The Prada/Armani-clad speaker grew up in San Diego, graduated Brown, earned an M.B.A. at Duke, worked ten years as a junior vice president at a firm in Chicago. After fifteen years in South Florida, she (or he) was, after developing a successful insurance agency, elected councilperson for one of Miami-Dade's three dozen or so incorporated communities. The denim-decked person listening grew up in Miami, was working in the dirt (landscaper, lawn-mowing service, tree cutting) since he was fourteen. He's now a parks manager for the same community and is standing before the commission (or council) in his only suit and tie.
Councilperson: "For this park, I want to leave all the beautiful pine trees intact. Also when you trim the hedges, try to not disturb the vines -- by the way, are those brown orbs on the vines edible? I also want shade trees, black olive or whatever, and I think those ferns we have will provide all the decorative ground cover we need."
Parks manager: "Um, well, those so-called pines are Suckering Australians, a habitat-wrecking invasive species that would be much better replaced by native beauties such as gumbo-limbo or even short-leaf fig. I'll 'train' them to provide major canopies for shade. The potato vine you speak of, from Asia and Africa, might be the biggest nuisance ever imported here, with the exception of cocaine. It will kill all plants, given the chance. I have a source -- a guy from Castellow Hammock hooked me up -- for the fairly rare native sea lavender, which boasts silvery leaves and is a mounding shrub that could replace those nasty erect sword ferns you mentioned, which are another interloping pest."
The importance of eliminating invasive plants (which one study suggests make up a third of the flora in Florida) and planting native species that attract butterflies and birds and enhance rather than destroy the South Florida ecosystem will be brought to the fore Saturday with the Florida Native Plant Society's Native Plant Day, an annual event taking place this year at Castellow Hammock Nature Center. Orators, walks, displays, plant and book sales, raffles, and children's activities are part of the affair. Bring a picnic and some sunscreen and see what should be the vegetative choices of park managers, landscapers, and other green thumbs.
If you dig what you learn, visit Fairchild Tropical Garden (10901 Old Cutler Rd., Coral Gables; 305-717-5846) this Tuesday evening at 7:00 for a monthly meeting of the Florida Native Plant Society. Long-time botanist Clyde Bramblett, a former orchid freak who has become a leading expert in carnivorous plants (sundews, pitcher plants, Venus flytraps) that have invaded Florida, will deliver a talk. (Sundews have reached South Florida; others are still constrained to areas north of Lake Okeechobee.)
Both events are about nothing more than the land upon which you live as a South Floridian. Choke off life with invasives or learn how to create thriving ecosystems with natives. It's your life.