 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in our waterways annually. And unlike some other kinds of waste, plastics don’t decompose, which means they stick around indefinitely, disrupting marine ecosystems and creating havoc for marine life. Little microbeads of plastic can end up in our food supply and our drinking water.

But all plastic is recyclable, and we just need to be better about recycling, right? Wrong! Technically, most plastic is recyclable, but much of it is very difficult to recycle. Most recycling plants don’t have the equipment or capacity to recycle much of the plastic in production these days. The best solution is to minimize your use of single-use plastics and to recycle the plastic you do use responsibly.

I try to minimize my use of single-use plastics and recycle my plastics responsibly, but it’s hard to know what plastic is accepted by local municipality recycling programs. Recycling programs vary widely from city to city so it’s best to consult your local municipality to be certain.

Here’s a little cheat I depend on. You know those little triangles with numbers on the bottom? Those triangles are symbols created for recycling that indicate the type of plastic used in the product. The number is a resin identification code that specifies the type of resin used as well as the safety of that resin. It also indicates how that product might be recycled.

In general, number 1 and 2 plastics are widely accepted by most recycling centers. These plastics are made of Polyethylene and include almost any lightweight bottle whose neck is smaller than its body, such as water bottles, soda bottles, milk jugs, shampoo bottles, detergent bottles, and most bottles used for food, health, cleaning, or beauty products. These are easily recycled and there is demand for the product, so you can be fairly certain that your local recycle program (if you have one) accepts them. Usually, you can even recycle the screw-on caps. Caps are a #5 plastic which most municipalities accept now but check with your municipality first to be sure. Wash them out thoroughly before recycling, and screw on the cap so it doesn’t get mistakenly left on the ground.

Number 3 plastics are made with polyvinyl resin commonly called PVC. They are usually rigid and not as easily recycled. These include PVC pipes, plastic sheets like shower curtains and raincoats, and many children’s toys. More and more recycling programs accept #3 plastic, but there are still many that do not. Check with your municipality as #3 plastic may need to go into your trash. Avoid these if possible.

Number 4 plastics are of low-density polyethylene and are usually soft and flexible. These include grocery bags, dry cleaning bags, plastic food wrap, and squeezable bottles like ketchup or syrup bottles. The plastic bags and films are rarely recyclable, but the squeezable bottles may be.

Number 5 plastics are made of polypropylene and are a flexible hard plastic like “clamshell” food containers, screw-on caps, butter tubs, and food cups like yogurt containers. More municipalities have started to recycle number 4 and 5 plastics (except for plastic bags and film) but many still do not. Check with your local municipality. If you don’t know for certain, put them in with your trash- or better yet avoid them if you can.

Numbers 6 plastics are made with polystyrene (Styrofoam) and are difficult to recycle. These include disposable cups and plates and meat trays and should usually be placed in the trash. Number 7 plastics include a broad range of acrylic, nylon, and other plastic resins difficult to recycle such as CDs, DVDs, sunglasses, and cellphone cases which should also be placed in the trash. Again, check with your municipality. Some recycling centers have started to take plastics 6 and 7, but very few take Styrofoam in any form whether plates, cups, or packing noodles. Avoid Styrofoam if possible.

In general, it is safe to assume that plastics 1 & 2 are recyclable in your municipality if you have recycling, while 3, 4, & 5 are probably accepted in your municipality (except for plastic bags and films), but check first. Plastics 6 and 7 are rarely recycled but check you curbside collection to be sure.

Remember to check with your municipality to see what they will recycle. I can’t stress this enough! Even while fact-checking this blog, I found conflicting information between reputable sites and even on my own municipality’s website! Municipalities vary greatly. Some municipalities accept plastics 1-7 except for plastic bags, plastic films, and Styrofoam of any kind. Other municipalities do not recycle at all but choose to convert trash into energy through incineration programs instead. Most municipalities fall somewhere in between.

Better yet, eliminate plastic use wherever possible so you are certain to keep it out of our landfills and waterways. If you can’t, here is a cheat sheet for you to print and save for easy reference.

As a final reminder, never place any of the following into your recyclable bins:

  • No plastic film or plastic bags of any kind (return to retailer where possible)
  • No Styrofoam (find a drop-off site at earth911.com)
  • No paper napkins, plates, cups, or tissues (these are probably compostable in the landfill)
  • No foods or liquids (compost instead)
  • No electronics (donate instead, schedule bulk pick up, or find a drop-off site at earth911.com)
  • No textiles, including clothes, bedding, rugs (donate them instead)
  • No hose, strings of lights, rope, hangers, or any objects that can tangle equipment
  • No tires, auto parts, or scrap metal (find a drop-off site at earth911.com)
  • No concrete, wood, or construction debris (schedule a bulk pick-up)
  • No yard waste or wood (compost or place in your yard waste container)
  • No non-recyclable plastic items without a recycling symbol

 

Keith Clark is the CEO of Flamingo Gardens. As a Baby Boomer he is inspired by the younger associates at Flamingo Gardens to make small changes in his own life to combat climate change and help the planet. Each month he blogs about the changes he’s making to reduce his own carbon footprint in an effort to inspire others.

The Host Plants for 12+ Native Butterflies

Pollinators are one of the wildlife populations most impacted by climate change, pesticide use, and habitat loss. Bees, hummingbirds, bats, and butterflies are all facing unprecedented threats as they struggle to adapt and survive the changing rhythms of weather and the seasons and changes to their natural landscape. After opening the new Butterfly Conservatory at Flamingo Gardens earlier this year, we’ve been flooded with questions regarding which plants are best to attract butterflies. Before we answer that question, it is important to understand the difference between butterfly nectar source plants and butterfly host plants.

Nectar source plants attract adult butterflies by supplying nectar (sugar-rich liquid). These plants vary in size, fragrance, and shape of the flower. All nectar source plants have nectar that is sipped by the butterfly, but the plant is not eaten by them. Most butterflies are attracted to almost all nectar plants, but it is specific butterfly host plants that are truly important for their survival.

Host plants (or larval plants) are plants that the butterfly larvae will eat. Butterfly species lay their eggs on or near the specific host plants that their caterpillar larvae will eat. Each species has a very narrow range of host plants that supply the necessary chemicals required for proper nourishment and growth of the caterpillars. Without enough of these critical host plants, caterpillar larvae will starve and die, threatening the very existence of butterfly species populations.

Here are the necessary host plants needed to attract some of the more desired Broward County native butterflies to your garden:

Host Plants for Monarch and Queen Butterfly
(and Soldier Butterfly, not shown)
Giant Milkweed (Calotropis gigantea)
White Twinevine (Funastrum clausum)
Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica)
Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias perennis)

Host Plants for Zebra Longwing, Julia, and Gulf Fritillary Butterfly

Corkystem Passionflower (Passiflora suberosa)
Purple Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
Lady Margaret Passionflower (Passiflora Lady Margaret)

Host Plants for Orange-barred Sulphur

(and Cloudless Sulfur Butterfly, not shown)
Popcorn Cassia (Senna didymobotrya)
Bahama Cassia (Senna mexicana chapmanii)

Host Plant for Statira Sulphur Butterfly

Red Powderpuff (Calliandra haematocephala)

Host Plant for White Peacock

(and the Phaon Crescent and Common Buckeye Butterfly, not shown)
Frog Fruit, (Phyla nodiflora)

Host Plant for Atala Butterfly

Coontie (Zamia integrifolia)

Host Plant for Malachite Butterfly

Carolina wild petunia (Ruellia caroliniensis)

Host Plants for Giant Swallowtail Butterfly

Wild Lime (Zanthoxylum fagara) or any citrus or lime plant

Host Plants for Black Swallowtail Butterfly

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) or dill or fennell
A cautionary warning- caterpillars will devour the host plants! You’ll want to provide several of each species of host plant you select so there is plenty of food for the caterpillars to eat. You don’t want the caterpillars to run out of food midway through their growth cycle. Most gardeners don’t like the look of caterpillar-ravaged host plants in their gardens, so plant the host plants interspersed among nectar plants to hide the half-eaten leaves.

Butterfly conservation organizations agree that we can help our native butterfly populations become more resilient by providing the proper host or larval plants in our landscape. With just a little effort and the proper host plants, you can attract these Broward County native butterflies to your yard and help them survive! If you wish to learn more about Florida butterflies and establishing a butterfly garden, the University of Florida has excellent information on Butterfly Gardening in Florida at: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/UW/UW05700.pdf

Note: The plants listed in this article can be difficult to find. We recommend looking at nurseries that specialize in Florida native plants and/or butterfly plants. Flamingo Gardens is now propagating these plants in our nursery, but the caterpillars are eating them quicker than we can propagate, so at present we do not have extra host plants to sell. We hope to in the future. Meanwhile we hope this information has been helpful.

Volunteer Spotlight: James Harmon

James Harmon
Our Volunteer of the Month for February is James Harmon.
 James has already volunteered for over 100 hours this year. February in particular James was a key contributor in our Food and Wine Benefit. He has been helping our Special Events department set up and breakdown our various events. Many mornings James can also be seen assisting our Animal Care Department with the animals and the enclosures. When called upon for any extra task he has been willing and effective, and we are very thankful for that. James has a passion for genuine help and we appreciate him so much.
 

The Need For Pollinators

Butterflies have long been admired for their beauty and grace, but often fail to receive the appreciation they so earnestly deserve for their role in plant pollination. Pollinators, such as bees, bats, hummingbirds, and butterflies, are responsible for one out of every three bites of food you eat! Unfortunately, many pollinator populations are at risk. Decades of stressors, including loss of habitats, improper use of pesticides and herbicides, disease, predation, and even rising temperatures due to climate change, have all hurt pollinator populations.

An estimated 87.5% of all flowering plants on the earth need help with pollination—they need pollinators. Pollinators provide pollination to over 180,000 different plant species and more than 1,200 crops. Without pollination, most crops would simply fail to bear fruit and eventually become extinct—as would the animals that rely on them for sustenance.

Pollinators are vital economically, adding $217 billion dollars to the global economy. In the United States, honeybees alone are responsible for between $1.2 and $5.4 billion dollars in agricultural productivity. Pollinators support healthy ecosystems that clean the air, stabilize soils, protect from severe weather, and support other wildlife.

Tragically, a host of environmental imbalances are decimating many Florida pollinator populations. For example, Florida monarch butterfly populations have dropped an alarming 80% since 2005!

The monarch butterfly has recently been added to the endangered species list by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed the imperiled butterfly on the waiting list for the Endangered Species Act protections and will propose listing it in 2024.

Researchers believe that shrinking populations of native milkweed (the monarch’s host plant), due in part to a boost in the use of the herbicide glyphosate (lethal to milkweed), is responsible for its population decline. Less milkweed means less habitat, and less habitat means less monarch butterflies, an essential food source for birds and mice. These chain effects inevitably undermine the entire ecosystem.

Bees are facing the danger of a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder (CCD). A paper from Oregon State University explains CCD: “CCD most likely stems from a combination of problems associated with agricultural beekeeping, including pathogens, nutritional deficiencies and lack of a varied diet, exposure to neonicotinoid insecticides and other pesticides, lack of genetic diversity, habitat loss, and transportation stress. Pesticides, stress, and lack of diversity can actually exacerbate the vulnerability of bees to pathogens.”

 

Four species of hummingbirds in North America are at risk because of the rising temperatures due to climate change: Allen’s Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Calliope Hummingbird, and Rufous Hummingbird.

The increasing warmer temperatures are forcing these four species to abandon their native areas for cooler and more stable environments. Intense heat is incredibly dangerous for hummingbirds as it forces them to find shade to cool off rather than feed on nectar, which can result in starvation since their high metabolism demands that they constantly need to eat.

Bats are another species of a pollinator affected by rising temperatures. The warmer weather impacts their hibernation cycles and their prey availability, which directly affect how successfully a mother bat can give birth and raise her young. According to a National Geographic article, climate change is also impacting their ultrasonic hearing:

“Bats living in temperate zones were more likely to lose prey detection volume, while in tropic zones, many bat species will actually be able to detect more prey. Bats calling at lower pitches generally gained prey detection space” because humidity and temperature directly impact how effectively bats can detect their prey.

MEETING THE NEED

Protecting pollinators requires both conservation and education. That’s why Flamingo Gardens is partnering with the Smithsonian to bring their traveling exhibit, “Pollination Investigation,” to the Gardens to help educate visitors about pollinators. That’s also why we have established the bee sanctuary so that honeybees may be safely relocated rather than destroyed, and opening the new Butterfly Conservatory so that we may rear native butterflies to help re-establish local populations.

Educating individuals about pollinator life cycles, migration patterns, and ecological roles cultivates an appreciation for these animals and encourages people of all walks of life to invest in and protect native butterfly and pollinator habitats, promoting their survival and ensuring their crucial role in the ecosystem continues.

HOW YOU CAN HELP POLLINATORS
  • Plant a variety of pollinator friendly flowers and plants that are native to your climate.
  • Stop or limit the use of pesticides on your property – pesticides are toxic to pollinators.
  • Create a habitat that is friendly to bees. This means either placing beehives on your property, leaving dead logs around that bees can nest in, and simply ensuring bees have plenty of bee-friendly plants to feed from in your yard.
  • Provide nectar for hummingbirds on your property. You can do this by buying a feeder for hummingbirds and filling it with sugar water.
  • Place a bat house on your property. This will provide bats a safe place to sleep during the day.
  • Plant milkweed plants. Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on the leaves and feed on the nectar of the flowers.

Eco-teers: BCPS Climate Youth Summit

On February 10th, The Eco-teers participated in the fifth annual Broward County Public Schools Youth Climate Summit as a climate sponsor for the event. Hundreds of Broward County students gathered at Pompano Beach High School to discuss the solutions they can implement in their community.

Karen Hendriks, Ines Rosales, and Giuliana Mudryj shared their experience as Eco-teers and encouraged students to join them at Flamingo gardens to make environmental change. Along with their optimistic perspectives, they brought along some popular pollinators such as the Monarch and Zebra Longwing butterfly to highlight the importance of the role they have and how climate change severely increases biodiversity loss.

Eco-teers Tree Tops Park Invasive Plant Removal

On Sunday, January 29, 2023, the Eco-teers volunteered at Tree Tops Park in Davie. The project focused on removing invasive plant species such as the snake plant.

Snake plants are just one of the many exotic plants that become invasive when planted outdoors in Florida. These plant species spread ferociously and can displace and prevent native plant growth. A healthy plant community has a variety of shrubs and trees, but invasive plants cause biological pollution thus reducing plant diversity.

When removing snake plants, always make sure to pull or dig out all the roots, which look like carrots, or the plant will re-establish itself.

The Eco-teers successfully filled twenty large trash bins of these invasive plants by shoveling out the roots from the ground while simultaneously pulling down any vines or clusters attached.

Would you like to participate in the next project?

 

If you would like to make an environmental impact in your community, contact [email protected] to join the Eco-teers!

Volunteer Spotlight:  Nic Lagriola

Our Volunteer of the Month for December is Nic Lagriola. Nic has consistently been volunteering with us since June and has already provided us with over 200 hours in that time span. He’s always willing to get his hands dirty and can often be seen assisting our Animal Care department with various tasks and projects. Nic has also helped us by providing us with donations that have aided the volunteer department in organizing traffic during Garden of Lights which as you know is one of our busiest times of the year. We are so grateful for all effort he has put in to helping our animals as well as the volunteer department.

 

Volunteer Spotlight: Merville Dormeus

Our Volunteer of the Month for November is Merville Dormeus. Merville has volunteered for us in the gallery as a docent for our Clyde Butcher exhibit. He has quickly gotten acquainted with the exhibit. He has also created a comfortable atmosphere for all of our guests. He can be seen giving guided tours 5 days a week. We appreciate that kind of commitment and are very thankful for Merville’s contributions.