You'll see far more than plants and trees on this 280-acre gem of an island, which can be reached only by boat. You'll have plenty of bird species to shoot, but, perhaps most unusual of all, are the tiny tree snails unique to the Keys.
At one time, these snails were more highly prized than escargot. Collectors around the world coveted these shells, and enterprising locals were more than happy to provide them. Similar to the finches Darwin studied in the Galapagos, these shells were different from key to key. The shells varied in color and in color pattern on each island.
After gathering their booty, shell collectors routinely set fire to an island in order to increase the rarity and selling price of their shells.
The result is that Lignumvitae Key, which never suffered from such a senseless fire, contains one of the last virgin hammocks in the Keys. The snails here are quite spectacular: they bear cream-colored shells with bands of red and green. You will need a closeup lens (and probably a strobe) for frame-filling portraits of the two-inch-long creatures.
At the same time, you will be surrounded by some remarkable vegetation. The lignumvitae tree is supposed to live a thousand years. Like the rest of the foliage, it is of Caribbean origin, brought to the Keys by wind and wave.
Ranger-led tours are conducted on the island Thursday through Monday at 10:30 am, 1 pm, and 2:30 pm if you can get there. If the state-run boat is not operating, you will need to hire a boat from a local marina, and the ranger must be notified to meet you at the docks. For complete information call (305) 664-4815.
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