Lake Okeechobee Gets 1,500 Trees
Belle Glade, FL -- Pond apple trees within the footprint of the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir construction zone are getting a fresh start in the rich muck soils of Torry Island in southern Lake Okeechobee.
The South Florida Water Management District is transplanting 1,500 of the mature trees this month to benefit ongoing habitat restoration work on Torry Island in Belle Glade in western Palm Beach County. The project takes advantage of the availability of trees as tall as eight feet that would be completely submerged in the massive EAA Reservoir when complete.
Pond apple trees provide desirable habitat for other native species, including the endangered snail kite, endangered Okeechobee gourd and wading birds. Pond apples produce an avocado-sized fruit that is sometimes called an alligator pear or alligator apple, because of its rough skin. The trees can grow up to 25 feet high and survive in the low-nutrient environment found in the Everglades ecosystem.
Pond apple restoration in marshy areas of Lake Okeechobee began several years ago. The effort has been aided on Torry Island by student volunteers from the Arthur R. Marshall Foundation who regularly visit to plant saplings. Foundation Chairman John Marshall, a long-time proponent of environmental restoration in Lake Okeechobee, suggested using mature pond apple trees from the EAA Reservoir construction zone to supplement ongoing planting at Torry Island.
In 2007, the District�s Lake Okeechobee restoration efforts included planting 1,000 pond apple trees in the Clewiston area and another 1,725 pond apples, cypress, bald cypress, red maple, swamp bay and dahoon holly near Moore Haven. This year, the District also plans to re-establish a pond apple forest in Lake Istokpoga, located north of Lake Okeechobee, with the planting of another 800-1,000 pond apple trees.
"Tree island restoration on Torry Island is important for the environment and the citizens of Belle Glade whose livelihoods are tied to Lake Okeechobee," said City of Belle Glade Mayor Steve Wilson.
A multi-year rainfall deficit that dropped Lake Okeechobee water levels to about four feet below average for this time of year presented a prime opportunity to relocate a large number of mature trees. In current conditions, work crews are able to plant trees harvested from the EAA Reservoir construction zone onto an existing tree island stand near Torry Island. The site is usually too wet to be accessible with vehicles.