Outside the box

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By Susan Howell

Florida’s amazing landscape and habitat can change dramatically within a few square miles, so whenever I get the chance to explore someone else’s property I try to closely observe the differences between my backyard and the one I am visiting.
Recently I spent a morning visiting the home of my friend Vicki. Her house sets on a 20-acre parcel of mixed woodland that she shares with her husband Dennis and two endearing rescued greyhounds. I was looking to photograph the wildflower Summer Farewell and I knew Vicki’s yard would be the place to find it. Our homes are divided by a mere six miles yet there is quite a distinct difference in what the sandy soil in this region supports.
We began our search for the Summer Farewell through narrow footpaths that wind through and around the perimeter of her property. Wild and untouched vegetation grows in sugary white sand that supports a variety of oak trees including the Turkey Oak and the magnificent Long Leaf Pine. Winged Sumac loaded with berries, Paw Paw and thick bunches of Wild Rosemary grow with wild abandon, while pale green Deer Moss sets nestled between ground cover.
Wildflowers grow in sunny patches in the spring and fall. Wild Aster, Green Eyes, Gayfeather, the beautiful Wild Lupine and of course Summer Farewell are just a sample of the many species that grow naturally in this mixture of scrub and oak.
Wildlife, whose dietary needs are met on this property are not your usual suspects. The trees and plant life support two of Florida’s threatened species, the Gopher Tortoise and the secretive Sherman’s Fox squirrel. The Sherman’s Fox squirrel is more than twice the size of the common grey squirrel. Having a long bushy tail and a coat that can be anywhere from reddish tan to a buff grey, its black face and white ears and nose are its most distinct markings. Sandhills and pine flatwoods provide their habitat and the Long Leaf pinecone is an important food source.
Enjoying and wandering around a friends yard can be a wonderful experience. Sharing the time and observing the differences in one another’s yard can bond a friendship by connecting us to the natural world. So step outside your box and explore, because you never know what you will find in someone else’s backyard.
FYI: The Longleaf Pine takes 100 to 150 years to reach full size and can live to 300 years old.