From Sod to Sanctuary: The Joyful Transformation of a Churchyard

Update on the pine rockland and butterfly garden plantings: one of Bound by Beauty’s members watched an Atala butterfly christen a newly planted coontie with her eggs several days ago; and two of us watched this morning as a Sleepy orange butterfly deposited her eggs on the Bahama senna!  It is a wonderful feeling to provide a safe sanctuary for pregnant female butterflies and their offspring!

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Bound by Beauty gathered together with friends, neighbors, members of the Miami Shores Community Church Garden Program, and AT&T Pioneers to install a pine rockland, marking the second phase of the transformation of a spacious, sod-covered rear churchyard into a community garden and sanctuary for butterflies and other pollinators, as well as endangered native plant species.

Pine rocklands are an incredibly rich, critically endangered habitat, containing numerous flora and fauna that are found nowhere else on earth.  Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden has a wonderful program designed to connect the few remaining fragments of pine rocklands, through plantings in urban gardens.  You can read more about the Connect to Protect Network here.  By joining this network, the Community Church school was given ten free pine rockland plants.  Additional plants and other supplies were purchased thanks to a donation from Meg Watson, Pastor at the Community Church.

We started by gazing in delight at a pair of mating Monarch butterflies in the previously planted butterfly garden, which you can read about here.

Monarchs mating on native blue porterweed, a pine rockland plant

We added some yellowtop plants to the butterfly garden, as well as a Chaya, or Mexican tree spinach cane, whose lovely white flowers will attract nearly all native species of butterflies to its nectar (you can read how humans benefit from this plant here).

Madeliene, Mike, and Melanie introducing the yellowtop plants into their new home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Susan is easing the largest pine out of its nursery pot, with Rolando, Mike and Melanie.

Others, meanwhile, started adding plants to the pine rockland.  We planted three Florida slash pines, a tree whose disappearance due to urbanization in South Florida has led to the near-extinction of the Flying squirrel and the Red-cockaded woodpecker.  

Helen and Susan planting a pine.
Susan standing on what is arguably the highest point in Miami Shores, while Adriana, Rolando, Helen, and Doug work on the pine rockland.
Helen and Rolando carefully position coral rocks donated for this project by members of the community.

 

In addition to the Florida slash pine, we planted coontie, the host plant for the Atala butterfly; wild lantana; pineland croton, the host plant of the critically endangered Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak and Florida leafwing butterflies; Chapman’s liatris, as well as sunshine mimosas  (the only species not associated with pine rocklands).  All of these species are drought-tolerant once established.

The pine rockland, finished off with leaf mulch donated by members of the community.

From sod:

Before the planting: the rear yard of the church was underutilized and covered in sod

To sanctuary:

A butterfly garden and pine rockland that are full of beauty and interest and life.

The pine rockland may be little, but its message is mighty: we must join together to save nature, which we depend on for our existence.  It was a joyful experience for everybody involved to take such positive steps toward healing nature and creating a sanctuary for butterflies, endangered plants, and humans.  Stop by and take a look!  And stay tuned as we find creative ways to expand Miami Shores’ first community garden.

 

Pine Rockland Planting and Community Garden Celebration at the Miami Shores Community Church

Mad dogs, Englishmen, and, apparently, members of Bound by Beauty are out in the midday sun.  You can see from our rosy cheeks and noses, not to mention the glistening sweat, that we worked hard today to prepare the bed for the planting of the pine rockland plants on Saturday.  Lucky for us, we love doing what we do!

Bound by Beauty members Helen Perry, Mary Benton, and Patty Doukas

So what did we do?  We removed the plastic tarp that was solarizing the bed, then started sculpting a pine rockland, using coral rocks donated by members of the community.  We just may have created the highest point in Miami Shores!

In the process of sculpting our pine rockland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then, we took the plants donated by Fairchild Garden’s Protect to Connect Network and other generous folks, and placed them in a mockup of the garden to come.  We thought it looked pretty good!

Last, but not least, we took the potted plants to the shade, where they will await the moment when their roots can stretch out into the soil.  

 

Come join us on Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Miami Shores Community Church for the planting and a celebration of Miami Shores’ Community Garden.  Bring your lawn chairs and favorite beverages, and join your neighbors in the relative cool of a summer evening.  We look forward to seeing lots of friends and neighbors!  

Update on Miami Shores Community Garden

Bound by Beauty connected recently with Jennifer Possley and Peter Vrotsos, both of whom are involved in Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden’s Connect to Protect Network, which seeks to protect the critically endangered pine rockland habitats of South Florida.  We met them at Fairchild’s nursery on a day of threatening skies and downpours, to pick up Bound by Beauty’s five native pine rockland plants, which include host plants for butterflies, as well as plants that provide food for butterflies and other wildlife, and 10 pine rockland plants for the Miami Shores Community Church school’s community garden.  Read more about this very important effort to save pine rockland species, and learn how you can become a member of the network and receive your own native plants here.  We will be scheduling a planting at the school soon, so stay tuned!

Jennifer Possley of Fairchild Garden, flanked by Mary Benton and Helen Perry of Bound by Beauty. Not pictured, Peter Vrotsos
Fairchild Garden’s Connect to Protect yard sign.

 

 

 

 

Healing Nature, One Butterfly Habitat at a Time

Bound by Beauty teamed up with the AT&T Pioneers, the Girl Scouts of Troop 1305, members of the Miami Shores Community Church, and friends and neighbors in Miami Shores, to create a magical community butterfly habitat and the beginnings of a pine rockland, in an overlooked, grassy area of the church next to the school.

We began last Thursday, one of the hottest days of the year, by carving up the beds.  This might sound simple and straightforward, but St. Augustine grass has a tenacious grip on the earth, and is loathe to let go.  For those of us engaged in the fight against climate change, ripping out St. Augustine grass is a apt metaphor for the struggle to replace the unhealthy with the healthy, in order to heal our planet.  

The hard work of loosening the grip of St. Augustine grass

One after another, our weed wackers failed in their attempt to cut through the tough leaves and roots of the grass.  James Ard, a friend of nature who lives up the street, showed up in the nick of time with his powerful gas-powered edger, which one of the Pioneers employed to good purpose, while the rest of us used hoes and rakes to remove the remnants of the grass, which we piled up in another bed where the pine rockland habitat will be created.  We almost finished the job, but the extreme heat leading to tomato-red faces dictated our temporary withdrawal.

Building up the future pine rockland ridge with the remnants of St. Augustine grass.

Saturday, the day dawned bright and sunny, but a nice breeze off Biscayne Bay, along with lemonade and snacks provided by the Girl Scouts, provided some comfort to those who returned to finish the job.  After removing the last remnants of St. Augustine grass, the crew got to work smoothing out the butterfly meadow planting bed, while others got to work labeling each plant and wetting down the future pine rockland and covering it with a plastic tarp in order to solarize it over the next few weeks. The wet soil will conduct the heat of the sun and kill the grass and other weeds.  The Girl Scouts covered the ungainly plastic-wrapped pile with gaily colored butterflies, caterpillars, and a sign indicating its future use.

The future pine rockland habitat, which will be part of Fairchild’s Connect to Protect Network.
when solarizing is complete.

 

 

 

 

 

When the butterfly meadow bed was raked smooth, Bound by Beauty placed the potted plants in their assigned location, educating those gathered on the purpose of each plant, while the Pioneers and other volunteers began digging holes and adding some homemade compost.  

Placing the plants.

 

 

Then the leaves donated by numerous members of the community were added to the bed to the depth of a couple of inches, followed by one inch of natural eucalyptus mulch, to mollify those who don’t believe that leaves should be used as mulch ;-).

Leaf mulch from pesticide-free gardens enriches the soil and keeps it moist, and discourages weeds from growing.

The final task was to thoroughly water the new plants, and to place a temporary fencing around the meadow to ensure it survives recess!

The purpose of the fence is to protect the plants as they become established.

Here is a list of the plants that went into creating this butterfly meadow:

Nectar plants:

Lantana involucrata

Lantana depressa

Beach verbena

Havana skullcap

Beach creeper

Porterweed

Brazilian buttonflower

Coreopsis

Tropical sage

Host plants:

Fogfruit

Bahama senna

Tropical milkweed

Giant milkweed

Many thanks to Pastor Meg Watson and the Miami Shores Community Church, the AT&T Pioneers, the Girl Scouts of Troop 1305 (and their mothers!), James Ard (who schlepped the plants up from Homestead and lent us his powerful edger in the nick of time), and members of the community who donated their time, their labor, their leaves, and their rocks!  

To be continued……

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bound by Beauty at Miami Shores’ Unity Day Fair

Bound by Beauty had a wonderful time at the Unity Day Fair in Miami Shores. Our booth featured a Monarch tower bedecked with Monarch chrysalises, and we even watched a couple of caterpillars pupate, which is always a thrilling sight.  Jill Leslie captured the remarkable process with her cell phone.

Bound by Beauty also had on hand a Pollinator Pledge, which a number of fair goers signed to protect our precious pollinators from the widespread use of pesticides.  Those who signed got a butterfly named for them on our wall.

We offered a petition in support of a farmers’ market in Miami Shores, and another in support of a ban on pesticides in public spaces.  There was also a signup sheet for neighbors who are interested in participating in the creation of a community butterfly/healing garden at the Miami Shores Community Church.  Many thanks to all who signed!

Most of all, we enjoyed meeting our neighbors on a beautiful day in South Florida.  Thank you Jen, Susan, Wendy, Jill, Doug, Roly, Ed, Salomon, Mike, Pete for setting up an awesome booth and being part of this lovely and meaningful day.

 

 

Butterfly/Healing Community Garden Planned in Miami Shores

Bound by Beauty’s team is collaborating with Pastor Meg Watson and the Miami Shores Community Church to create a butterfly/healing garden that will be open to all members of the Miami Shores community, when school is not in session.  The conceptual design involves three main areas: a butterfly meadow; a pine rockland; and a forest retreat.  This will be a place for inspiration, healing, meditation, and prayer, while surrounded by the beauty of butterflies and a healthy natural environment.  During the school day, the children will have a chance to explore the many aspects of this natural learning environment.

The Three Garden Zones

 

The Gathering Spaces

 

The Butterfly Meadow

 

The Pine Rockland

Forest Retreat

 

Perimeters and Passages

 

How you can help

 

Learn more

Metamorphosis

A butterfly’s life is full of dangers, from hungry predators to freezing temperatures. This video captures the two most fraught moments in the metamorphosis of a Monarch. The musical score for Metamorphosis was composed and performed by Geoffrey Lee.

In the foreground, a brand new Monarch butterfly has just outgrown the shell of the chrysalis, and has to learn to use its new, much longer, legs to cling to the slippery husk. The abdomen, swollen with waste fluid built up during the process of transformation from caterpillar to pupa to butterfly, makes the job of holding on even more challenging. If the butterfly were to lose its tentative grasp on the chrysalis, it would fall and quite likely not survive, as the fluid in the abdomen would have no way to run down the channels in the butterfly’s wings to lengthen them without the assistance of gravity.

Behind the emerging butterfly, is a caterpillar that has begun pupating after weaving a silk pad to which it can cling. As the pupa emerges, it shimmies the skin, feelers, eyes, mouth, and feet of the caterpillar upwards. The emerging pupa has to replace that last caterpillar leg, which is clinging to the silk pad, with its own cremaster. If it doesn’t attach itself before the caterpillar leg is shed, the pupa will fall and not survive. The wriggling at the end, is the pupa frantically pushing the microscopic bristles in the cremaster as much as possible into the silk pad before the last remnants of the caterpillar are shed.

Watching the metamorphosis of a Monarch is transformative. Such magic and mystery, in a highly efficient and economical process of Nature. Many thanks to Geoff Lee for composing music befitting the magic.

 

You can help save a rare and threatened butterfly and endangered host plant

Atala butterfly on scorpion tail flower
Atala butterfly on scorpion tail flower

The beautiful Atala butterfly is a rare and threatened jewel of a butterfly species in South Florida and, if you have a garden, you can help make them a common sight once again.  Keep reading to learn the simple steps you need to take to help in this effort.

Nectar plants

To lure the adult butterflies, you will need to plant nectar plants. Atala butterflies prefer white nectar plants (you’ll find a partial list below in the postcard, and many more by scrolling down through this scholarly blog here.)

Host plant

With nectar plants squared away, all that’s left is the coontie, the endangered host plant where the female Atala butterfly deposits her eggs so the caterpillars can eat the leaves.  You can read more about its specifications here, and its interesting history, below.  Expert opinions vary on how many coontie you need to plant to have a sustainable population of Atalas, but I would recommend you start with a minimum of four plants that are approximately two feet tall, as coontie grow and regenerate slowly.

Atala caterpillars on coontie seed pod
Atala caterpillars on coontie seed pod

Where to find them

You can locate these plants by searching this database of native nurseries, or you can look closer to home, as Howard Tonkin of Urban Habitat recently opened a native plant nursery at Miami Ironside.  He sells coontie with caterpillars attached, but do be sure you will have enough extra coontie to ensure the caterpillars can eat their fill.  Howard can also steer you toward other nectar plants for the Atala butterfly which he sells Saturday mornings at the Upper Eastside Farmers’ Market at the American Legion Park.  Otherwise, take a photo of the postcard below, which you can keep on your smartphone to have handy whenever you happen to pass by a nursery.

A bit of history

Coontie is an ancient plant that survived the age of dinosaurs, but it almost proved to be no match for unthinking human beings.  The name “coontie” comes from a Seminole phrase meaning white bread or white root.  The Seminoles and other Native Americans in the area knew how to process the root to remove the neurotoxin, and early settlers followed their lead and began commercial production of the starchy residue which became known as Florida arrowroot.  In fact, Florida arrowroot was the Miami River’s biggest industry for a time.  However, the hurricane of 1926 put an end to the production of this starch when it wiped out the last arrowroot warehouse, and then the coontie itself was wiped out throughout the region because humans no longer found it useful.  Luckily, a small colony survived the thoughtless destruction of its habitat and host plant, and the Atala butterfly and its host plant are being brought back from the brink.  Please join us in this important and gratifying effort.

Atala butterfly nectar and host plants at-a-glance.
Atala butterfly nectar and host plants at-a-glance.

The community comes together to plant a butterfly garden

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The barren beginnings

The playground was a dry and barren place, and Miami Shores Presbyterian Church Preschool Director Catherine Woods was determined to change that.  She wanted her students to leave their classrooms and enter into a magical realm, where caterpillars turn into jewels that open to unleash nectar-sipping butterflies into the world.  She knew that their experience in the natural world was at least as important as what they learned in the classroom.  She applied for a butterfly garden grant and held her dream close to her heart.  She won the grant and connected with Bound by Beauty.

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Clearing the ground of mulch.

Bound by Beauty designed the butterfly garden, and connected with a Boy Scout who was looking for an environmental project on which to show leadership in order to soar to the Eagle Scout rank.  What better way to bring a butterfly garden to children than by putting a young man in charge?

Armando Espinosa, from Scout Troup 529, bought the plants on Bound by Beauty’s list (with some last-minute substitutions due to lack of availability which is, sadly, a not uncommon occurrence with native plants), soil and mulch, and showed up on planting day with a large troop of eager helpers, ranging in age from 10 to 60-something, directing the operation like a general overseeing his troops.  Bound by Beauty volunteers, as well as teachers and administrators from the school, worked alongside.  It was like an old-fashioned barn-raising, albeit with donuts and children and butterfly plants!  As we were cleaning up, we all paused to watch a beautiful Gulf fritillary butterfly approach…..and lay an egg on a newly planted maypop passion vine, starting the cycle of wonder for the children to observe.

Planting underway
Planting underway
The crew, minus a few who had to leave early.
The crew, minus a few who had to leave early.
After. Over time, the plants will fill the mulched beds.
After. Over time, the plants will fill the mulched beds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bound by Beauty wants to thank Preschool Director Catherine Woods for understanding the importance of  offering her young students a natural learning environment in which they will have many opportunities to observe the beauty of nature and the awesome wonder of the process of metamorphosis, from egg to caterpillar to pupa to butterfly.  We also wish her and her students success in raising money and volunteers to create a larger outdoor learning environment.  Thanks as well to Cindy McCoy, school board member, for connecting Bound by Beauty and the school.

Congratulations on the fine job that Scout Armando Espinosa did in providing leadership on this project.  It was wonderful to have children see that young people can — and must — be leaders too!  Thanks to Scott Davis, Miami Shores Director of Public Works and Scout Troop 529 leader, for making Armando’s participation possible.

And thanks to the many volunteers who gathered to bring the garden to life!

Butterfly host and nectar plants
Butterfly host and nectar plants

Several factors dictated Bound by Beauty’s design for this garden.  First and foremost, there is no irrigation on the playground other than a hose, so plants must be drought-tolerant.  Second, the planting area is in full sun for most of the year, except for when the sun hides behind the school building for a few winter months.  The plant list includes the following Florida native nectar plants: fiddlewood; scorpion-tail; beach verbena; porter weed; seashore ageratum, yellowtop, and wild petunia.  Non-native nectar plants include chaya, pineapple thistle, and tropical milkweed.  Butterfly host plants include coontie; maypop and corky stem passion vines; blue plumbago; tropical milkweed; and bahama cassia (which proved difficult to locate and will be planted later).

Bound by Beauty wishes the children at the Miami Shores Presbyterian Church school many happy hours in their new butterfly garden!