Wakodahatchee and Green Cay Recycle Sewer Water, Entertain Bird-Watchers, and Spawn Super-Herbs

28 Jan
Great Blue Heron (JB)

Great Blue Heron (JB)

Green Kay Nature Center CLICK

Boynton Beach

Has restrooms, gift shop, visitor center, ample parking

100 acres with 1.5-mile boardwalk

Wakodahatchee Wetlands  CLICK

Delray Beach

Has coarse restrooms but no visitor center, parking jammed on busy days

50 acres with ¾-mile boardwalk


“Palm Beach County Water Utilities Department’s Southern Region Water Reclamation Facility pumps approximately two million gallons of highly treated water into the Wakodahatchee Wetlands. By acting as a natural filter for the nutrients that remain, the wetlands work to further cleanse the water.” (From the Wakodahatchee web site)

John was away having fun Friday, so today’s topic is more southern than usual.  My wife Donna and I skipped around the Wakodahatchee Wetlands boardwalk in Delray Beach, then a second loop to prolong the joy.  Near each other geographically, Wakodahatchee and Green Cay are wastewater reclamation sites with benefits. Sewage treatment generates leftover water after subtracting solids and organic matter, and pathogen suppression.  The most salient problem with the the effluent is its heavy nutrient load, a special curse here in nutrient-overloaded Florida and its beleaguered aquifers.

Wood Stork (by JB)

Wood Stork (by JB)

There are varied ways to dispose of the juice, and they all stink.  One approach is to spread it over an area inhabited by marshy plants to extract the unwanted nutrients.   It is not my intent to evaluate the environmental pros and cons of such treatment as opposed to alternatives.  You have to do something with stinkjuice, so we might as well enjoy it.   Wakodahatchee Wetlands and Green Cay service millions of reclaimed gallons daily over a collective 150 acres.  (The water smells only a teensie weensie.  Not a problem to most noses.)

Roseate Spoonbills (JB)

Roseate Spoonbills (JB)

Now to the good stuff.  Both wetlands are famous for is birds and critters:  anhingas, bobcats, coots, cormorants, ducks, ducks and more ducks, egrets, gators, glossy ibis, grebes, herons of all stripes, marsh hares, marsh wrens, moorhens, people in funny hats, purple galinules, spoonbills, warblers, wood storks, and more.   What a joy to see so many people drawn to the birds and bees, and as a byproduct of sewage no less.

Now what about the botany?  The fauna upstages the flora, but still the plants give a glimpse of life in a super-nutrient-enriched soup.  Is it fair to state that native Florida marsh plants tend to be nutrient-limited under pristine natural circumstances?    The designers of Green Cay say they modeled the “ecosystem” on the Everglades.  But what could be farther apart environmentally:  at one extreme, the Everglades where we worry about 10 parts per billion phosphorus, and at the other pole, sewage broth with a smorgasboard of nutrients.  Reclaimed water in Naples has phosphorus at 370 parts per billion.  Or to put it differently, the Everglades model leaves me behind as soon as I don’t see Sawgrass!

It is not only Sawgrass that is missing or scarce.  We think of Cattails invading the Everglades thanks to nutrient pollution, yet cattails are not an important presence at today’s venues.  The  dominant plants are:  Alligator Flag (Thalia geniculata),   Arrowhead (Sagittaria lancifolia),  Bulrushes (Schoenoplectus species),  Knotted Spikerush (Eleocharis interstincta),  Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata),  Pondapples (Annona glabra) with cormorant nests and guano, Spadderdock (Nuphar luteum) with floating tubers as big as alligators,  and Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes).  There are others, of course, but the lush vista is species-poor missing the fine-tuned diversity of grasses, sedges, rushes, xyris, wetland shrubs, and wildflowers typically encountered in natural wetland ecosystems.

The created wetlands are a study of plant life in unlimited water, unlimited sunshine, and an overdose of nutrients. So then, with all that abundance, what does limit plant growth there in marsh heaven?  Perhaps space to grow.  Wakodahatchee and Green Cay are wall-to-wall with a comparatively small number of planted species and uninvited others in massive often monospecific stands.  Acre-sized drifts of single species.

In a nutshell, to a visitor with a camera interested in birds the sites are a delight, and that is genuinely a wonderful thing.  I am enthusiastically one of the delighted, funny hat an all.  I go there frequently and love it for all the favorable features, even if botanically the “ecosystem” is more of heavily fertilized garden than a Florida wetland.  Hey, I like gardens too.

Hydrocotyle spreading at Wakodahatchee

Hydrocotyle spreading at Wakodahatchee

Some of the spontaneous species are abundant and eye-catching.  In the Carrot Family, Water-Pennyworts, Hydrocotyle umbellata (I think it is umbellata from above on the boardwalk), form sprawling rhizomatous mats.  Hydrocotyles are the dreaded Dollarweeds in suburban lawns.  You’d never see the relationship to carrots without a close look at the flowers, or maybe a sniff of bruised leaves.  University of Michigan ethnobotancial files  record Seminoles applying the herbs against “turtle sickness,” i.e. “tembling,  short breath, and cough.”  I think I might suffer T.S. just before public presentations, but I’ll just imagine the crowd in their skivvies, because, as with many members of the Carrott Family, ingesting the plant is a toxic gamble.  My neurotic anxieties aside, Hydrocotyles are prominent in herbology.  CLICK

Water-Hyssop island carpet at Wakodahatchee

Water-Hyssop island carpet at Wakodahatchee

Another modest mud-dweller, Water-Hyssop, Bacopa monnieri, is again an herbal superstar.  This little member of the erstwhile Scropulariaceae has a medicinal reputation out of proportion for a nutrient-greedy mat-forming weed.  Regarded debatably as a Florida native, this small creeper is all around the warm-climate world, and has has ancient names in both hemispheres.  In both the Eastern and Western hemispheres old medicinal uses abound, too many to list, although recurrent applications are against rheumatism and to counter neurologic disorders.   To skip ahead a few centuries, the species has popped into modern medical research of interest against Alzheimer’s Disease, perhaps a contemporary echo of ancient uses against dementia.

Take two Bacopas and call me in the morning.

Take two Bacopas and call me in the morning.


Posted by on January 28, 2014 in Green Cay, Wakodahatchee Wetlands


Tags: , , ,

9 responses to “Wakodahatchee and Green Cay Recycle Sewer Water, Entertain Bird-Watchers, and Spawn Super-Herbs

  1. Laure Hristov

    January 29, 2014 at 6:31 am

    Can’t wait to get back to these two places for a visit. We used to go all the time, especially for the bird watching. Now I will be aware of the plants too!

  2. George Rogers

    January 29, 2014 at 6:49 am

    Hi Laure, Well the Alligator Flag is a sight to behold. Hey, it is 6:49 AM. We are early birds.

  3. Laure Hristov

    January 29, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    Yes we are! Early bird gets the worm and keeps the job! LOL!

  4. Mike Y

    January 30, 2014 at 9:56 am

    I think I want to see a photo with you and your funny hat

    • George Rogers

      January 30, 2014 at 10:58 am

      Some things are better suppressed.

  5. Diane Goldberg

    January 30, 2014 at 6:29 pm

    I was surprised that you said eating pennywort was “a toxic gamble”. Since I don’t spray any herbicides or pesticides in my garden, I graze on pennywort all the time. It taste like parsley. The pennywort I eat is Hydrocotyle bonariensis. Please see

    • George Rogers

      January 30, 2014 at 7:32 pm

      Apiaceae are among the most toxic plant families, carrots, parsley, celery (which can be nasty toxic) and some spices notwithstanding. Among the many toxins found in that family are coumarins, which interfere with the translation of genes into proteins. Coumarins are so cytotoxic they are of interest for killing malignancies. We know that plants make all manner of bioactive compounds to protect themselves, but we can never know what all the compounds in any species might be, or their effects on humans. And even within a species the levels of different toxins vary.

      Here is a quote re. Hydrocotyle umbellata from the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center that takes all my fun out of Hydrocotyle salad:

      Warning: Ingesting the leaves may cause nausea. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a person’s age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable because of their curiosity and small size. Toxicity can vary in a plant according to season, the plant’s different parts, and its stage of growth; and plants can absorb toxic substances, such as herbicides, pesticides, and pollutants from the water, air, and soil.

      I am not worried about nibbling a plant and keeling over kicking and retching, although actually I have experienced that when younger and immortal, and I’ve seen an entire class (not mine) of plant-nibbling enthusiasts show up in the ER simultaneously after enjoying a “safe” little botanical snack.

      What does worry me are more subtle concerns—DNA damage, neurological damage, liver/kidney trouble, carcinogenicity. I get my greens at the supermarket and worry instead about E. coli in the spinach and pesticides in the lettuce.

  6. Steve

    February 5, 2014 at 11:29 am

    As always, nice pics John, and nice site to visit George. Rumor has it that Hydrocotyle is now placed in the Araliaceae, and they now stick Bacopa in the Plantaginaceae. I think the Araliaceae is a cousin family to the Apiaceae, both have similar fragrances to their leaves. Plantaginaceae is a cousin to Scrophulariaceae I believe. I am guessing those families too are toxic. I am now old enough to grumble about such things, as I’ve joined the club of botanists who make such statements as “I remember when this plant was called yadayada, and was in the yadayada family….”

    Bacopa monnieri is a larval host plant for White peacock butterflies, not necessarily an indicator of nativity all on its own, but certainly helps. Asians make a tea or drink out of Pennywort (Centella asiatica), a cousin of Hydrocotyle, and you can buy it in cans at the Asian markets. English plantains and their kin (Plantago spp., not the banana cousin), also listed for the Plantaginaceae, have long been used as teas in Europe. I’ve tried it, and it did help with my cough.

  7. George Rogers

    February 5, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    Thank you for all the diverse inputs Steve. Traditionally the similar Araliaceae and Apiaceae were distinguuished largely by the former being woody and the latter non-woody, but molecular data fail to uphold tradiitonal borders, so you wind up with family boundary gerrymandering. DNA has turned traditional families on their ears in many cases, including the old Scropulariaceae with a vengeance. Someday when I’m in a weird mood I’ll devote the blog to “paraphyly,” the culprit in a lot of changes, which nobody will understand or care about, I’m not even sure I do, but that never stoped me before. Worrying about the nativity of worldwide weeds is such a chore…so I live in contended semi-ignorance with “worldwide weed.”


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