The Rebel Botanist Gang and Swale Safaris

The Rebel Botanist Gang (a/k/a the RBG), under the auspices of Bound by Beauty, is developing a program called Swale Safaris to engage and teach young adults, children, and adults about the beauty and importance of the Nature that is right under our noses, i.e. the “wild plants” we view as weeds in our lawns and swales.  Most of us are unaware of the fact that these plants play an important role in our ecosystem: many of them provide nectar for butterflies and other important pollinators; and some are host plants for butterflies, meaning pregnant females lay their eggs on the leaves for their caterpillars to eat.  And many of them were around long before we wandered onto the scene.  Our first participants were a group of students from the Doctors Charter Key Club and Miami Arts Charter school.  These young people will earn community service hours by becoming team leaders who can guide others on Swale Safaris.
  

When one is outdoors amidst a sea of host and nectar plants, magic is bound to happen and the first students to arrive were treated to the breathtaking sight of a Giant swallowtail butterfly floating around and drinking nectar.  Most of them had never seen this gorgeous creature.  What a perfect way to launch our new program!

 

The masked and socially distanced students got a little history lesson about the early days of Miami Shores, which is closely tied to nature: The Shoreland Company that began to develop the area went bankrupt in large part due to the Hurricane of 1926, a good reminder that nature bats last.

The first thing we handed the students were magnifying glasses to remind them of the importance of examining closely the natural world that surrounds us, and upon which we depend for our own survival.  We put the magnifying glasses to good use during a tour of the wildlife garden, prior to heading out on safari.

 

Newly hatched Atala butterfly caterpillars are so tiny that they are difficult to see with the naked eye.

After we finished the garden tour, we ventured out into the swale, armed with knowledge and magnifying glasses!

 

Fogfruit (or Frogfruit or Creeping Charlie or Turkey tangle) is found in most of our swales if we don’t use herbicides. Fogfruit is an important nectar plant for native and honeybees as well as small butterflies. It also is the host plant for four butterfly species.
 

 

Beggartick resides in most swales. It feeds the caterpillars of three butterfly species.  

 

The green shrimp plant is invasive, but it feeds the caterpillars of three butterfly species.

 

This corkystem passionvine, whose leaves feed the caterpillars of four butterfly species, and whose tiny flower provides nectar for bees, was found in the swale under a tree. That makes sense, given that birds love to eat the berries.

By opening our eyes and minds to the wonderful roles these plants have in nature, we hope to open our hearts to the fact that we need to coexist with them rather than drenching our swales with herbicides.  After all, when the swale is mowed, you can hardly tell the difference between sod and wild plants.  Why don’t you head out into your own swale to see what you can find?

 


2 thoughts on “The Rebel Botanist Gang and Swale Safaris

  1. Eric Gottlieb Reply

    I have seedlings of the endangered South Florida native plant: Hibiscus poeppigii. My mother plant (from a native plant nursery in homestead) made it excess of 50 babies. Whoever is interested in some seedlings please contact me at my Email: ergott@me.com or (305) 308-6962.

    Happy Thanksgiving,

    Eric Gottlieb-Vazquez

    1. Mary Benton Reply

      Thank you so much for reaching out, Eric. You have definitely found the right group for your wonderful offerings. Please see the email I wrote you. And Happy Thanksgiving to you as well, Mary

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