Just as Nature has made the problem of water supply a simple one to solve anywhere in Florida, so too she puts few difficulties in the way of drainage and sewage disposal. The surface soil of almost all of Florida is sand or porous sandy loam, which drinks up every drop of water that falls on its surface almost as soon as it falls. Outside of the populous parts of the cities, the standard septic tank provides all necessary facilities for domestic drainage. There are few areas anywhere in which this system works so effectively.
Next to lumber, the most popular building material in Florida in concrete blocks, for which also the raw materials are ready at hand. Florida produces a good grade of Portland cement from native limestone, and imports Belgian cement at low cost, while there is no shortage of the necessary sand and gravel to complete the concrete mixture. A commonly used ingredient is the crushed coquina rock, obtainable all along the East Coast of Florida. It resembles the coral rock of Bermuda in that it is composed of the skeletal remains of tiny sea mollusks, deposited by wave and weather through geologic eons in agglutinated masses which are more readily quarried than soft limestone.
Out of blocks of this coquina limestone the earliest Spanish settlers constructed buildings on the coast of Florida in the 16th Century, some of which in their completeness, and the foundations and main walls of many more, are still standing. Occasionally a modern Floridian builds his home out of the coquina blocks just as they come from the quarry, but the commoner method is to use the crushed coquina as part of the concrete aggregate.
Especially in the hurricane belt, properly made concrete blocks properly laid up make houses which can withstand the highest wind velocities. A common practice is to cast the blocks with a hollow center and lay them up so that these center holes will form a continuous tubular opening from foundation to roof plate; then to put reinforcement rods in these channels and pour liquid concrete in from above to form a permanent binder. With its roof anchored to the concrete walls, thoroughly braced from within, and the exterior so designed as to leave no tricky projections or overhangs to afford the wind a toehold, the result is a hurricane-proof house.
Many better-class homes in South Florida are equipped with sun heaters to provide the domestic hot water supply. Metal tanks of several hundred gallons capacity are set in the attic, with glass or thin sheet metal covers sloping toward the South, and there is no further need to worry about whether there is hot water enough. Without cost, the Florida sun takes care of that perennial domestic problem.
One of the charms of Florida which delights the winter visitor from the North and is a cause of perpetual joy to the year-’round residents, is the luxuriance with which every green thing grows and the profusion and gorgeousness of its infinite variety of flowers.
Shove a green stick into Florida’s soil and you have a tree so soon that it seems, figuratively, almost over night. Plant a seed and up pops a flower. Wherever one turns he sees lush green foliage, that most times of the year is ablaze with blossoms or laden with fruit, while the air is filled with the song of birds and the flashing of their bright wings. No one who has seen the bougainvillea vine climbing to the top of a lofty pine, covered with purple blossoms, with a mocking bird singing his unmatchable paean of joy among its clusters, ever wants to leave Florida; when compelled to do so he never can shake off the desire to go back.
Few winter tourists ever see the most gorgeous sight which Florida offers every Spring. The royal poinciana trees do not bloom until May, but for six weeks their flaming masses of color rival even the glories of Florida’s sunsets. In May, too, the oleanders, white and red, bloom in the fields and door yards and along the highways. In a climate in which the horticultural possibilities are unlimited it is natural that the garden clubs of Florida should have developed into one of the most influential factors in the life of the state. The ladies of the Federation of Garden Clubs have undertaken the ambitious program of planting both sides of the thousands of miles of Florida’s highways with continuous flower gardens, so that the motorist finds himself hedged by blossoms wherever he goes. Already hundreds of miles have been planted with oleanders, azaleas and other flowering shrubs, to make a trail of beauty.
In a land where everything grows and blossoms and fructifies with so little effort, the beautification of dooryards and patios, of city streets and parks and of waste places which might otherwise be eyesores, has become a hobby which Florida folk pursue with passionate enthusiasm. To the resident of the North, familiar with the effort and cost involved in nursing a few trees and hedgerow shrubs to maturity, even the least pretentious homes and communities of Florida give at first glance the impression of being inhabited by millionaires. Outside of a botanical garden, under glass, few Florida tourists have ever seen most of the growing things which they find here in profusion, wherever they look.
Botanists have listed more than two thousand distinct varieties of palms. More than three hundred of them grow somewhere in Florida, many of them everywhere. These re markable trees, one of the most ancient forms of vegetation, give to Florida much of the tropical aspect which is one of the essential elements in the attraction which the state has for people from the North. They not only suggest the tropics, but they are among the loveliest of decorative trees and their wind resistance is extremely high. Commonest is the ordinary cabbage palm, which is all but indestructible. It will take root anywhere, stand transplantation and seems never to die a natural death. The taller, statelier Washington palm is not so common and is more highly prized as a decorative tree. These and several other varieties of palm flourish all over Florida.
The largest collection of palm trees in America is in the “Palmetum” of Col. Robert Montgomery, on his estate south of Coconut Grove, where more than 300 species are grown.
The royal palm is the most prized of all, because of its bulbous, tapering trunk of the smoothness, apparent consistency and approximate color of a pillar of concrete, and the spread and density of its thick green fronds, which make it especially desirable as a shade tree. One of the most famous and beautiful streets in Florida is the avenue in the city of Fort Myers, lined on both sides with great royal palms seventy-five feet or more high.
All along both coasts of Florida one finds the coconut palms, recognizable as far as one can see them because their curved trunks seldom stand upright but on a slant, while they usually grow in clumps, like the northern white birch. Florida’s coconut palms are the offspring of a shipload of coconuts wrecked off the Florida coast in the 1880’s. The cargo of nuts floated ashore, sprouted and took root and the shore where they grew was named Palm Beach.
There is no sharp line where the pines leave off and the palms begin. There are fewer palms to the acre in North Florida and fewer of the native pines in South Florida, but the most beautiful of all the pine trees, an importation from the southern hemisphere, grows so profusely and so thickly in the southern part of the State that one can hardly look in any direction without seeing it. This is the Australian pine, so called, although it is not a true pine. Its long, needle-like leaves are softer and silkier in appearance than those of the native pines, and grow so much more thickly that the Australian pine is coming into general use for hedges and windbreaks. It is a highly ornamental tree, growing symmetrically to a height of fifty feet or so, and adapts itself to topiary trimming when used for ornamental hedges.
One of the most interesting avenues in Florida is a road in Palm Beach lined with tall Australian pines which the owner of the adjacent property, Mr. E. T. Stotesbury, senior partner of Drexel, Morgan & Company, Philadelphia bankers, keeps trimmed into perfectly symmetrical cones. In the principal citrus growing regions of Florida, thickly planted rows of Australian pines around the borders of the orange and grapefruit groves, have been found to make the most effective windbreak against the occasional gale which threatens to shake the fruit off the trees before it is ripe. That is the only utilitarian value of the Australian pine so far discovered. Its wood is brittle and useless for lumber. It yields neither fruit nor turpentine. As an ornamental tree for lawns and parks it has the disadvantage that no other vegetation will grow under the shade of its boughs. But the Australian pine, with all those limitations, is a beautiful tree to look at, and it has the added merit that it can be propagated from cuttings, which take root almost instantly and grow with amazing speed into full-sized trees. Five-year-old Australian pines are frequently more than twenty-five feet high, with a limb spread as great as their height. First introduced in the extreme South, they have been advancing northward until now there is hardly any part of Florida in which they have not been planted.
One of the most beautiful of the native Florida trees, which is also a source of a hard, fine-grained cabinet wood, is the magnolia. There is no part of Florida in which the magnolia does not grow wild in the fertile hammocks and areas of rich loam soil which so unexpectedly appear in the midst of vast acreages of sandy pine-land. In the well-watered and still almost virgin forests of the Gulf coast, lying roughly between the Withlacoochee and the Suwannee rivers, are groves of magnolias, to see which in bloom is well worth the difficulties of an excursion into the forest. One of the earliest trees to blossom in the Spring, late-staying tourists are often delighted at coming unexpectedly upon a huge magnolia tree in full flower. There are few more beautiful sights.