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February 4, 1997

Biophilia Nature Center Preserves Alabama's Heritage

by Joanna Greene

When Fred and Carol Lovell Saas left the sunny shores of California to sail the oceans in their hand-crafted fifty-foot sailboat the Daedalus, they had no idea they would end up in the deep south on an Alabama bayou. "We were on our way to the Virgin Islands and just kind of got homesick," said Mrs. Saas. "We had been traveling for some time and were homesick for the states."

They landed off the coast of Mississippi and began their search for a more permanent home. The Saas combed the backwoods and bogs before finding a suitable spot on the Robert's Bayou in Elberta. In 1989 they purchased the land and set out to turn the 20 acres into what is today the Biophilia Nature Center.

The Center, supported by the Nature Association, stands to promote the love of nature and conservation as a way of life. According to Mrs. Saas, the couple have dedicated hours of time and private funds towards doing something 'environmental for the community.'

For eight years, the Saas have spent their days replacing foreign plants, trees and shrubs on their land with native southeast coastal plain vegetation. They have planted 7,000 trees by hand, and brought in 300 native species of plants, including 90 different types of wildflowers. There are cardinal flowers and coral honeysuckle for the hummingbirds, passion vine for the butterflies.

Almost every native species of carnivorous plant was also brought in for planting. The insect-eating pitcher plant, as well as the sundew, a local species related to the venus flytrap, are now established at the Center. "The pitcher plant prairie was one of the original major ecosystems on the southeast coastal plains," said Mrs. Saas. "Over 97 percent of the pitcher plant area is gone now. We want to teach others how to save and restore it. "

A greenhouse at the Center shelters pitcher plants, sea oats, and a variety of touch-sensitive plants. Visitors can purchase plants such as sea oats to help restore an environment of their own. Visitors can also observe the life cycles of native butterflies in the butterfly conservatory.

The Biophilia Nature Center offers tours of the back bays and bayous of Perdido for $25 on the sailboat Daedalus. On Tuesdays, senior citizens can sail for $15. All profits from the tours go towards funding the Biophilia Nature Center.

The Center is located at 1 2695 County Road in Elberta. Hours of operation are 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Wednesdays and Sundays, and 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon on Saturdays. The Center is looking for volunteers to help build a pond and restore freshwater marshes around the Robert's Bayou area. For more information call (334) 987-:1200 or (334) 987-1228.

The Harbinger, Mobile, AL