Don Spence, a Bethune-Cookman University natural sciences assistant professor, has just published “Plants of Canaveral National Seashore” in collaboration with the nonprofit Friends of Canaveral.
He was assisted by several others, including Dr. Hyun Jung and Ray Jarrett.
Dr. Spence was one of the inaugural speakers at the University of Florida's Plants Beyond Limits Conference, according to a B-CU newsletter. He brought the 2018 Volusia County Science Fair to B-CU, initiated a native landscaping project with Dr. Sarah Krejci and coordinated the purchase of a greenhouse for the university.
“Dr. Spence's vision for the greenhouse is to have a place to grow plants for B-CU ecology, general bio and plant physiology classes,” the newsletter states. “He has also been working on research projects that will require space to grow lots of plants. Proceeds from the book will benefit Friends of Canaveral.”
Dr. Spence, who grew up in Ormond-by-the-Sea and lives in Daytona Beach, has been at B-CU for three years. He earned a bachelor's degree at Stetson University, a master’s degree at the University of Central Florida and his doctorate at the University of Florida in plant pathology. He teaches plant physiology, plant sciences and works with students on growing plants.
“I have had an interest in plants since the late '80s,” Dr. Spence said in an interview. “I was in the military (U.S. Coast Guard). I began recognizing even back then the loss of habitat, the destruction of forest and things like that, and that’s what I decided I wanted to study. I decided plants were the key to human survival. We need them for building, lumber, medicine, it’s the foundation of society.”
The seashore book is his third. His first book was the “Ditch Plants of the Greater Daytona Beach Area” and the second was ‘Plants of the Atlantic Center for the Arts.”
The latest book, which took more than two years to complete, serves as a field guide to all the flora that exists along Canaveral National Seashore. It is only sold at the seashore's visitor center as it is a fundraiser for Friends of Canaveral.
“I own the copyright of the book and I could sell it if I want to, but I don’t want to compete with them,” Dr. Spence said. “I may sell it at some point in the future. We (contributors) donated all of our time and they paid for the printing.”
The book is full of colorful photographs and descriptions of poisonous plants, mangroves, shell middens, invasive exotic plants and pests, ferns, herbs vines, lichens and fungi, animal species and hiking trails.
“Everything is intertwined. I have been involved with the Florida Native Plant Society for 24 years. We try to connect people back to less pesticides, less chemicals, more native plants,” Dr. Spence said. “The Indian River Lagoon (for example) is the direct result of poor human management. Septic tanks, grass landscapes, a lack of native plants have created this incredibly polluted system.”
Individual homeowners can do their part to reduce the pesticide and pollution into the environment, to use less chemicals and utilize native plants, he said. “Our purpose here on the planet is to take care of the earth and we are not doing a good job of it now. We have to find ways to change the way we landscape. I think that the foundation of all of our systems has to be based on trees. Any of the native trees is going to support wildlife in one way or another. You could grow wildflowers if you chose to do so.
“The book s a guide that will help homeowners understand what they could be putting in their landscapes that is a native plant (especially along the coast),” said Dr. Spence, who also is vice president of administration of the Florida Native Plant Society. “We either change our planet today and maybe provide a planet that is biologically rich that has birds in it and butterflies.
“It’s not for us today, it’s all about posterity. All we have to do is change our behavior a little bit, and it would make a big difference. What can you do today the make the planet a better place? How can you become a better steward of your little piece of land that you live on?”