Saturday, July 25, 2009

Fruit and Spice Park

This is a photo of a lotus flower (that lost a lot of it's petals) at the herb garden in the Fruit and Spice Park. My parents and I visited it a couple of weeks ago while I was visiting South Florida. It's located in an area of Homestead called The Redlands, named for the red soil. This is the part of Florida that grows most of our food.

We always take US 27 down and the scenery on the drive there is distinctly South Florida.
First we have a stop off at the eastern edge of the Everglades.
Between this view and the road is a dike and a canal where they got the fill dirt to build the dike. For a long time, anything beyond the road was not visible because of all the Malelueca trees and Australian Pines that were growing. These are two extremely invasive plants to South Florida and keeping in tradition with most invasives, were originally brought here with a engineering purpose.

Maleluecas were brought in by the Army Corps of Engineers in order to drain the Everglades and many years later they realized they were sucking up all the fresh drinking water! Australian pines came in from developers to create shade and wind breaks but have fast outcompeted the native plants around them. They can't withstand hurricanes like native trees can and create millions of dollars of damage. While interning for the NRCS one summer in West Palm Beach, I went out with an engineer as he surveyed damage done by the recent hurricanes specifically by Australian Pines in a suburban neighborhood as they fell on houses, powerlines and canals.
So now more millions of dollars is being spent on trying to get rid of these invasives and today large stretches of the roadway show the dead tree trunks.
These two pictures were taken on the same day (as evidenced by the same car in front of us). There are still some patches of the old forested area alongside the road, but most of it looks dead and barren and extremely out of place in a land where everything is lush and green and overgrown.

Finally at the park, we missed the tour so we had cuban sandwiches down the road and came back just in time for the next tour. It was so hot and humid out that my mom initially didn't want to come and tried to get me to save the trip for winter, but I insisted and in the end she agreed it was a great experience. However between the uncomfortable heat and wanting to pay attention to the tour guide, I forgot to take any pictures. We rode in a tram and would stop at different spots to get out and try any fruit that was in season. Their one rule is not to pick any fruit off the trees, so we mostly looked for the freshly fallen fruit on the ground. They had tons of jackfruit trees with humongous fruits, but the park employee claimed they didn't have the right kind of solution to cut the fruit open.

The jackfruit produces a rubbery liquid when cut open and requires the right cutting utensils. I don't understand why a park that had more than 10 trees of this fruit and specializes in letting the public taste exotic fruits didn't have the equipment. Instead we tried Dragonfruit, Cashew fruit, and many more that I forgot the names of.

We were stopped at one tree eating Hog Plums, with liquid squirting all over as we bit into them. The tour guide announces that they're related to Mangos and I instantly drop my plum. I am allergic to mangos so I immediately wash my hands, face and mouth off with water. Luckily the only reaction I got were some chapped lips that went away within 2 weeks.

I also got to try Stevia, which is a natural sugar substitute. I put a leaf of it in my mouth, along with a leaf of chocolate mint and the combined flavors were better than candy! The park has fruit trees from all over the world and it seems that there is always something in season. I can't wait until we can go again and try different things!

When we stopped along the dike to look at the glades, there were giant grasshoppers all over the place. They kept moving and made it difficult to take a picture so my dad picked one up for me.
Here is a photo of my parents at a photo-op the park had set up. Of course my dad went straight for the tropical Chiquita Banana woman. After the park we stopped at Robert is Here fruit stand as it seemed to be a popular tourist attraction. However everything was overpriced, the honey was "flavored" with extremely unnatural flavorings (we're not talking the usual tupelo or wildflower honey, this was ginger honey and green tea honey). There were a million people in line for tropical fruit milkshakes so we left after buying a watermelon and an eggfruit.
My dad bought the eggfruit or canistel and we tried it the next night. The inside of the fruit is yellow and creamy like an egg yolk that has been boiled hard. The taste is sweet and reminiscient of a mamey. Mostly what I remember was the texture as it was so unusual.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Work Travels

Lately I've gone to some interesting places for work:
Steinhatchee is a small fishing village on the coast, northwest of Gainesville. Everytime I find out I have work to do here, I look forward to it. No matter where you look, you find a scenic view of the Steinhatchee River or coastal homes that remind me of Key West and Cedar Key.
These brightly painted townhomes seem to be more for the weekend tourists.
There was a good mix of tourist homes and homes like this wooden one that fits in better with the scenery and looks a bit more authentic. I love all the tin roofs.

Next up is White Springs, located on the northern portion of the Suwannee River, which seems to be the main attraction of the town. The actual downtown stores appear abandoned but the victorian homes are well kept and there's a kayak outfitter and a large State Park that probably get good traffic from the outdoor enthusiasts attracted for the river. I like to stop at the old Sulfur Springs and look at the old pictures from when it operated as a spa.
This is me being reflected from the glass case as I was trying to take a picture of what the spring house looked like back in the....late 1800s?
This is what the spring house looks like now. There's only one level to walk on and this is looking out to the river.

Next town is Yankeetown, located southwest of here on the Withlacoochie River. I don't know too much about this place but during lunch one day I discovered a park with trails to stretch my legs after driving for so long.
The environment here is mostly coastal grasses with cabbage palms. The paths are extremely well maintained and clearly marked with a map that you can take with you at the trailhead.

Coming back from Yankeetown is this curiuos piece of land. I've always spotted it on my drives but never noticed the gate open until this time. I had an intern with me so we decided to drive up and see if it was a park.
Not a park but open to the public. Driving in, I got a better look at what I had been seeing in a blur driving fast on the road,
There was no information about what the structures were for or anything besides a paper listing the development opportunities. Once I had internet access, I looked it up and it has an odd but interesting history. I guess it's currently used as grounds for weddings/corporate events/etc but the owner is a developer and wants to sell it.
Driving around the grounds was surreal because of how well manicured and landscaped the place was, but absolutely deserted. Plus it's in the middle of nowhere on highway 19 in between Inglis and Chiefland. I tried to get a picture of the stream connecting the big structure to this lake and the features on the backside of the big fountain but my camera died right after this picture.