Tall Cypress Natural Area

In the Tall Cypress Natural Area in Coral Springs, cypress knees “wander” throughout the swamp floor. / Photos by Amanda Gorney

The classes during Week 4 of the Master Gardener Program took us to Tall Cypress Natural Area and included a variety of caveats — as well as terms such as “monocots,” “sedges,” “spikelets” and “dicots.”

“Monocots” refers to a plant with just one cotyledon — the part of the seed that will grow into the leaves. “Dicots” (no surprise here) have two cotyledons. “Sedges” and “rushes” are plants that resemble grasses. Sedges and grasses have spikelets, i.e., small secondary spikes.

If you find these terms confusing or hard to tell apart, just remember this handy-dandy saying used by many: “Sedges have edges; rushes are round; grasses have knees that bend to the ground.”

John Pipoly, urban horticulture and natural-resources extension agent, taught the classes that day and led us on a walk-about of Tall Cypress Natural Area.

The Tall Cypress Natural Area teems with life — fauna as well as flora.

By the way, in case you’re interested in becoming a master gardener (MG) — or if you already are — some cities need MGs now to serve on various committees. For Broward County, they include Weston, Dania Beach, Cooper City, Sea Ranch Lakes, Parkland and Pembroke Pines.

Tall Cypress Natural Area

Located in Coral Springs, this 66-acre preserve is one of the last remaining stands of swamp basin and pine flatwoods in the area. You can travel back in time and visualize what the natural area looked like prior to development — while strolling along an elevated boardwalk or a concrete trail.

Several naturalist-led walks are offered monthly, except in July and August. This natural area was the first area to offer the eNaturalist Program, a self-guided tour of the center. It is ideal for those who want to experience nature at their own pace.

Tall Cypress Natural Area

One of the “finds” on our field trip: A bromeliad (air plant) thrives on the side of this tree.

Benefits (and dangers) to using certain plants

We also received an education in which plants are beneficial and which are the opposite.

For example, the senna plant contains glycosides, a group of organic compounds that work as a natural laxative by smoothing the muscles as digested food moves through the intestines.

The cinchona is a tree whose bark is used to make medicine. The bark contains quinine, which is effective against malaria and some other diseases. Cinchona is used for increasing appetite; promoting the release of digestive juices; and treating bloating, fullness and other stomach problems.

It is also used for blood-vessel disorders such as hemorrhoids and varicose veins. Some people use cinchona for mild attacks of influenza, swine flu, the common cold, malaria and fever. Other uses are for treating mouth and throat diseases, an enlarged spleen and muscle cramps.

Cinchona is also used in eye lotions to numb pain, kill germs, and as an astringent. Cinchona extract is also applied to the skin for hemorrhoids, stimulating hair growth, and managing varicose veins.

How does it work? Cinchona bark stimulates saliva and stomach (gastric) juice secretion. It contains quinine, which is a chemical used to treat malaria.

But beware …

This palm tree’s life ended some time ago. Now it serves as home to new life.

Almonds contain cyanide. But don’t worry: The ones you buy in the store — domesticated sweet almonds — contain virtually none. The problem is the wild bitter almonds; they contain much larger concentrations of the poison. Fortunately, the bitter variety isn’t available in the U.S.

And oddly enough, Florida’s wildflower honey can be bad for those who have very low tolerance to poison ivy, due to traces in the honey of Brazilian pepper, which is related to the poison-ivy family.

And if you fear that you might, because of lack of familiarity with plants, ingest too much of a bad thing? Here’s an easy way to avoid the problem: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Cornell University have poisonous-plant listings at www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/plants/default.html and www.cornell.edu/search/?q=poison+plants, respectively.

Caveat “plantor”

We also learned what not to plant. For example, planting the invasive water chestnut can earn you a fine — $1,500 for each.