The Plant doctor is in
On a hot October Wednesday morning far from the World Series unfolding now in the North and West, little was happening at the City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, home to the Boston Red Sox during spring training. The stadium stood empty, occupied only by the sound of the wind carrying memories of a vendor's call and a fly ball spinning beneath the sky.
Although the park feels incomplete without the athletes and fans who will return next spring, the grounds and trees around it remain healthy and pristine. That's thanks in part to Stephen H. Brown, who was there inspecting a fungus which had grown onto a plant that wound its way up a concrete pillar just inside the stadium's locked green gates on Broadway Street.
"They're always different, always changing, never the same, no two are alike," he said, relating plants to the human condition as he worked. "It just reflects the composition of life. It's just like no two people are the same. Even if we think they're the same, they can be effected by the environment, which makes them different, even if they're genetically the same."
Brown is a horticulture agent hired by Lee County Extension Services (a branch of the University of Florida and its Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, funded in part by the Lee County Commission) to keep county-bought plants, like the ones at City of Palms Park, in good health. Brown describes himself as "the plant doctor," here for a quick check-up on some symptomatic greenery.
"We have seven agents that work through the University," said Vera Conner, supervisor with Lee County Extension. "[Stephen's] a really good guy to work with."
Brown, who has been with Lee County Extension since 1993, appeared distinguished and well-spoken, with an assured tree-side manner, bending to touch the growth that had attached itself to the bottom of a Bougainvillea.
"I'm sure this is the Bougainvillea he's speaking of," Brown said, noting the spot with the unsightly growth that somebody had reported. "That mushroom theoretically only attacks live wood."
He probed and observed, with detached professional concern, and after seeming to feel comfortable with the examination, Brown moved on to a royal palm planted outside the park along the street. He approached the tree and sat down next to its trunk, peering into a large gash that had somehow appeared at the base.
"It's probably an internal injury that may have already worked up along the vein," he said, feeling with his hands inside the wound, which looked about two feet tall, four inches wide, and deep enough inside to hide a squirrel. "If it was a disease, chances are it would be wet.
But it isn't wet, which is probably good for taxpayers. "All of these [trees] cost a lot of money," he added. "To replace them costs thousands of dollars."
Check-up complete, Brown stood and walked away down the sidewalk, presumably to find some other sub-tropical plant, and see what ails it.
Previously, Brown was an extension agent in Jamaica (1982-84) and a farm advisor in Los Angeles (1983-93). He also has a master's degree in soil fertility and plant nutrition from the University of Florida (1981), and a bachelor's degree in soil science from the University of California (1979).
For weekly updates on Brown's adventures in horticulture, with commentary, photos, and information on a variety of classes, conferences and workshops, send an email with your first and last name requesting that you be a member of "Brown's Plant File," to Brownsh@leegov.com. For lawn and gardening advice, contact his office at 239-461-7504.