Rant on the Road: The Flora and Fauna of Fort Lauderdale


After my talk I walked
the show floor and looked at bromeliads, proteads and anthuriums, all
primped and oiled to a high gloss. And then I was ready for the
beach. What I wasn’t ready for was the bewildering local flora around
the resorts.


Impatiens the size of shrubs.
Coleus growing like trees. Houseplants — rubber trees, philodendrons —
stuck in the ground in rows, some of them still in their pots. Royal
palms on the beach leaning dangerously to the left — always to the left
— and, in the fast draining sand, deprived of nitrogen until their
leaves turned yellow. The yellowing is helped along by a bug called the
royal palm bug, a local insect that sucks the life out of the Cuban
species of royal palm — and it just so happens that the Cuban import is
the one that really took hold around here. The chemical solution to
this bug infestation is too dangerous for homeowners to attempt, so
their only option is to pour fertilizer in the sand — 15 pounds a year
is recommended — to green up the plant. That nitrogen no doubt washes
right into the ocean, but never you mind. We’re on vacation here.


I contemplated the natural history of the royal palm, the couple
sitting next to me eyed their almost-empty sangria glasses mournfully.
"This two for one thing," the woman asked one of the close shaven,
square-jawed Germans who staff all the bars along the beach, "How does
that work?"


"Well —" said the German,
probably wondering what part of "2-for-1" the woman didn’t understand,
"you buy one and you get the other one free."


"But those two drinks," the woman said, peering into the depths of her gargantuan glass. "Are they both in here?"


they were not. The 37 cents’ worth of Hawaiian Punch and 52 cents’
worth of cheap rum that passed for sangria and retailed for $13.95
actually came with the promise of a free refill. You might say that the
second gallon of rum-laced high fructose corn syrup is your reward for
getting through the first one.


That’s how I
rationalized it, anyway. Eventually I sucked down the last of my
maraschino cherries and got up unsteadily to catch the final shuttle
back to my hotel. On the way out of the bar I saw a sign posted on the
beach, next to the wavejammer rental stand. "Turtle Nesting Beach," it
read. "Street lights off/reduced March through October."


On the beach? I realized, with the kind of clarity that only 2-for-1
Giant Sangrias can deliver, that even the reptiles were suffering under
an illusion. Just turn down the lights and maybe the turtles would
overlook the Bubba Gump Fish Shack, the Midwesterners in their "I Pee
in Pools" T-shirts, and the disaffected German waiters staring across
the ocean to their homeland. The turtles were expected to go on,
against the odds, to find a place in the sand to lay their eggs.
Whether they were being swindled or saved, I couldn’t be sure.


was not much of a habitat for turtles, and it was certainly no habitat
for me. I was so grateful to see the hotel shuttle bus driver, a Cuban
who had brought me to the beach a few hours earlier, that I gave him
all the loose bills in my pocket for a tip, as if I was leaving a
foreign country and handing over the last of the money I wouldn’t be
able to use once I got home.



  1. Poor Amy! That reminds me of the time I had a business trip to the Epcot Center–and a free day. I emerged from my hotel room, went to the gates of Epcot Center, instantly got barked at by half a dozen Disney people trying to sell me time shares, and retreated back into my room for the rest of the trip.

    Only on the other coast have I had hints of what the old Florida must have been like–how lovely it must have been. Apalachicola, for example, in the panhandle, is still a romantic place, with oyster boats all along the coast and the best food I’ve ever had on vacation outside of Europe or the Napa Valley.

  2. Try living in the Ft. Lauderdale area for almost six years as I did. Off the tourist path, it’s not nearly as tacky or amoral (vacation mentality is a very odd phenomenon). I knew many people who loved living in S. Florida but I was so very glad to leave that land of inopportunity for the glorious PNW. Each to their own; it’s a good thing we don’t all want to live in the same place.

    I have to admit, though, that being able to grow begonias the size of refrigerators (okay, that’s a slight exaggeration) was pretty darn cool.

  3. Much like you Lisa, I am a transplant. Lived in various parts of Florida until moving to the PNW at 30.

    The thing to realize is that tourism is an industry with cycles. What you see there right now are SAD Snowbirds looking for sun and the elusive “fun” promised in the brochures. Mainly they get offered booze, crappy T-shirts (2 for $5!) and bad timeshares, because they don’t know what they are looking for.

    Get a little away from the beaches and you find many near-retirement neighborhoods with little house-boxes from the 50’s and 60’s. The yards are gardens with 20+ year old gnarled and beautiful citrus trees, huge spanish oaks, roses ranging from 1″ to 6″ across and climbing like they will take over the house. You will also see people sometimes still sitting on porches drinking sweet tea and bragging about the granddaughter’s bright little patch of marigolds tucked away in a corner. Mostly they are friendly and happily talk gardening with a stranger for hours.

    Ok, yeah I miss it a little =)

  4. Imagine how sad these scenes make the natives feel, and by natives, I mean the Native Americans.

    I’m a descendent of the Blackfoot Seminoles. My granddad grew up in a small town in central Florida that bears his last name.

    Last time I was was in Orlando driving along International Drive (franchise heaven/hell), I wondered what it looked like hundreds of years ago with locals living in their chickees, eating acorn stew, fry bread and alligator. Hmmm… must be lunch time. That actually sounds good.

  5. Last year, I had the fortune to accompany my son on a trip to Epcot and Universal, and while I was there to ride rides – I was gobsmacked by the exotic foliage. My only regret was not having time to seek out what might have been left of the native natural landscape.

  6. Shh, don’t tell anyone about the panhandle of NW Florida. We like it here and like to keep it a secret.

    You can have anything south of Ocala — ugh

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