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THE NATURE OF FLORIDA

A notebook of seasonal snippets about our flora and fauna.

Heavenly scent

Ahhhh, take a deep breath and drink in the gentle scent of spring. Confederate jasmine is in bloom, its snow-white flowers dainty but dripping in perfume. This twining vine climbs tree trunks if left to its own devices. It also will turn a chain-link fence into a living green barrier. The heady aroma will be around for two or three more weeks.

LEAF-CUTTERS: Do your shrubs look as though someone attacked them with a hole puncher? Tiny, perfectly round holes in the leaves? That's the handiwork of the leaf-cutter bee. Don't worry. The damage is negligible and this insect doesn't sting (it's actually a small wasp). The leaf-cutter just wants a nice, soft piece of leaf it can roll into a thimble shape and use to line its nest.

BURROWING OWL: With its long legs, short tail and unusual habits, the burrowing owl is no ordinary owl. The small, brown-spotted bird likes open spaces and lives in large fields, golf courses, even along airport runways. Unlike any other owl, it roosts in underground burrows it digs with its strong feet. Usually an adult stands guard next to the burrow during the day. If a predator comes near, the owl jumps up and down excitedly and chatters. Burrowing owls used to be plentiful in Hernando and Citrus counties but are being pushed out by development. A colony lives in the vast prairie at Myakka River State Park in Sarasota County.

PLAYING POSSUM: You probably know them best as road kill, but opossums are more interesting when alive. They spend much of their time in trees, hanging from a prehensile tail that functions as a fifth limb, with a tip as sensitive as the tip of your index finger. Sleeping by day and hunting by night, opossums use their sense of hearing to locate food; they can hear the rustle of a single insect in the grass. The possum is a marsupial; babies gestate for only 13 days, then crawl into their mother's pouch and stay there for three months. Possums are helpful guests: They eat rats and insects, and they don't dig holes in the yard as armadillos do.

_ Compiled by Times staff writer JEANNE MALMGREN

Sources: Times files; Florida Gardener's Guide; Florida Landscape Plants; All the Birds of North America; Peterson's Field Guide to the Birds; The Natural World: Oxford Illustrated Encyclopedia; The Larousse Encyclopedia of Animal Life; Encyclopedia of Animals.

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