An informed walk-through of some of the trails of Joan M. Durante Park.
Let’s get this out of the way first: The park is pronounced Joan Dur-ANT, not Joan Dur-ant-e (like the actor-comedian with the gravelly voice). OK, now that we’re all on the same page, let’s take a deeper dive into the park.
Garden Club Susan Phillips took the Observer on an informed walk-through of the park, answering questions and pointing out fascinating flowers and marvelous mangroves. Joan Durante is a hot spot for picnicking and taking walks, and Phillips pointed out the soft shell and synthetic wood paths as particularly nice for the knees.
In the front, where most of the flowers are found, you can see various hibiscus plants. Some, like the classic red ones, are a traditional type, Phillips said, but the orange ones are hybrid creations of a local hibiscus expert.
Towards what appears to be the back of the park near a gazebo is where the real fun begin. Take one, and you’ll wind through mangroves and end up at Sarasota Bay. Another brings you through a dry upland hammock setting.
“Everything lives back here,” Phillips said.
The mangroves are like a nursery for fish and crabs, as the roots provide hidey-holes away from predators, Phillips said. It’s difficult to pick out the disparate trees themselves, as the mangroves twist and twine into thick networks. Dripping off the edges are cigar-like stems, which Phillips said will drop, root in the mud and eventually make their way back up.
Back by Sarasota Bay are benches to rest and rehydrate. One notable bench Phillips pointed out is the Jaffeys’ bench, dedicated to the late eponymous couple who walked the trails with their dog daily. They’d let him off the leash so he could splash around while they rested in the tranquil shade, always in the same spot.
“You can imagine them sitting here with their dog every day,” Phillips said.
As Phillips makes her way back up front, she uses an app, Picture This, to figure out any plants she doesn’t recognize, finding blue daze flowers and the real name of the snake plant, plus an illustrated map of the park.
“Are we lost yet? Even I get lost in here,” Phillips said.
Finally, Phillips points out a gnarly looking tree — and the other tree at its heart. The strangler fig, a parasitic plant that attaches to a host (in this case, a palm) and makes a home. Thick ropy bark surrounds the plant, impressive in its own right.
“It’s like the Burmese python of plants,” Phillips said.