Florida Wildlife Corridor Foundation

The Florida Native Plant Society and Community Growth

Photo by Geena Hill

History of the Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS)

The Florida Native Plant Society was founded in 1980 with the support of the Florida Conservation Foundation, Inc. By 1986 the Native Plant Society received its independent status, and in 1987 officially began functioning as a non-profit corporation at a federal level. The driving goal of the Florida Native Plant Society is to advocate for the conservation, preservation, and restoration of native plants and native plant habitats within the state of Florida. To meet this goal the FNPS encourages community engagement, education, land stewardship, and advocacy at all levels of government.

The Florida Native Plant Society

Due to the FNPS’s status as a not-for-profit science and research cooperation, the organization runs mainly through volunteer efforts, local chapters and their members, and funding for projects provided by state and federal efforts. With their efforts spanning the state of Florida, FNPS has a total of 37 local chapters scattered all over the state and only three full-time employees. The local chapters of the FNPS offer educational field trips and panels at local meetings, work to maintain local flora and native habitats, and participate in local events to raise awareness of their mission. Many of the society’s current project center around conservation, land acquisition and management, and the TorreyaKeepers Project.

Education and Community Engagement

Lilly Anderson-Messec is the current president of the Magnolia Chapter of the FNPS, the Director of North Florida Programs, and the TorreyaKeepers Project Coordinator. Speaking with her, Anderson-Messec highlighted the importance of education and community involvement surrounding issues of conservation and invasive species saying,

“…one of my big things that I’m always harping on about is ecological education for children, you know, and adults, from first grade to 80 we all could improve our lives with more education about the ecology of our region.”

One of her favorite parts of being active in the Magnolia Chapter is introducing Tallahassee residents to all of the unique parks scattered throughout Leon County on educational field trips and teaching members how to turn their yards into functional connections of the local ecosystem, bolstering the wildlife corridor throughout the Big Bend region of Florida. It is never too late to begin learning about local and functional ecology, and to rebuild those ecosystems.

Cascading Effects of Development

Anderson-Messec noted that currently, “Development is probably the first one (threat) and then invasive species are the second.” The development of Florida’s sensitive ecosystems not only removes native flora but has a cascading ecological fallout in terms of land management. Anderson-Messec said that development “…causes pollution, hydrological changes in the environment, changing the hydrology, fire suppression, because you know, the more humans are around, the harder it becomes to prescribe burn…” With the clearing away of land, moving in of new residents, and drop-in stewardship practices, invasive flora species are allowed to move in and further degrade ecosystems. “And then invasive species in Florida are a major threat probably more than any other state in the US besides Hawaii, you know?” Anderson-Messec said.

Umbrella Protections of Charismatic Species

Photo by Stephanie Dunn

Despite the current rate of development in the state, there is a cause for hope. During our conversation, Anderson-Messec noted the connectivity of all conservation efforts and practices, whether they be for endangered native animal or plant species saying,

“If we can capture people’s hearts and minds with a charismatic species, and use that to be an ambassador for this entire ecosystem, then we can really protect and conserve a lot more land and all of the other species benefit from it.”

By implementing protections for the Florida Panther, Black Bear, Gopher Tortoise, and Scrub Jays we are also protecting their native habitat, and in turn, plant species native to Florida. Protecting the apex species turns into a domino effect Anderson-Messec says,

“…they’re all a patchwork, that becomes a larger picture. It’s like little pieces of a puzzle, we get enough pieces on the board, you know, enough places, conserved and restored, then are ecosystems can be functioning again. That’s part of why the wildlife corridor is so important…”

Conservation is Half the Battle

Photo by Alex Freeze

Speaking of all the positive movements that conservation efforts in Florida are currently seeing, it is also important to remember what needs to come after the protection of the land, maintaining it. Anderson-Messec says, “We desperately need more funding for land management, because you can stop development, but, if you just leave it untouched, it gets overrun with invasives.” Calling for stewardship practices such as controlled burns, replanting native plants, and working hard to remove invasive species in an attempt to heal the natural ecosystems in Florida.

Getting Involved with the Native Plant Society

The Florida Native Plant Society is fueled by community involvement and action. Without its multitude of Chapters and volunteers scattered throughout the state the strides they are making in keeping waterways clean, protecting green spaces from development, and keeping native plant species such as the Torreya from extinction. If you are interested in getting involved and learning more about the native plants in your ecosystem, look for a Chapter near you at the link below.

Catalin Grant Storytelling Intern
Catalin is a fourth-generation South Floridian who has had the opportunity to experience the diverse ecosystems that Florida has to offer. She grew up in Davie, Florida, and Tallahassee, Florida, and earned her B.A. in Cultural Anthropology from the University of West Florida in Pensacola, Florida. She is working towards her M.A. in Anthropology from Florida Atlantic University. Her current thesis work examines the relationship between generational cattle ranchers, conservation, and development within the state of Florida.
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