You know the old saying, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you?!” Old sayings aren’t always right!
When we first moved to Vero Beach, I noticed this sign along the many canals criss-crossing our neighorhood.
Being new to the area, the word “lagoon” meant zip to me. I didn’t know where it was, or why it was important, but since I”m not one to willy-nilly toss Diet Coke cans or candy wrappers in watery ditches, the sign didn’t apply to me! Or so I thought until I heard about the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program and its effort to save this beautiful natural resource:
You are looking at our local section of a lagoon that stretches 156 miles along Florida’s Atlantic coast. In 2011, an area 30 minutes north of here exploded with a super algae bloom, killing sea grass and marine life. I was shocked to learn that excess nitrogen and phosphorous in garden fertilizers plays a major role in algae development!
Prior to beginning Master Gardener classes, my extent of fertilizer knowledge consisted of the 3 numbers on the packaging, the first two being nitrogen and phosphorous. I had 2-7-7 for cacti/succulents; 11-35-15 for orchids; 18-18-21 for vegetables; 8-14-9 for african violets<—this being a total waste of time and money–I never met an african violet I didn’t eventually kill! I used 10-10-10 for everything else! I applied them “sort of” on a schedule, but not really. If a plant looked “off” I mixed up a watering can and doused it, and I doubt I was the only injudicious person on the street!
Which means every time it rained, all this excess fertilizer flowed down the canals and into the lagoon, picking up grass clippings and palm fronds along the way. Before you know it, nutrient-loading encourages algae, which then consumes oxygen and blocks sunlight, killing sea grass and fish.
Moral of the story? Trash isn’t always Diet Coke cans and candy wrappers—trash can also be too much of a good thing!
In the future, management of the lagoon’s biodiversity will depend on solid science, reliable data and public outreach to educate the people living around it. Thankfully, the Smithsonian Institute in Fort Pierce and Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch are focusing on the relationship of water quality with seagrasses, macroalgae, and phytoplankton. This research should help local policy makers with new guidelines for fertilizers and their proper use near canals.
Before I close, I have a few quick pictures to share.
Some of you may not be familiar with epiphytes. I took one down from a tree today for a few close-ups:
Although it looks very much like an air plant I shared with you before, this is a different variety of tillandsia, known as fasciculata. She is about to be a mother for the first time:
Tillandsia babies are called pups. For optimal protection, pups always grow on their mother’s underside near twig-like “roots.” These roots are the hooks by which she attaches to some other structure, usually a tree or wooden fence. Although you cannot see them in pictures, tillandsias have microscopic hairs along the entire length of each curvy leaf; the hairs attract the water and nutrients she needs to grow and reproduce. I find these plants so fascinating. If you’d like some quick facts, check out this link.
And last, but most exciting to me…take a look at the first zucchini growing from round 2:
I hope so, too!
Until next time…..