Comprehensive Management Plan

In 2002, an initial inventory of the Genius Preserve divided the site into 11 units:

A subsequent detailed inventory was conducted using the Florida Land Use Cover and Forms Classification System criteria to determine specific habitat structure and management needs. The FLUCFCS criteria help determine specific ecological needs of a particular habitat.

BUFFERS (back to top)

An ecological buffer is essentially a vegetative barrier. In this case, native and ornamental shrubs and trees were planted along the fence that separates the Ward Gate and Ward House from the neighboring homes that are out of scale with the Genius Preserve. Trees such as bald cypress, Southern red cedar, Southern magnolia, longleaf pine and cabbage palm, understory species such as Chickasaw plum, Florida anise, redbud and camellia, and shrubs and groundcover species such as coontie, ginger, bird of paradise and saw palmetto will, in three to five years, provide an effective buffer with little maintenance beyond initial watering throughout the first winter. A buffer is also necessary along the fence that borders the north edge of the Preserve beyond Wind Song. In addition to those plants listed above, this palette includes many flowering species such as scarlet milkweed, gardenia and spiderwort, as well as coffee and silver saw palmetto.

ECOLOGICAL (back to top)

Ecological units are areas determined to have relatively healthy, native habitats. Using the Florida Land Use, Cover and Forms Classification System, the following ecological units were located on the south side of the Genius Reserve:

4382 Mixed Upland Hardwoods with Native/Undisturbed Groundcover
4383 Mixed Upland Hardwoods with Dense Fern Groundcover

These habitats are primarily hardwood with a palmetto understory. Canopy species identified in these habitats include live oak, pignut hickory and laurel oak with a second tier canopy of Southern magnolia. Species identified in the understory, in addition to saw palmetto, include beautyberry, coralbean and a wide mix of ferns. 

GARDENS (back to top)

Gardens, specific to the Genius Preserve, are defined as areas that either were flowering at the time of the survey or are identified as potential sites for enhancing historic flowering gardens.

The buffer plantings indicated earlier are here identified as gardens. The intention of these plantings is to integrate a series of native and ornamental plantings that provide flowering gardens that reflect the nature of the existing landscape. The flowering plants chosen to buffer the Wind Song house include ornamental exotics such as gardenia, camellia, hibiscus, scarlet milkweed and bird of paradise and such native flowering species as blue flag iris and spiderwort. These selections reflect the more formal landscape of the Wind Song home.

By contrast, the flowering plants selected for the Ward House buffer were chosen for their potential to attract pollinators and for their low maintenance requirements. These plants include Chickasaw plum, ginger and Southern magnolia. In addition, many of the plants reseed themselves, offering an opportunity to cultivate new plants for planting elsewhere on the Preserve. Seedlings will be carefully transplanted to the nursery where they can be tended to until they are ready for use in a later restoration.

GENIUS DRIVE (back to top)

Charles Morse’s desire to create a true “winter park” is revealed along the graceful curves of Genius Drive. Morse’s vision captured the natural beauty of the region in an alluring manner by placing turns every 50 feet along the drive, obliging visitors to take in the scenery at a close and careful pace. To complement the majestic oaks, Morse lined the drive with many ornamental flowering shrubs and trees including azalea, bougainvillea, shell ginger, camellia, lantana, orchid trees and turk’s cap.

Today, these remnant historic plantings remain a testament to the Morse vision, however, freezes have left them in need of care and replacement. The management plan for Genius Drive necessitates their maintenance; it allows native flowering plants to be interspersed among the ornamental species to enhance the sustainable quality of this historic drive. In addition, exotic trees such as Chinaberry and earpod infringed on the native canopy and aesthetic view and have since been removed.

Eventually, parking for the Genius Preserve will become an issue. The most degraded area of the Preserve lies to the west of Genius Drive across from the Ward Gate. A parking area could be established along the fence line between the Preserve and the adjacent subdivision. In addition to the fence, a flowing creek separates these two properties. Walking from this area into the Preserve ingratiates the visitor with a remarkable difference in scenery looking into the Preserve and out at the adjacent development.

GROVES (back to top)

Groves are remnants of a historical working landscape that once defined Winter Park and Florida. The largest remaining citrus grove within the Winter Park city limits exists within the Genius Preserve. This grove both centers and defines the Preserve. It has been classified under the Florida Land Use, Cover and Forms Classification System:

221 Active Citrus Grove

2211 Remnant or Demonstration Citrus Crop

Its restoration will serve as an ideal centerpiece for the Genius Preserve.

Additional citrus groves are being created or restored elsewhere on the Preserve, including at the north edge of the Cedar Grove just east of the Ward Gate entrance to the Preserve, and in the yard north of the Ward House.

Historically, banana groves were also established on the Preserve. They are located along Lake Virginia in the southwest area of the Preserve and near the north edge of the Preserve at Lake Mizell. Intense exotic removal was necessary to return the groves to a healthy state. The restoration plan for the most degraded banana plantation was implemented in the spring of 2006. It is discussed in more detail in the Restoration section of the Comprehensive Management Plan.

NURSERY (back to top)

Download "Genius Reserve: Guide to the Native Plant Nursery” (PDF)

As many native plants are not readily available and can be expensive to purchase, a nursery of native and historic Preserve plants has been established in the shell of the old aviary. Here, students employ various propagation methods such as cuttings, air-layering, division, seed propagation and found seedling transplantation. Students tend to the progeny until they are ready to be replanted at a restoration site.

The presence of an active nursery will ensure the availability of desired plants for future restoration efforts. As well, the historic ornamental vegetation is a better quality and more desirable than that of the same species that can be purchased in today’s commercial nurseries. Continued propagation of these historic specimens will most likely produce similarly more desirable progeny.

Nursery Creation

The nursery is centrally located within the Preserve. In the summer of 2005, all that remained of the aviary was a deteriorating chain link fence, overgrown with weeds and vines. At that time, the fence was repaired and the vegetation cleared. An irrigation system was installed, and a weed mat was laid over most of the nursery floor. A structure was created within the nursery for storage of tools and supplies; it also serves as a workspace.

The area surrounding the nursery was landscaped with native plants that would blend the nursery into the nearby mesic oak habitat and also provide continuity with restoration areas. Native plants utilized in the landscaping include coontie, Southern magnolia, Simpson’s stopper, swamp dogwood, saw palmetto and beautyberry. For color, and to attract pollinators such as butterflies, bees and birds, scarlet milkweed, coral honeysuckle vines and portwerweed were planted along the front of the nursery along with existing lantana. Gopher apple and wiregrass were later planted at the edge of the landscaping as foraging for gopher tortoises. A canopy of large, existing oak and hickory provide periodic shade for the nursery.

Nursery Propagation Method: Cuttings

Plants such as Florida anise, Formosa azalea, beautyberry, bougainvillea, camellia, wild coffee, coral honeysuckle, Simpson’s stopper and Southern magnolia can be propagated by a method known as cutting. This involves removing a young and active branch from the parent plant, stripping off the lower leaves and placing it in a small pot of healthy soil. The branch tip is often coated with a root hormone to stimulate root growth prior to placing it in the soil.

Nursery Propagation Method: Air-Layering

Air-layering is similar to the cutting method in that its intention is to force root growth on an existing branch. The difference, however, is that root development takes place while the branch is still attached to the parent plant. As well, the resulting progeny will be much larger than that from a cutting and should be ready for transplan-tation once it establishes a healthy root system. This method is suitable for most woody shrubs including swamp dogwood and Simpson’s stopper.

The air-layering method begins by selecting a healthy branch with a significant amount of foliage. It is preferable to choose a branch with a clean, straight stalk and little to no small branches to hinder the process. The supply of nutrients is severed by stripping about one inch of the cambium layer from the branch. The bare stalk is immediately coated with root hormone, covered with moist sphagnum, and wrapped tightly in plastic cling wrap and again with aluminum foil to ensure that no moisture can escape.

After approximately four to six weeks, roots should become visible. When a significant amount of roots are visible, the progeny can be cut just below the root ball and planted with the sphagnum still intact.  

Nursery Propagation Method: Division

Division is one of the easiest propagation methods. Many plants, such as ginger, produce side shoots that eventually begin to root and clump on their own despite their attachment to the parent plant. Grasses such as wiregrass and Elliott’s love grass also tend to clump. Division involves either severing the side shoot along with its root system or simply breaking up clumps and transplanting them to a new pot. Once the progeny has re-established itself and appears healthy, the new plant can be transplanted to a new location.

Nursery Propagation Method: Seed Propagation

Although many plants provide an abundance of seeds, growing these and other plants from seed is one of the more difficult methods of plant propagation. It is also one of the most prolonged methods as it may take months or even years, depending on the type of plant to grow a specimen that is ready to be transplanted into the wild. Conditions required for seeds to produce vary considerably: some have specific dormancy periods that, if not met, will cause the seed to die before germinating; some have a protective seed coat that must be broken down before the seed can receive water and nutrients necessary for growth; others have even more specific requirements such as exposure to fire or cold temperatures. These conditions make seed propagation somewhat tricky, however, students are experimenting with growing pignut hickory, live oak and coontie from seed in the Preserve nursery.

Nursery Propagation Method: Seedling Transplantation

Trees such as Southern red cedar, pignut hickory, bald cypress and live oak are good candidates for seedling transplantation. Because these trees are difficult to propagate from seed, naturally occurring seedlings are a good way to grow them successfully. Careful inspection of the Cedar Grove and Lakefront Restoration area floors and other Preserve areas have turned up many seedlings that have been transplanted to pots in the nursery where they can be protected and nurtured until they are ready to be replanted in a restoration site. These delicate seedlings are likely to be trampled, mowed or sprayed with herbicide if they sprout in restoration areas where constant maintenance is necessary. Transplanting them to the nursery will help insure their successful growth. 

PASTORAL  (back to top)

A pastoral landscape is a one that offers a pleasant mix of open space and a canopy of trees, providing a park-like setting. Approximately one quarter of the Genius Preserve is considered pastoral, receiving a Florida Land Use, Cover and Forms Classification System designation of 427 (as having a canopy dominated by Live Oak with modified understory conditions).

The best model of the Genius Preserve’s pastoral landscape is an area that runs from the Cedar Grove south to the Ward House, bordered on the east by Genius Drive, and the West by Lake Mizell. Where once exotics such as earpod, Chinaberry and camphor trees dominated the canopy, is now a gently rolling meadow under a shaded canopy of live oak and Southern magnolia, dotted with citrus and various wildflowers, creating an idyllic aesthetic. This setting provides one of the most beautiful and coherent vistas in Winter Park.

PATHS  (back to top)

A system of paths or foot trails that connect various points within the Genius Preserve already exists, however many of these paths have not been maintained and have become overgrown and overrun with exotics. Jeannette’s Walk, so-named because Jeannette Genius McKean frequented this path that runs along Lake Berry between the Ward House and the central orange grove, is lined with native pignut hickories and laurel and live oak. It was also once overrun with the exotic air potato vine. The removal of this highly invasive species has restored this path to a healthy hardwood hammock. This path also represents an important transition between ecological and restoration sites.

Other paths that exist throughout the Preserve include a path running along Lake Virginia through the old banana grove and a path around Lake Mizell that follows the old Dinky Rail bed. A circulation plan that maps these interconnected foot trails is intended.

WARD HOUSE (back to top)

Relocated to the Genius Preserve from the location that now houses the Wind Song subdivision clubhouse, the Ward House represents “Old Florida” vernacular architecture. Its integration into the landscape is part of the larger vision of transforming the Genius Preserve into a tended garden that incorporates a variety of naturally wild and cultivated landscapes.

The initial design concept for the Ward House was to create “a home in the grove, an estate in the garden.” The area chosen for the relocation was initially bare. Through a functional beautification plan, a much more prominent setting for the Ward House is nowbeing established. Much of the exotics have been removed from the area, although the existing turk’s cap has been manicured to line the access road leading from Genius Drive to the Ward House. A border planting of native and ornamental species along the eastern boundary of the Preserve imparts a pleasant look while serving as a buffer between the Ward House and the neighboring development. A small citrus grove has been planted in the open field on the north side of the house, and a plan to landscape the border of the house with a mix of native and ornamental species will complement the transition from the surrounding grove and border. The shore of Lake Berry on the south side of the Ward House has remained open and offers another spectacular vista.

WIND SONG (back to top)

The area that lies to the south of the Wind Song house was once a pastoral setting under a live oak canopy. Recent hurricanes, however, caused severe damage to the landscape, marring it with gaps, fallen branches and uprooted trunks. Several large oaks remain, as do hickory, magnolia and cabbage palm, but in order to re-establish this “Old Florida” vista, restoration of the live oak canopy is necessary. Live oaks will be planted in an effort to restore the natural canopy and understory.