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Date of Issue: March 30, 2005

Sandscript

Get your free gun lock here; bromeliad show this weekend

Got safe firearms?

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, through a program called Project Childsafe, is offering free gun locks to anyone who wants them. The FWC folks were kind enough to give a whole slew of them to us at The Islander for distribution. Stop by the office at 5404 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, and help yourself.

They're pretty neat things, with a thick chain that loops through the trigger guard of either a handgun or long gun to prevent accidental firing. The chain then locks with a key.

The gun locks also come with a handy little book outlining some basic gun-safety tips.

And it would appear that the locks would also do double duty as bike locks. Not bad for free, eh?

Bromeliad show this weekend at Selby
OK, I'll admit to having become fond of bromeliads in the past few years, and one of the largest collections in the United States is set to be shown and offered for sale this weekend in Sarasota.

The 23rd Annual Sarasota Bromeliad Show and Sale will run from June 25-27 at Selby Gardens, 811 S. Palm Ave., just south of the landmark, bayfront Marina Jack restaurant. Plant sales only will run on Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., while both show and sale will be Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

"The Sarasota Bromeliad Society show is one of the largest in the Southeastern United States," according to organizers. "Hundreds of spectacular and often rare plants are displayed in this judged show and are exhibited by some of the best bromeliad growers in the state. Competition is fierce."

One of the neat things about the glorified air plants is that they can literally be screwed into trees to add to a landscape's canopy. Actually, they can grow just about anywhere - "bromeliads may attach to trees, cling to rocks or grow on the forest floor. They can be found atop the rain forest canopy, on the sides of mountains or in the sands of beaches and deserts. This diversification and successful adaptation to cold, warmth, and dry or wet conditions and usually brilliantly colored and long-lasting blooms make them ideal plants to grace both home or garden," as the show folks explained.

That long-lasting bloom spike spiel is really true. I had one outside my office window that lasted almost all last summer, and another spike has just come up with bright yellow and red flowers that will give me something to enjoy at least through Labor Day.

Admission is the same as the cost to get into Selby, $12, and lets you roam the grounds of the gardens. There is a pretty impressive boardwalk at Selby that follows the shoreline of Sarasota Bay and juts out into Hudson Bayou, and there's a pretty nice little restaurant at the gardens as well. Why not make a day of it?

For further information, call show chair Rob Branch at 358-4953.

How high is tall?
It's one of those imponderables that has been apparently pondered and solved: How tall can a tree grow?

Scientists climbed five of the world's tallest trees and have postulated an answer at no more than 425 feet. That's about 40 stories in skyscraper terms, or about seven times taller than the Martinique condos in Holmes Beach.

Researchers donned climbing gear and discovered the world record holder is the "Stratosphere Giant" in California's Humboldt Redwoods State Park, at 369 feet.

However, anecdotal data indicated that loggers felled a Douglas fir in British Columbia in 1895 that was supposed to have been 417 feet tall.

So the question was then asked of just how high can a tree grow, and why?

There are apparently three schools of thought on the height issue. Tree tissue was thought for a while to be a regulating measure - trees aren't like a concrete piling, where you can just add more reinforcing steel to the tree to help it withstand more and more stress.

Another thought was that tree genetics played a role. Just as in humans, where some folks are less vertically challenged than others, some trees were thought to just have that special "tall" gene that lets them loom over their peers.

But a group of researchers, writing in the magazine "Nature," have pretty much pinned down the tall-tree height issue to do with, of all things, hydraulics.

Trees have to have the ability to pipe water from their roots to the upper branches. Once up in the tree, the water makes its way to the leaves, where it evaporates. It's not a quick process, and on some redwoods it takes as much as 24 days to make the journey from root to leaf.

The taller the tree, the greater the influence of gravity on the water, and the harder the tree has to pump the water up and eventually out. And since the harder the tree has to work, the less it will flourish, the maximum height - or the point where the tree just basically says the hell with it all, I'm done, I'm tired - is about 425 feet.

Researchers are hoping the data they obtained can be used to help foresters better manage old-growth wilderness.

End of an eon?
Another old-and-slow part of Mother Nature's menagerie may become the focus of a new growth industry, in response to the housing growth industry in Florida.

Gopher tortoises like those dry, sandy pine uplands in center of the state. They live up to 60 years, grow to hundreds and hundreds of pounds, and burrow in the soft sand to get away from the midday heat. Their burrows are also home to as many as 300 other critters, since they are often upwards of 60 feet long and up to 10 feet deep.

The gopher problem is that developers, faced with all kinds of regulations on developing areas closer to the shore or in wetlands, are finding the original habitat of gophers to be a perfect spot for new houses. They aren't making any more beachfront land, but there are all of those thousands and thousands of acres in the center of the state that are just ripe for subdivisions, and little is being done to halt the march of growth.

In fact, if gopher tortoises are found on a property, a developer can either build around the burrows - fat chance in most cases - or pay for an "incidental take" permit, which lets the bulldozers do their worst to the critters.

Or, the burgeoning new third choice is to hire a gopher tortoise wrangler to corral the little gophers and relocate them to a less development-prone habitat.

Of course, what today may not be of interest to a land developer may be the be-all site for a new project tomorrow.

Gophers have few natural predators, what with their thick shells, but the eggs are vulnerable to raccoons and foxes. Females only lay between three and 15 eggs at a time, too, and there is about a 100-day incubation period, which means that there's lots of time for the eggs to be available for another critter's breakfast.

In fact, some scientists have postulated that there could well be only one spot in Central Florida that could be home to gopher tortoises in 30 years or so - Egmont Key, which does not have any development and has a thriving gopher population - at least until "Hurricane Brillo" scours the entire West Coast of Florida and inundates Anna Maria Island.

The feds and state officials are considering adding gopher tortoises to its list of "threatened" species, up from its current ranking of "species of special concern," but any ranking change would probably take a long time and, hey, a gopher tortoise isn't anywhere as interesting as a Florida panther or a manatee.

Heck, the gophers don't even have their own license plate, unlike almost everything and anything else in Florida.

Sandscript factoid
The Stratosphere Giant is estimated to be about 2,000 years old.

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