A Thirty Year Round Trip

The Threat to the Fakahatchee

By Olan Ray Creel

It didn't sink in until I got home. I had just completed a thirty-year long round-trip. A trip that began with inspiration and ended with frustration.

You see in the early 70's the Fakahatchee and nearby wilderness areas sparked within me a life-long love affair with native airplants. Being a bit dumbstruck by plants that grew on other plants, I bought a still treasured little book called "Orchids and other Airplants of Everglades National Park" written by Frank Craighead. I just had to know what those strange plants were.

In 1990, I was living in a little condo complex in Broward County. The buildings were carefully carved out of an old cypress strand and every tree was jam packed with wild native Bromeliads. (see photo)

It was the year those airplants began to fall dead by the thousands. Few remain today. It was the year that some fellow members of the Bromeliad Society of Broward County told me about a newly arrived invasive species - a weevil.

Not long after, I learned that an entomologist at the University of Florida was desperately tracking this weevil. His name turned out to be Dr. J. Howard Frank.

Howard Frank saw early on what was at stake, the literal survival of one of Florida's greatest natural treasures. He hasn't taken a break since.

Just a couple of months ago, at a Bromeliad Weevil symposium at Highlands Hammock State Park, (gratefully conceived by a dedicated Park Ranger there named Dorothy Harris) I listened to Howard's latest presentation. He spoke of extinction. Not only of our native Bromeliads but also of the known and unknown life forms they harbor or support. He hinted at the subject of time, and time wasted. Time spent looking for and wondering about the paucity of funding for something so important. Money long needed to make an all-out push to perfect a biological control for the Mexican Bromeliad Weevil.

Thirty years is a long time too. Two years out of high school and I was being inspired by airplants in the Fakahatchee. On March 20th, 2002, I was there again. I was looking for the half inch long weevil that I knew, because I'd seen it happen in so many places, could destroy most of those plants that have surely inspired so many others since.

I wasn't all that surprised when I did find it. The 'evil-weevil', Metamasius callizona, with its "official" new common name, the "Mexican Bromeliad Weevil", had been found about 15 miles north of where I was some three years earlier by Howard Frank. Near my present home in St. Lucie County, I had watched the weevil spread twice that far in the same amount of time.

Maybe I just happened upon the initial arrival point or maybe the weevil is already entrenched in the Fakahatchee. A little time will tell. Thirteen years to spread throughout Florida, unchallenged by human or natural predators, has been the weevil's greatest ally. What may, and very likely will, now occur in the Fakahatchee, and all of those immense connected ecosystems, is something a lot of people just don't want to imagine.

Imagine the Fakahatchee without Bromeliads.

Olan Ray Creel, 3-31-02

Related articles:
Up Close and Personal With the Evil Weevil - By Olan Ray Creel
The Evil Weevil - What Will Florida Lose? - By Olan Ray Creel
A Trip to the Fahkahatchee Strand with the Caloosahatchee Bromeliad Society