His list of natives goes on and on, but we were particularly drawn to the aptly named rams horn. It usually grows as a bush but Shores’ specimen has become a tree, with seed pods that curl like the horns of a ram.
With the living fence in place, the yard still has plenty of sun to accommodate palms, rare shrubs and native wild flowers.
To propagate his wildflowers, Shores waits for them to go to seed and then each time he walks by he drags his fingers along a stem. The seeds fall to the ground and many germinate naturally.
Shores points out the native petunia with purple flowers that come out to play in the morning. Bright yellow-orange cosmos cover the ground. And the gaillardias or Indian blanket sport a few red flowers whose petals are tipped with yellow. By summer these will carpet the yard. And he has so many pink and red salvias that he considers them weeds.
Of course, there’s plenty of coontie too. A native nursery owner and friend told him to put the seeds on an ant mound. The ants eat away the bright orange flesh that covers the seeds, making them ready to plant.
He’s also proud of his collection of palms, including sergeant palms and two non-native red leaf palms on which the new growth is bright red for a few days before turning green.
The last time he counted, Shores had 140 species of palms in his yard. He’s particularly proud of his Coccothrinax argentatas or Florida silver palms. He has over 20 true natives that were not cross-pollinated with other Coccothrinax species.
“I just really love these palms. They are so delicate and dainty and each one has its own personality, whether it’s a differently shaped frond or a variation in coloring,” he says, pointing to the fans of this small palm that are dark blue green on top and silvery beneath.
One of his favorite specimens is over 100 years old, he believes. But these silver palms grow so slowly it’s only about eight feet tall.
He bought it in Homestead from a nursery that was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew. “It had been salvaged from a palm farm way before that,” he says. He cared so much for this particular specimen that he had his pool designed to go around it so it wouldn’t be disturbed.
Shores has many stories of rescuing plants and trading seeds with naturalists, landscapers and friends to legally acquire his rare native collection.
For example, years ago he was given a very small piece of a native Keys tree cactus when poachers were caught with it. The government agents who handled the plant bust wanted to find that particular plant a good home, so they gave it to Shores.
In another instance, a nursery gave up trying to grow a man-in-the-ground. It gets its name from its underground root that stores nutrients and help this native survive drought and fire in the pinelands. Its pink tubular flowers are often the first things to be seen pushing through the char after a forest fire.
“It is a very rare and endangered species that could easily become extinct in Dade and other counties if we’re not careful,’’ Shores says.
He took it home and has been able to grow it enough to harvest two seed pods. He plans to donate the seedlings he grows from them to the visitors’ center at Everglades National Park.
While most of his neighbor’s yards still are covered with St. Augustine grass, some have tried to emulate him and he gladly shares plants.
However, he did leave just one small patch of St. Augustine in a back corner of his own yard.
“I keep it for old time’s sake,” he says.
Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.