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A vine grows over a small pond covered in algae and fallen shrub branches
Information icon Okeechobee gourd vines spreading across the landscape at restoration site. Photo by Rob Hopper, South Florida Water Management District.

Okeechobee gourd thriving at Everglades restoration site

The endangered Okeechobee gourd got a new home and started the new year, and for that matter, the new decade with a bang.

Previous efforts to successfully translocate the gourd and establish new populations were relatively unsuccessful, due to issues that included hydrology, predation, and invasive competition. However, in the summer of 2019, several locations within the Sam Jones/Abiaki Prairie Restoration site south of Lake Okeechobee were planted with the gourd, and today they are thriving.

A fruiting vine that looks a lot like a tiny watermellon with a shriveled orange flower
Fruit growing on Okeechobee gourd vine. Photo by Rob Hopper, South Florida Water Management District.

According to South Florida Ecological Services Office (SFESO) Biologist Andrew Eastwick, staff at the South Florida Water Management District, who are spearheading this effort at Sam Jones/Abiaki Prairie, recently reported vines are now growing beyond 15 feet and spreading into both upland and wetland areas with some gourds flowering, and one appears to be setting fruit.

“This news is an exciting way to bring in 2020,” said Eastwick. “Efforts to translocate this gourd and start a new population have been very challenging over the years. Establishing and maintaining new populations is critical to our recovery efforts because the more populations you have, the better the chance for this species to survive.”

“This is especially cool because it’s happening at an Everglades Restoration site,” he added. “So it demonstrates both the success of translocating this plant, as well as the success of the Abiaki Prairie restoration site.”

A Service biologist in uniform in the field kneeling next to a charred tree on sandy soil
Service biologist Andrew Eastwick works in the field. Photo by USFWS.

Eastwick said the gourds were planted in 10 different areas. “We’ll continue to monitor the gourds as they hopefully progress through various life stages. What we really want to see is them producing fruit. So far, we’re encouraged by what we’ve seen. Kudos to our conservation partners.”

The Everglades restoration site is an approximately 15,000-acre former citrus grove that will be restored to its historic condition as a wet prairie system with depression marshes, cypress domes and hardwood hammocks.

The project is located in southeastern Hendry County. At the District’s invitation, the Seminole Tribe chose to rename the project property the Sam Jones/Abiaki Prairie after their spiritual leader and hero (known by both names), who was thought to have lived on the property.

Tim Breen, Supervisory Biologist and leader of the SFESO’s Everglades North Team said, “The work Andrew has put into this with our partners at the District is paying off. This restoration project will help improve habitat conditions for a variety of wildlife species And now, hopefully, that includes the endangered Okeechobee gourd.”

Contact

Ken Warren, public affairs specialist
ken_warren@fws.gov, (772) 469-4323

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