Native Grasses in Florida Preserve

On a beautiful, recent fall afternoon, we were enchanted by the Perico Preserve in Florida. A stroll in the preserve took us through coastal scrub, salt marsh, freshwater marsh, stands of seagrass, and coastal hammocks. We saw Tri-colored Herons, Osprey, Roseate Spoonbills, Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, and Great Egrets. We also spotted some beautiful native grasses, including Pink Muhly, Cord Grass, and Purple Love Grass, along with several species of rushes and bulrushes. It’s a magical place, so who would imagine it was fallow farmland just a few years ago?

The preserve includes several coastal habitats, and Cord Grass (Spartina bakeri) makes it home throughout the site.
The preserve hosts several coastal habitats, including scrub and a freshwater marsh. The site lies next a neighborhood and extends beyond the the houses to a coastal bayou.

That’s one of most exciting aspects of the Perico Preserve, a successful restoration project on Florida’s central Gulf Coast. Rather than letting this 175-acre site be turned into condos, local officals decided to restore coastal habitat and provide support for wildlife. They placed an emphasis on habitat diversity, so the site encompasses several plant communities. They also planned for public use and education, so the site include trails, viewing areas and shelters, and educational material.

Grasses on the site are Florida natives and include several that are common in the horticultural trade, like Pink Muhly. Others are less common, like Maidencane (Panicum hemitomon). It was fun to see familiar grasses and learn about some new ones.

Pink Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) was starting its fall show when we visited. The plumes were a rich, deep reddish-pink. Also called Gulf Muhly, this native grass was thriving on the site.
Pink Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) was starting its fall show when we visited. Also called Gulf Muhly, this native grass attracts beneficial insects and makes an excellent cover for wildlife.

Soft Rush (Juncus effusus) rises up from the spent, toast-colored plumes of Purple Love Grass (Eragrostis spectabilis).
The dark green foliage of Soft Rush (Juncus effusus) contrasts with the spent, toast-colored plumes of Purple Love Grass (Eragrostis spectabilis). The Eragrostis grows in small colonies and will never dominate the plant community.

The Perico Preserve now hosts an assortment of birds. The area is on several migratory routes, making it even more important. A rookery in the center of a pond and bird-viewing platforms allow the public to enjoy seeing the birds without disturbing them.
The Perico Preserve now hosts an assortment of birds. The area is on several migratory routes, making it even more important. A rookery in the center of a pond and bird-viewing platforms allow the public to enjoy seeing the birds without disturbing them. Photo courtesy of Mike Burton.
Spartina bakeri grows in the preserve. It's adapted to the margins of sand ponds and fresh marshes and can tolerate periodic flooding.
Spartina bakeri forms large bunches that stand out in the preserve. Called, Cord Grass, it’s adapted to the margins of sand ponds and fresh marshes and can tolerate periodic flooding.

We contacted environmental consultant Mike Burton from Stantec who worked on the project. He sent us a plant list and lots of wonderful information about the project. They used over 100 species of plants on the site, and the plantings have thrived. The survival rate has been good, and many areas are dense and fully covered just a few years after planting. The grass, sedge, and rush species used on the site include:

  • Aristida stricta
  • Eragrostis elliottii
  • Juncus effusus
  • Juncus roemerianus
  • Muhlenbergia capillaris
  • Panicum hemitomon
  • Rhynchospora colorata
  • Schoenoplectus robustus
  • Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani
  • Spartina alterniflora
  • Spartina bakeri
  • Spartina patens
  • Sporobolus virginicus
  • Sorghastrum secundum
  • Tripsacum dactyloides

The story of Perico Preserve is inspiring and interesting, and we thank Mike Burton for sharing it with us. To learn more, we recommend the article he wrote for Land and Water about the preserve. You can read it here.

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