By Suzanne Grill
For Hometown News
ORMOND BEACH - "This is Rouge Plant," Sonya Guidry explains, squeezing a drop of juice from the red berry onto the back of my hand, and rubbing it into a small circle. "And here, chew on this for a moment. It's called Hercules' Club, or toothache plant."
My lips began to gently numb. "Native Americans used it for toothache," she says. "Can you see why?"
Ms. Guidry is the Field Trip Chair for the East Volusia Paw Paw Chapter of the Native Plant Society, who coordinated the tour I am taking called, "Native Plants in Public Places." Our tour guide is Sharon Rich, Unitarian Church member and a Habitat Steward with the National Wildlife Foundation.
Rouge Plant and Hercules' Club are just two of the plants found in the Unitarian Universalist Society Church's Native Plant Garden, part of its Green Sanctuary project. The church is located on Halifax Avenue, just north of Granada Boulevard in Ormond Beach. The garden sits at the north end of the property, a project that began two years ago, although getting rid of the invasive species that had made it their home began a few years before that, thanks to some very determined volunteers.
In 2008, the Unitarian group applied for and was awarded a conservation grant from the Native Plant Society to create the habitat garden, a memorial to long-time member Wayne Johnson. When completed, hopefully within the next few weeks, it will be certified by the National Wildlife Foundation.
Strolling through the maritime hammock, one of only two in this area, we recognized Blue Spiderwort, Native Lantana, Scorpion's Tail, Sabal Palms, Coralbean, Saw Palmetto, Swamp Milkweed and Swamp Hibiscus (a rarity), Coontie Fern, Tropical Sage, Firebush, Ironweed, Wax Myrtle, Simpson's Stopper, Pink Purslane, Cassia Privet, Pepperweed, Wild Olive, Wild Coffee, and a native grape vine, among others. Ms. Rich explains that some parts of many of these plants are edible, including the nettle tubers.
"Many of these plants were chosen," she says, "because they like a lot of sun, and don't need a lot of water. In addition, they'll provide food and shelter for the more than twenty species of local butterflies we have in this area."
The group strolls around the Cherry Laurel, Magnolia and Live Oak trees. A low section in the middle creates an intermittent wetland, also a rarity. The group's goal is to increase the size of the hammock, develop and maintain the garden as an environmental project and educational tool for members, and perhaps make a space for outdoor meetings or classes. But for now, the revived habitat's purpose is to attract more butterflies, birds, and beneficial insects with the promise of food, water and shelter. Someone spots a Downy woodpecker. A pair of butterflies flutters around our heads. It seems to be working.
As more people become environmentally concerned, religious and social service groups are working to make their buildings more sustainable, seeing it as a reflection of their values. Kurtland Davies, Unitarian Church member and Green Project participant at the Ormond Beach compound, is one who sees the bigger picture.
"The 'inter-connectiveness' of all things is one of our beliefs, so naturally, taking care of the Earth is one of our principles. We need to be better stewards of our planet," he said.
In addition to the native habitat, the society building has solar panels, a rain garden, and energy-efficient lighting and appliances. New classes are also being offered, one focusing on healthy children, and one on food of the future.
Mr. Davies and his wife have created a 15-minute presentation on becoming a Green Sanctuary, available for viewing.
"Only about one percent of Unitarian Universalist Society Churches are certified as Green Sanctuaries," he estimates, "and we want to be a beacon."
For information on touring the garden or seeing what else the Ormond Beach group is doing, contact Mr. Davies at 677-6172, Sharon Rich at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the church's Web site, www.uuormond.net.