Amaz­ing sum­mers, things above and be­low our feet

Times of the Islands - - Departments - Head in the Clouds

South­west Florida sum­mer weather is here, along with all the beauty that comes with it―rain, clouds, light­ning, flow­er­ing plants, mos­qui­toes, no-see-ums, rain­bows, spec­tac­u­lar sun­sets and warm wa­ter. Af­ter­noon sum­mer clouds are stun­ning, danger­ous, ev­er­chang­ing and beau­ti­ful, a pho­tog­ra­pher’s dream and a boater’s night­mare, form­ing as heat rises over the Florida Ever­glades. Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas once said, “There are no other Ever­glades in the world.” Well, take that into con­sid­er­a­tion when you think of the wild weather pat­terns we get here in the sum­mer. The heat rises over the vast ex­panse of the Ever­glades and the clouds start to build, head a lit­tle far­ther to the north, then out to­ward the bar­rier is­lands of South­west Florida. We can watch these cu­mu­lonim­bus clouds grow from 2,000 feet at the base to more than 10,000 feet, some­times in min­utes. Boat­ing guid­ance about build­ing and bub­bling cu­mu­lonim­bus clouds is “when in doubt, chicken out,” ad­vice from the late Captiva fish­ing guide Butch Cot­trill.

The cu­mu­lonim­bus cloud at its apex starts to let out mois­ture at a rapid rate, some­times at a side­ways an­gle with a sting. The storms come on fast and leave fast. Then all is still on the wa­ter and the smell of the fresh rain fills the air.

Plant life im­me­di­ately starts to uti­lize the mois­ture of a huge drink of af­ter­noon rain. The two plants that I find amaz­ing in this process are sea oats and beach morn­ing glory, also known as rail­road vine. Both are dune plants, also called pi­o­neer plants be­cause they are so hardy in a salty and high-energy area of the beach. The root struc­ture and rhi­zomes of sea oats (Uniola pan­ic­u­lata) help sta­bi­lize beaches by cap­tur­ing drift­ing sand. Sea oats is one of the first pro­tected plants be­cause of its abil­ity to help cre­ate and keep the nat­u­ral beach. The rail­road vine (Ipo­moea pescaprae) has a beau­ti­ful pur­ple flower, is one of the most im­por­tant dune plants in South­west Florida, its long vine lit­er­ally grow­ing overnight af­ter the rain. The stems that grow on the beach can sprawl per­pen­dic­u­lar to the dune and help trap sand, help­ing to cre­ate new beach and habi­tat for other dune plants such as sea oats.

All of this beauty is go­ing on right un­der your feet and in the sky. I hope you get a chance to en­joy the beauty of sum­mer weather in South­west Florida. Whether it is the sky painted by the clouds, the sand gath­ered around an out­stretched rail­road vine or watch­ing the wispy sea oats sway­ing back and forth on a se­cluded beach, what­ever you do, just get out there in the wild.

Sum­mer's re­mark­able nat­u­ral vis­tas will in­clude sud­den and some­times heavy thun­der­storms and sting­ing rain, still calm and the smell of fresh rain, deep- hued sun­sets and the amaz­ing vine plants that help sta­bi­lize our glo­ri­ous beaches.

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