Gumbo Limbo Environmental Complex
1801 North Ocean Blvd.
Boca Raton, FL (561) 338-1473

The  Gumbo Limbo Environmental Complex is the result of the foresighted city government of Boca Raton, FL. Decades ago, a special tax was enacted to purchase the land on which the complex is located. Run by Florida Atlantic University, which is responsible for upkeep and day to day operations, many programs dealing with environmental and biological topics are offered to the general public. An addition to the 1/3 mile Tree Path boardwalk has recently been completed and dedication ceremonies are scheduled for January, 2002.

The Visitor's Center is stop number one. The walls are lined covered with examples of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish. Some are alive (and caged like the King snake), others are are stuffed (however that word doesn't do the exhibits justice). Turtle shells, an alligator jaw bone and even a narwhal horn are just a few of the items guaranteed to capture your attention. Beyond the Visitor's Center is the Learning Center, staff area, veterinary hospital and a remarkable collection of plants and flowers, many native to Florida. The complex provides a number of educational programs which are open to the general public. One of the complex's main goals is the rescue of turtles. Green, leatherback or loggerhead, it makes no difference to the staff and volunteers. Nesting grounds for these three species are right across the street from the Visitor's Center's front door.

Maps provide an overview of the complex. There are three main attractions at the Gumbo Limbo Environmental Complex.
Icons painted on the walkways lead you to these attractions.

The Tree Path
Between the Inter-coastal waterway and the Atlantic Ocean, this nature center has preserved a piece of land keeping it in the same state as the Spanish would have seen during their explorations centuries ago. A boardwalk running in a 1/3 mile circle allows visitors to walk a couple of feet above ground level. Many trees are identified as well as particular points of interest along the walk. Trees include  fiddlewood, iornwood, inkwood, oaks, maples and palms providing the hammock canopy. Here a Strangler Fig and Cabbage Palm are locked in an embrace.

Many shrubs and bushed thrive beneath the canopy including the beautiful firebush, cocoa plum, spider lily and the unlikely named snowberry. One site which caught my attention was a Native American midden. A midden is simply a trash heap, this one consisting of many shells which were opened long ago and the contents eaten in the shady area called a hammock.  Mangroves, perched well above the ground on their stilt-like legs harbor what seems like a Fiddler's Crab play area. If you look carefully, you may see one waving his claw in the air. That's the crab equivalent of "Hi. Buy you a drink?" Cabbage Palms grow tall here and a small grove of young palms assures that as long as the Complex remains, these youngsters will grow from their current three feet to a soaring forty feet. A tower allows you to climb up and through the canopy. At the top, you can see Mizner Park across the inter-costal waterway. Frequently, you can see manatees, those lumbering sea cows perhaps mis-identified as mermaids by sailors of old, as their whiskers poke above the water's surface, then submerge in a swirl of water. Looking east, the Atlantic lies just beyond a protected Turtle nesting site.

The Fish Path
Three salt water tanks provides visitors with different environments. The first is a "swirl tank" containing fish, corals, anemones, sea urchins, star fish and sponges. While the swirl tank was interesting,  I quickly moved on to the second tank where a Gumbo Limbo Volunteer sat. Swimming in the tank was a camera shy, two year old loggerhead turtle.

The guide said her name was Sprite, but confessed that no one would know the turtle's gender for another two years when it is to be released, if then. Despite calling the turtle "her", I discovered that the odds are that Sprite was a male because he was born in the fall. Turtle eggs are temperature dependent. Warmer temperatures produce females, cooler males. Determining gender is difficult,  even after maturity (which might explain why mature turtles lead solitary lives!). The third tank consisted of a sandy shallow lagoon where small fish zipped over lazy skates flapping across the sandy bottom. One skate slowly buried itself on the bottom next to a bright orange starfish. Hermit crabs scurried over sand dollars, barely discernible on the shallow slope.

The Butterfly Path
This easy walk passes through the Butterfly Garden. Various varieties of flowering plants attract butterflies like a lamp on a dark night attracts their cousins. A half dozen butterflies of different species flitted from plant to plant.

While an enjoyable stroll, many more butterflies can be seen at the nearby  Butterfly World on Sample Road. There is an admission charge to Butterfly World - (954) 977-4400 for specifics.  The butterfly path continues to a sandy beach on the inter-coastal waterway.

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