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RETURNING TO A NATIVE STATE

The sun is setting, but Michael Manlowe keeps planting.

Natives like sandcord grass, silver palmettos and pineland lantana now fill a St. Petersburg yard where nonnative grasses and plants once lived. And died. Facing west, the sun scorched them.

"And with all those water restrictions ..." Manlowe said.

As a kid, he worked in a pet store, in charge of fish. He started with his own two-gallon fish tank. By the time he was in eighth grade, he had a 200-gallon giant.

"I had over a ton of water in my room," he said.

He majored in environmental studies at University of California at Santa Barbara, taking ecology and botany classes. Now he co-owns Twigs & Leaves, Tampa Bay's premiere native plant nursery.

"I take a planetary perspective," he said. "It's like being an earthling."

Planting with natives "lessens your footprint on the planet." Converts can drop the lawn service and create habitat for creatures like butterflies.

"We're putting the flora back in Florida. That's our goal," Manlowe adds. "I love that motto. I want to patent that."

The sky is dark now, but he's still digging.

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