By Nora Amalia Vargas León.
I was one of those people to whom the swampy and marshy areas had no appeal until along came Dr. Philip Busey, my professor of Plant Identification while I was a student of Horticulture at Miami Dade College. The passion of this nature scholar was contagious when for one of the class’ requirements, we hiked to Shark Valley, the true heart of the Everglades.
We arrived at half past 9. The typically cautious Dr. Busey had sent us the weather forecast beforehand, and we knew there would be some chance of showers and it’d be rather cloudy, so we started early to assess at least a part of this magnificent area of 3800 square kilometers that is the Everglades National Park.
Considered the largest subtropical park in the nation, the Everglades are an important international biosphere reserve and its wetlands are considered a World Heritage Site.
While the panorama is lost in the River of Grass, as baptized Mrs. Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the most ardent supporter of Floridians swamps, under that yellow cloak, wildlife blooms magnificently with common and exotic creatures and plants.
American crocodiles find this area its ideal habitat. Along the manmade paths of asphalt, these reptiles lead a seemingly peaceful life in perfect harmony with man, until the latter in his investigative zeal comes very close to them or their offspring. That is when their amphibian survival instinct with their rapidly flapping tail chases away the curious.
Otherwise it is common to see them crossing paths where tourists walk or ride bikes. Their intimidating presence does not daunt families with young children from traveling through this swampy area from Miami via Tamiami Trial westbound on the road to Naples.
The King of the Everglades.
The American crocodile is the king of the Everglades. In addition to the turtles or snakes that can dwell there, this reptile is king for its number, instincts and learning speed.
Thanks to the joint efforts of biologists at the University of Florida and the Everglades, the species bred and grew in number. Once endangered, crocodiles are now classified as threatened. The studies are based on countering the salinity in the area, to which the crocodile Everglades is highly sensitive.
But the River of Grass is also home to native plants in this area of Florida and to others that have invaded the area.
Species such as Dioscorea bulbifera or air potato (invasive), Typha domingensis or the Southern cattail (endemic), and Baccharis hamimifolia or saltbush complement each other.
The appropriately named River of Grass features flowers and leaves which create a surreal image of flowery fields when in fact they are the result of the marsh and wetlands that can only be seen in the Everglades.
In addition to aquatic plants that thrive there, we can also find the Royal Palm, or the Roystonea regia, the tallest and most lush of the four types of native palms in the Everglades.
The view in Shark Valley displays a broad range of incalculable beauty, beauty that is not visible at first glance, but one that you discover gradually. On the winding roads, you tread on seemingly solid land, but actually with every step you approach caves effaced by its surroundings—a difficult trek at first glance.
Shark Valley, as mentioned earlier, has changed my perspective about bogs and quagmires. Under the guidance of Dr. Busey and framed beautifully by grasses, trees, and water, I could breathe the purity of unpolluted air and feel the pulse of wildlife beyond the mere appearance that hides every plant and creature living there.