The Palms (and Other Plants) of the Oslo Riverfront 
Conservation Area (ORCA), Vero Beach, Florida

By Jody Haynes

Figure 1. Velvetleaf wild coffee, 
Psychotria sulzneri (left), and wild 
coffee,
Psychotria nervosa (right) 
side by side.

Figure 2. Psychotria sulzneri fruit.

On Friday, January 11, 2002, I had the opportunity to visit the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA) in Vero Beach, Florida. The visit was actually a field trip for the 2-day Water-Wise Environmental Landscaping Workshop that was organized by the St. John's River Water Management District (SJRWMD). Although not slated as a "palm" tour, I take advantage of every opportunity to photograph palms--particularly in natural settings.

ORCA encompasses 298 acres along the Indian River Lagoon in southern Indian River County, central eastern Florida. The area was purchased by Indian River County and the SJRWMD in 1991. It is now a public conservation area made up of mesic hardwood hammock, pine flatwoods, and coastal wetlands. Only two species of native palms inhabit the area--cabbage palm, Sabal palmetto, and saw palmetto, Serenoa repens--but these two palms are illustrated in all their glory at ORCA.

The first thing that I noticed when I arrived at ORCA were the native wild coffee plants loaded with bright red berries (Figs. 1 & 2; click on photos to enlarge). 

Moving into ORCA, I was then confronted by a spectacular view of both the canopy, which is made up of immense oak trees and ancient cabbage palms, as well as the understory, which is made up of ferns, understory shrubs, and jack-in-the-pulpit plants--which happened to be in flower. Figures 3 through 7 illustrate the immenseness of the canopy, as well as the beauty of the understory. 

Figure 3. The path into ORCA.

Figure 4. View of the canopy in the
mesic hammock section of ORCA.

Figure 5. Beautyberry,
Callicarpa americana, in fruit.

Figure 6. Snowberry, 
Chioccoca alba, in fruit.

Figure 7. Jack-in-the-pulpit,
Arisaema triphyllum, in flower.

.
.

If you ever find yourself in the
Vero Beach, FL, area, I highly
recommend taking a couple of
hours to walk through the Oslo
Riverfront Conservation Area.
You will not be disappointed!

Click on the graphic above for
more information about ORCA.

Figures 8 & 9. Sabal palmetto up in the canopy.
Figures 10 & 11. Crown (left) and trunk 
base (right) of
Sabal palmetto.

Figures 12 & 13. Sabal palmetto trunks, with moss (left)
and golden polypody ferns,
Phlebodium aureum (right),
 growing on them.

Since this article is supposed to focus on palms, I guess I should get back to the topic at hand... 

I must say that the cabbage palms at ORCA are the most impressive I have ever seen (Fig. 8-9). 

Standing at the base of an ancient Sabal palmetto and looking up leaves one feeling somewhat unimportant and diminutive (Fig. 10). 

Looking down at the base of the trunks also impressed me, because many of the trunk bases were quite large and possessed a mounded mass of adventitious roots (Fig. 11). 

Yet another thing that I found interesting were all the plants that anchored themselves to some of the Sabal trunks--which were primarily mosses (Fig. 12) and ferns (Fig. 13).

Further into the ORCA, the habitat changes from mesic hammock to pine flatwoods. The area is now dominated by occasional pines and fewer oaks, and the understory is primarily saw palmetto, Serenoa repens, interspersed with shrubs and low-growing flowers.

Figures 14-16 are of a unique saw palmetto growing up into an oak tree. This is the tallest saw palmetto plant that I have ever seen. As you can see in Fig. 14, all of the other palms in the area are low-growing. Some of these other palms had equally long trunks, but they were sprawling along the ground rather than up into the air--which is typical of this species.

The very bottom row of photos below are of two native understory species from the pine flatwoods area at ORCA, as well as some native bromeliads growing on a vine (Figs. 17-19).

Figures 14-16. Exceptionally large saw palmetto, 
Serenoa repens, growing up into an oak.

Figure 17. Rusty lyonia, 
Lyonia ferruginea.
Figure 18. False rosemary,
Conradina canescens.
Figure 19. Quill-leaf
wild pines,
Tillandsia 
setacea, on a vine.

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