Tiny park bursting with native plants

Christine Winter Juneau
Christine Winter Juneau
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March 13, 2011

Last February the city of Wilton Manors dedicated a tiny .14 acre plot of land at the corner of Northeast Seventh and Northeast 20th avenues in honor of M.E. DePalma, a resident who led the city's effort to become certified as a National Wildlife Federation Community Wildlife Habitat.

There were scattered plantings for the ceremony, some slash pine trees (after all, it had formerly been known as Slash Pine Park), and a dramatic butterfly bench and a plaque on a pedestal with a butterfly on top. But not a whole lot else.

Coral BeanToday, one year later, the park is popping with plants, wild flowers, bushes, trees, grasses and ground covers, many of them Florida natives, and many of them in bloom, despite a rugged winter by South Florida standards.

At last count, the park contained more than 90 native and butterfly-attracting plants. For an illustrated database of the park's plant list, go to medepalmapark.com and click on the park and plantings, and then click on the plant list with photos.

Many of the plantings come from DePalma herself, who loves knowing that the park is her legacy. She wants to make sure it becomes a place for the community to enjoy a small taste of Mother Nature at her Florida best. And her friends and organizations have made donations as well.

"All my friends give me presents for the park for my birthday and holidays," she laughed. She has brought on Greg Phillips, who runs a small native nursery, called Naturescape, to help her pick out and obtain native plants. He also helps with the planting and care.

Native plants can not only withstand just about anything Mother Nature can throw at them, they also need less water, reseed or spread to fill empty areas, and attract local wildlife.

But even parks with predominately native plants need work. Students from Pace Center for Girls Broward, an alternative school for at-risk girls that has a campus in Wilton Manors, have helped with the weeding.

"They came over to do some community service work, and at first they had a bit of an attitude," DePalma recalled. Each girl was assigned a specific type of weed to pull and got a brief rundown on how to recognize the native plants so they wouldn't pull them out by mistake. Along the way, they became enchanted with the tiny native flowers poking up from the mulch, and the butterflies fluttering around while they worked.

"Before long they were really enthused about it, and asking when they could come back," DePalma said. Since then, she has helped them set up a butterfly garden on campus.gallardia

On a recent sunny February day, the park was sporting huge bunches of gaillardia, many milkweed in bloom, which, while not native, are the only plants that monarch butterflies lay their eggs on, native salvia in pink, red and white, coral bean, fleabane and rudbeckia. In additon there were a number of native groundcovers with tiny colorful blooms almost hidden in their foliage, along with some striking native grasses. As the seasons change, more and different flowers will appear in a changing kaleidoscope of color.

What a difference a year makes!

Christine Winter Juneau is a National Wildlife Habitat steward. You can reach her at plntlady63@aol.com.