Monday, March 11, 2013

Manatees and cabbage palms

My fiancée K and I paid a visit yesterday to Blue Springs Park, a Florida state park which is just outside Orange City, Florida. Of course, the highlight of the park are the manatees, which swim up the spring to warm themselves during the winter months in water that is a near constant 72 degree F. The warm water comes up from the Florida aquifer, a very large pool of underground water situated in porous rock below the state. One unfortunate result of the porosity of this rock is that sink holes may develop rapidly and unexpectedly below buildings.

On this trip K showed me a type of tree known as the cabbage palm, whose scientific name is Sabal palmetto. This tree is very common in the central Florida area and has been very important for people living in Florida since the time of the Native Americans. Its leaves were interwoven to provide roofs for shelters and its trunks provided lumber to early settlers.

The cabbage palm lies very low to the ground for a long period of time in its youth while saving energy stores. At some particular time (I'm not sure when this occurs in its life cycle), it shoots up and grows rapidly to a very tall height. The reason for this behavior is that much of the central Florida ecosystem relies on fire for its maintenance. The cabbage palm is relatively resistant to fire in both its low-lying state and as a very tall palm tree. For intermediate heights when its upper trunk is exposed, however, it can be killed by the frequent fires in the area. For this reason, it must grow quickly or succumb to the flames.

This quick-growing behavior reminds me of  the yagrumo tree that I encountered in Puerto Rico.