Volusia Sandhill Ecosystem
A Teaching Landscape
It'll take years to recover the longleaf sandhill ecosystem that once existed here—a one-acre, dry, sandy slope of the DeLand Ridge, located behind the Rinker Environmental Learning Center and part of the Gillespie Museum grounds. In summer 2011 the restoration began with the planting of 80 trees, mostly longleaf pines but also turkey oaks, persimmons and black cherries which are associated with upland pine forests. Small plots of understory plants have been added by student volunteers, visiting scout groups and other community partners. About an eighth of the total site has been restored to date with a pollination garden, several wiregrass areas, and plantings of greeneyes, coreopsis, pawpaw, blazing star, gopher apples and other native sandhill species. More than a restoration, this ongoing project is also an outdoor classroom and living museum, offering a unique opportunity for environmental education about a rapidly disappearing ecosystem.
As the outdoor classroom develops, paths through the landscape will feature learning stations and interpretive signs to educate visitors about a critical ecosystem that once stretched across the southeastern U.S., with a special focus on DeLand and Central Florida, from the geologic history of its coarse sands and limestone substrata to the flora and fauna that live in it. Already the landscape serves as an extension of the Gillespie Museum's environmental programming, a laboratory for Stetson University faculty and undergraduate research, and the inspiration for sustainable projects—from bee hives to a seed library (see the Research page for more information). Soon we'll add an educational kiosk, a display on non-native invasive plants and the Viva Florida Wildflower Demonstration Garden.
The Teaching Landscape is a place for all to learn about an ancient ecosystem with an unusually diverse understory, a part of Volusia County's natural history as well as to engage in restoring a small version of this ecosystem, and to help in returning a natural community to a corner of Stetson University's campus. We hope you'll join us in planting, tending and learning in the landscape.