Earth Day Celebration: From Grass to Garden

Building a Pine Rockland Habitat in Florida

When Mrs. Cardona’s fourth and fifth grade classes at Royal Palm Elementary School in Florida celebrated Earth Day last month, they decided to create a lasting gift to the school and community. The students, together with the Go-Go Green Warriors Eco Club, celebrated Earth Day by creating a Pine Rockland Habitat demonstration garden at the school. Royal Palm, part of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, is already a National Wildlife Federation certified Schoolyard Habitat®, having met those criteria as part of the installation of a Food Forest several years ago. The school registered as an Eco-School in December 2018, and is now pursuing a Bronze awardthrough the Schoolyard Habitat® Pathway. As part of their Eco-School Action Plan, students wanted to increase the endemic biodiversity index within their school grounds by installing a Pine Rockland garden.

Why is the Pine Rockland Habitat important?

Pine Rockland is a globally critically imperiled habitat with a rich diversity of unique flora and fauna. With high biodiversity, Pine Rocklands support over 400 native plant species and dozens of native animals. Some of these species are endemic, meaning they are found nowhere else in the world. Historically, the Pine Rocklands of Miami were found on the Miami Rock Ridge, and extended continuously south and west from downtown Miami into Everglades National Park, covering a total of 185,000 acres. Currently, just 2 percent of Pine Rockland remains in urban Miami‐Dade County outside of the National Park.

Using local limestone rocks to outline the Royal Palm Elementary Pine Rockland garden, students and staff planted 20 coontie, a hardy, slow-growing shrub that is the only native cycad in North America, and is host plant for the Atala butterfly. Once the plants are established, the students will get Atala butterfly caterpillars from the North American Butterfly Association, Miami Blue Chapter. The students are also hopeful that their unique habitat will attract the Bartram’s Scrub-Hairstreak Butterfly and the Miami tiger beetle, both listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as federally endangered species.

Follow along as Royal Palm Elementary takes you on their journey from grass to garden:

Photos: Maria Elena Garcia / NWF

Building the habitat was a true community effort! Plants were donated by the Connect to Protect program from the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens, as well as parents from Mrs. Cardona’s gifted student’s 4th and 5th grade classes. Royal Palm’s art teacher, Ms. Parlade, designed and created a colorful and welcoming garden sign. Special thanks to Mary Benton from the organization Bound by Beauty for sharing her knowledge and providing information about the plants and suggestions for design of the garden. With the Eco-Schools USA program celebrating its 10 year anniversary in 2019, this story exemplifies one of many instances where the program impact ripples into the local community and beyond.

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