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Plant native thrives, after Ian, from historic storm surge

High water from late September 2022 changed some of the habitat on the island
Posted at 5:43 PM, Jan 31, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-31 17:43:29-05

SANIBEL, Fla. — Plant native is thriving here on Sanibel as islanders are redoing their landscaping post Hurricane Ian. At the SCCF native plant and garden center, they are seeing endless foot traffic in recent weeks.

Many of us here in Southwest Florida remember watching the waters rising as the island of Sanibel took on nearly 13 feet of storm surge from Hurricane Ian. But now nearly 17 months later, SCCF’s Adult Education Director Jenny Evans is seeing a shift in mentally post storm.

“You know for the first 6 months or so after Ian, maybe longer, we were all in on what was happening with their house,” said Evans. “And now, a lot of residents are starting to get passed that initial renovation and restoration of their house. And they are looking outside, and they just want their yards back to way they were.”

And for Sanibel that mostly means planting native plants on their properties. Since the 1970s, the island has required properties to have at least 75% native plants. The other 25% can be non-native but also must be non-invasive.

“It’s essentially turning your backyard into a nature preserve,” said Evans. “So, you are inviting…there are not to be any boundaries between the natural ecosystems and what’s happening in your yard.”

And as islanders recover from the storm so are the animals that live on the island. SCCF recently told Fox 4 Meteorologist Andrew Shipley that while most animals are still here, they are hard to find.

“Most things are still here, just in very low numbers,” said SCCF Wildlife and Habitat Management Program Director Chris Lechowiz. “So, it is going to take years for those numbers to come back."

But by planting native plants on your property, you can help those animal species recover.

“The idea is that our native plants have evolved with this habitat,” said Evans. “They support sort of the basis for our food chain.”

Evans added, “Any amount of conservation area or non-developed area is helpful to support our wildlife populations, especially after they some pretty significant consequences after Ian.”

SCCF offers many services to help residents on the island to plant native plants including popular house call visits where they help residents pick the right plants for their needs. They are also offering workshops for a small fee to help homeowners learn to care for these plants.