Thursday, 30 April 2015

Disney Wilderness Preserve - Florida Day 2

Day two saw a long drive for all of us on the trip as we drove from Titusville in northeast Florida to Bonita Springs in southwest Florida, however as well as the obligatory food and loo stops we did stop at somewhere of interest.

That place of interest being the Disney wildlife preserve.

What is Disney Wilderness Preserve?

The remains of the tree in the mid ground along with the
charred undergrowth are evidence that burning
 is used for management. 

The Disney Wildlife preserve is a 12,000 acre area that in the 1980’s had been so extensively drained and altered for agriculture it was being considered for development.

However in the early 1990’s a number of companies, chiefly Disney took ownership of the land in order to restore it to its former wild state, including its 4000 acres of wetlands, in order to fulfill the obligations of the ‘No Net Loss’ legislation.

The ‘No Net Loss’ legislation within the states means that any construction that destroys an area of wetland must be mitigated by the construction of new a new wetland area. Up until the Disney preserve most of this was done in close proximity to the area destroyed but Disney met the requirements in a novel way by restoring an area off site.

Since then a large number of restoration and management practices have taken place to restore the area including the blockage of drainage returning the site to a natural hydrological regime and controlled burns.

Our Visit

Just some of the Saw palmetto that
dominated parts of the reserve
When we arrived the air was humid and the sky overcast, the puddles in the car park indicated that it had already rained that morning. A Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) could be seen from the visitor center.

Outside the lawns of the visitor center the surrounding area seemed to be dominated with a tall grass (4-5 ft high)  with slash pines (Pinus elliottii) in the distance.

A large pond contained Cattails (Typha domingensis) at one end in early growth and large number of water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) across the surface. The lilies are an important complement when it comes to sediment gas exchange as the arenchyma tissue within the stems acts as a conduit for methane gas in particular to leave the sediment.

As we continued to walk through the park a group of cypress trees in the distance gave the perfect illustration of the dome structure which was enjoyable to see and gave a hint at the underlying hydrology.

The tall grass then gave way to a saw palmetto dominated area, again with slash pines in the distance, only a handful of other shrub plants could be seen.

At this point it started to rain.

Within the saw palmetto there was the charred remains of old trees, evidence of the burning management used at the preserve to control invasive species.

The path we walked along turned towards a number of cypress trees, this time not in the characteristic dome shape which puzzled me at first. The cypress trees were absent their needles as it was apparently the dry season. By this point the rain was starting to become rather heavy.

As we moved into the cypress trees the area became more swamp like with standing water on either side of the path, alligator flag (Thalia geniculata) and the characteristic cypress knees.

Finally as we reached the end of this particular path the lack of dome shape became apparent. It was a lake edge cypress swamp. As it was a lake edge cypress swamp my educated guess would be that it was the Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) tree species . I have since found out that the lake we were bordering was lake Russel. A Rare lake within florida as there is no development along any of its shoreline. It is also a head water for the everglades with its outflow eventually leading into lake Okeechobee.

Just a couple of photos I took of the lake edge cypress swamp
 including a run for cover as the rain got harder
I have to say that this was another highlight of my trip, although the time at the lake edge was brief ( by this point the rain had shifted into full Welsh mode) the atmosphere and the beauty of the lake edge with the cypress trees all around was profound.

Because of the rain we then headed back to the buses and continued our long drive to the south.

I know many people on the trip didn't enjoy the Disney preserve to the same degree as the other nature parks we visited but as I mentioned the lake edge cypress made the stop worth it, for me at least.

However I do have my doubts as to how well the restoration of the preserve has gone. This is mainly because of the large areas of what appeared too just be dominated by grass and saw palmetto. Although I am no expert on the floridian landscape it didn't seem natural to me. This leads me to question, just how effective the no net loss policy is within the states?

However maybe another decade or two of preservation will allow nature to create a more natural vegetative balance.

Species List


Common Name
Latin Name
Cattle  Egret
Bubulcus ibis


Common Name
Latin Name
Water Lillies
Nymphaea odorata
Typha domingensis
Saw Palmetto
Saw palmetto
Slash Pine
Pinus elliottii
Bald Cypress
Taxodium distichum
Water tupelo
Nyssa aquatica
Alligator Flag
Thalia geniculata

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