Winter Solstice Florida Style

text and photography by lmmartin

December 22, 2012

The early morning sun peeks through the forest, illuminating the Spanish moss that droops from the huge live oak standing in the front of my house. My Celtic-heritage-influenced imagination has dubbed this the "Guardian Tree," for it does give the impression of protecting my home with its branches spread out over the roof -- and does -- from summer heat, though my insurance company would much rather I cut those branches off. (Which I won't! Sacrilege!)

Celebrating the Winter Solstice with Mother Nature

A couple of years ago, enduring yet another Canadian winter, I could never have imagined I'd one day celebrate the winter solstice by transplanting, repotting, weeding, dividing and planting these lovely subtropical and tropical plants (shoveling a lot of snow, more like.)

But here I am, basking at 84 F on this incredibly beautiful day, listening to the occasional cicada roused from his hibernation by the sun and still in love with my Florida garden.

I'd spent most of yesterday -- an unexpected day off -- working at those tasks, then rose early this morning, officially the first day of winter to photograph the results.

(In order to orient yourselves to this and the photographs to follow, my house faces north and the above picture is the front, facing east. Below is the front garden by the path to my door. It's far too nice out here to go inside, so come for a little tour and spend the Winter Solstice with me.)

Would you like a closer look at this bed?

Pots?

Why, you ask, are so many of these plants in pots?

Three reasons:

  • This area, like much of coastal southern Florida, has terrible soil -- which you might have trouble believing, considering the impenetrable forest all around us, but it's true. Crushed coral sand, that's it. The fertile mat of leaf-litter and decaying matter is only an inch or two thick, and the porous sub-strata means that water filters through at an amazing rate, carrying the nutrients away with it. Unless the plants are native to the area like this beautiful palmetto, or desert flora, or drought hardy like the ferns (amazingly hardy for such delicate looking things) you'll run up one heck of a water bill trying to keep them alive, so a container with nice black, fertile soil is the best answer.
  • Protection! There are mean and destructive critters living in Florida's soil -- nematodes and creepy crawly things that love to eat delicate young feeder roots and larger menaces, like moles. And an armadillo out hunting insects can uproot an entire garden of young things in one night. Much better to protect the soft little aliens in a sturdy container.
  • Frost! Yes, even here along the Gulf Coast and this far south, occasionally a norther blows in and we can get sub-freezing temperatures, usually in the wee-hours of the morning. All it takes is a couple of hours to destroy these lovely plants. I use pots so that when the weather man announces frost weather -- and he will; frost is a big occasion in South Florida -- I can move them into the garage for the night. (My aching back!)

So that's why I use so many pots.

Here are some of the plants in this bed.

Bird's Nest fern (Asplenium) needs shade and humidity until established. In Florida's climate, these plants often grow a woody trunk and can be up to five feet in height -- if you're lucky enough to have them survive.
Bird's Nest fern (Asplenium) needs shade and humidity until established. In Florida's climate, these plants often grow a woody trunk and can be up to five feet in height -- if you're lucky enough to have them survive.
Ti plant (Dracaena family) These are in the ground and though they die back to ground level in a frost, they always come back.
Ti plant (Dracaena family) These are in the ground and though they die back to ground level in a frost, they always come back.
Another Dracaena -- a large family of plants with a huge variety in shape, color and form. When large and established, this tropical plant will survive a frost to sprout new growth come spring.
Another Dracaena -- a large family of plants with a huge variety in shape, color and form. When large and established, this tropical plant will survive a frost to sprout new growth come spring.
Philodendron (Monstera deliciosa) The largest of the philodendron family. This one is two years old. Can you see the air roots that run from the pot down to the ground? When mature, this plant produces a delicious fruit -- hence the name.
Philodendron (Monstera deliciosa) The largest of the philodendron family. This one is two years old. Can you see the air roots that run from the pot down to the ground? When mature, this plant produces a delicious fruit -- hence the name.
Close up of the Monstera leaves. Though you can't tell in this photo, the leaves are about 18 inches across -- and this is a young one!
Close up of the Monstera leaves. Though you can't tell in this photo, the leaves are about 18 inches across -- and this is a young one!

Out of the pot and into the ground

By the time the plants are too big for their pots, they are strong enough to survive these dangers, with thicker fibrous roots to foil the would-be predators, with tap roots long enough to make watering feasible and affordable, and though they will die back in frost, they are hardy enough to come back again.

This front garden, with all these pots and filtered light is a nursery for the rest of the garden. They will go from their protected and cossetted existence here to take their chances in nature in a few years. And then, I can buy new babies to raise...

This is Florida -- one must grow citrus

Yes, I have citrus trees. Two came with the house, though they were a sickly pair when I started. This year, for the first time, they bore fruit. (Orientation: the citrus trees grow on the western side of my house.)

Growing citrus is not as easy as one would think. They are prone to many diseases and pests, and because Florida's citrus industry is so important to our economy, there are laws requiring treatments and prevention which should be followed -- or the citrus police will get you! (Only joking.)

Ripe grapefuit. We've been eating these for about six weeks now. Unless you've had grapefruit fresh from the tree, you have no idea how good they taste. I never liked grapefruit before.
Ripe grapefuit. We've been eating these for about six weeks now. Unless you've had grapefruit fresh from the tree, you have no idea how good they taste. I never liked grapefruit before.
A Seville orange beginning to ripen. Can't wait.
A Seville orange beginning to ripen. Can't wait.

Certainly, fresh fruit from your own tree is one benefit of growing citrus, but not the only one, and to my mind not the most important.

What is the other? The flowers! There is no describing the beauty and the fragrance of a citrus tree in bloom. Won't be long before they flower again. I promise to take pictures and share.

This spring, I plan to add a lime tree to the tiny orchard. I love limes, and those I've received from my friend's gardens have been delightfully juicy and almost sweet. Again, until you've tasted fruit straight from the tree... Well, let's just say what you find in the supermarket is a poor counterfeit.

A desert with a rainy season

A few years ago, when I came to Florida to buy a house (another story worthy of its own hub) and found this one -- it was love at first sight due to the forest, the privacy, the quiet and the simplicity of the house -- I thought to prepare myself for my future gardening endeavors by buying some books on Florida horticulture.The preface to one book summed up the challenges in one sentence:

"Florida is basically a desert with a rainy season."

Come see my little desert. (We are now facing south.)

Yucca cane. They love their southern exposure and delight with their incredible flowers sent up on stalks two to three feet high -- though the fragrance is somewhat odious.
Yucca cane. They love their southern exposure and delight with their incredible flowers sent up on stalks two to three feet high -- though the fragrance is somewhat odious.
Yucca and pony-tail palm. The pony-tail palm has a bulbous trunk (which you can't see here) in which they store water.
Yucca and pony-tail palm. The pony-tail palm has a bulbous trunk (which you can't see here) in which they store water.
Aloe plants. These thrive in the sandy soil and filtered light of this location. I try to leave them alone; the saw teeth on their leaves makes me bleed.
Aloe plants. These thrive in the sandy soil and filtered light of this location. I try to leave them alone; the saw teeth on their leaves makes me bleed.
Agave plant.  Another plant that draws blood by virtue of their pointed leaves -- as hard and sharp as any sabre. I'm told they produce a fruit.
Agave plant. Another plant that draws blood by virtue of their pointed leaves -- as hard and sharp as any sabre. I'm told they produce a fruit.
Aloe, snake plant and pygmy date palm. Although date palms thrive in Florida, they do not produce dates. I'm told it's too humid here for them to set fruit.
Aloe, snake plant and pygmy date palm. Although date palms thrive in Florida, they do not produce dates. I'm told it's too humid here for them to set fruit.

We might get 120 inches of rain a year, but we get it all in a two month period we call summer. Humidity? Think steam bath and add a few degrees. It becomes too hot (and mosquito infested) to do much work outside, so everything grows wild during this time -- and I do mean wild. Sometimes I think I can hear them grow.

How does this affect my desert plants; don't they drown? Nope. The water passes through the soil so quickly, they just take a sip and go into another growing spurt.

Problems? Fungus, mold and more plant-eating bugs than you can imagine. How do I combat the bugs? I set out saucers to catch water which attracts the thousands of geckos, anoles, skink and other lizards that eat caterpillars and such. And I leave the spiders alone. (I could write another hub about Florida spiders...)

But, come early October the nights cool off. Ahhh! Then it's time to clean up the chaos of the growing season.

The cool of the forest

While the west side of my yard receives sun enough for desert plants, most of my yard is shaded by the oaks of my garden and the forest surrounding us, making the area ideal for duplicating a forest floor -- albeit a civilized one.

Unable to grow flowers, I utilize greenery for color: differing textures, forms and hues. I had it in mind to keep everything in its place, all nice and neat, but Mother Nature had other plans. During the hot, humid rainy season, the plants ran amok and come fall, when I inspected the result, I liked it, liked it a lot. So my garden looks like a rain forest; well it is.

Come for a stroll.

A golden pathos vine that once crept along the ground took to the tree. Its leaves grew much larger up there. Doesn't look like the tame little houseplant most of us know, does it?
A golden pathos vine that once crept along the ground took to the tree. Its leaves grew much larger up there. Doesn't look like the tame little houseplant most of us know, does it?
A heart-leafed philodendron climbs up the other side of the same oak, up a good twenty feet.
A heart-leafed philodendron climbs up the other side of the same oak, up a good twenty feet.
Variegated scheffelera bring a splash of color to the shade garden.
Variegated scheffelera bring a splash of color to the shade garden.
A silver palmetto. Palmettos thrive in sun or shade. Some people consider them a weed. Not me. Though be careful working around it; it has teeth.
A silver palmetto. Palmettos thrive in sun or shade. Some people consider them a weed. Not me. Though be careful working around it; it has teeth.
Hurricane Charlie did a lot of damage to these huge oaks. Here in what was once a low branch of this oak, broken off and eaten by insects, a small fern grows. The orchids in the baskets are not in bloom right now.
Hurricane Charlie did a lot of damage to these huge oaks. Here in what was once a low branch of this oak, broken off and eaten by insects, a small fern grows. The orchids in the baskets are not in bloom right now.
Confederate jasmine. Pretty, tolerant of shade and incredibly fragrant when in bloom, this one is thriving.
Confederate jasmine. Pretty, tolerant of shade and incredibly fragrant when in bloom, this one is thriving.
In the darkest part of the garden, the snake plant has sent up flowers.
In the darkest part of the garden, the snake plant has sent up flowers.
Snake plant in flower in a sunnier area. These plants will grow anywhere and under any conditions. The other name for them is mother-in-law's tongue.
Snake plant in flower in a sunnier area. These plants will grow anywhere and under any conditions. The other name for them is mother-in-law's tongue.
Philodendron Selloum  loves the shaded forest floor, and is surprisingly cold tolerant for a tropical plant. At maturity, they develop a woody trunk that crawls along the ground and looks like a large snake.
Philodendron Selloum loves the shaded forest floor, and is surprisingly cold tolerant for a tropical plant. At maturity, they develop a woody trunk that crawls along the ground and looks like a large snake.
The leaves of Selloum almost seem able to capture what little light filters down. The leaves are seragated in order to let rain water run through. They are native of the rain forests of tropical climes.
The leaves of Selloum almost seem able to capture what little light filters down. The leaves are seragated in order to let rainwater run through. They are native of the rain forests of tropical climes.

Ferns and the forest floor

By far, my favorite plant for the shade is the fern. Delicate looking but hardy as any thistle, once established they are impossible to eradicate -- not that I want to. I once wrote a hub about my pet ferns.

I can't grow grass back here, so if the ferns want to take over, that's fine with me. Rain, drought, heat, cold, they don't mind. They're happy feeding off the leaf litter. I have a Boston fern that has claimed an area of ten square feet, carpeting the ground with their ruffled fronds. A macho fern (my favorite) is a mound six feet squared and three feet high, even after I divided it several times and planted its offspring in other areas.

I like to take a daughter clump from the mother plant and place it in a pot for a while. When it outgrows the pot, into the ground and I select another.

Come take a look.

Australian tree fern. So pretty and lacy but able to withstand anything. I'm told they eventually grow a trunk and can sit up to ten feet high.
Australian tree fern. So pretty and lacy but able to withstand anything. I'm told they eventually grow a trunk and can sit up to ten feet high.
Macho fern -- aptly named. Big, beautiful, strong and invasive (which I like.)
Macho fern -- aptly named. Big, beautiful, strong and invasive (which I like.)
Macho fern daughter plants in pots and in the ground under the guest bedroom window.
Macho fern daughter plants in pots and in the ground under the guest bedroom window.
The macho ferns have invaded the forest floor of the vacant lot next to me. Beautiful. And by the way, they are a native of Florida, so no ecological damage is done.
The macho ferns have invaded the forest floor of the vacant lot next to me. Beautiful. And by the way, they are a native of Florida, so no ecological damage is done.

Only three days to Christmas, you say?

Hard to believe when I'm sweating in the heat and pulling weeds. But just so you know, Christmas is evident in the garden, too.

Plants I received as gifts of Christmas past (three so far in Florida) found their way to the garden as well.

Want to see them?

Poinsetta -- this one is three years old. Unfortunately, it has frozen back each year -- but it always starts over.
Poinsetta -- this one is three years old. Unfortunately, it has frozen back each year -- but it always starts over.
The red color is just beginning. For the past years, just about the time it develops color we get a frost, and that is that. I have hopes for this year.
The red color is just beginning. For the past years, just about the time it develops color we get a frost, and that is that. I have hopes for this year.
Norfolk pine. Those little Christmas trees in pots sprayed with glitter and tied up in a ribbon -- these ones are one and two years old.
Norfolk pine. Those little Christmas trees in pots sprayed with glitter and tied up in a ribbon -- these ones are one and two years old.
This Norfolk pine is three years old. They do suffer if we get a frost, but the older they get, the hardier. I've seen some Norfolk pines thirty feet high. A beautiful tree.
This Norfolk pine is three years old. They do suffer if we get a frost, but the older they get, the hardier. I've seen some Norfolk pines thirty feet high. A beautiful tree.
What is Christmas without holly. This one was once a shrub in a pot from the gift department. Look at it now on my front lawn, covered in red berries.
What is Christmas without holly. This one was once a shrub in a pot from the gift department. Look at it now on my front lawn, covered in red berries.

The Wild Beauty Around Me

I've been so busy showing you the beauty of my planted specimens, I've neglected the backdrop. And let me tell you, what makes my garden is the untamed woods around it. I'm very fortunate to be surrounded by vacant lots, and if it was in my power to do so, I'd buy them all to preserve them as they are.

The current trend in Florida construction is to remove everything from the lot and build. It makes me want to cry. The woods around me are made up of ancient oaks, tall thin Loblolly pine, cabbage palms and palmettos. If I take a walk (thanks to my dogs who've made paths in through the wilderness) within ten feet I can find beautiful epiphytes in the branches, long cactii, beauty berry (aptly named) and flowers. You wouldn't believe the wild flowers.

We are lucky our house was built twenty years ago when contractors kept the best of the trees intact. Oh, how we take Nature's bounty so for granted, something to be removed for efficiency and profit, an enemy, a foe...

The forest behind me in winter. The strangler vines have dropped their leaves. In summer, it is a solid green wall.
The forest behind me in winter. The strangler vines have dropped their leaves. In summer, it is a solid green wall.
My husband and I have removed much of the strangler vines and opened up the forest a bit on the vacant lots surrounding us.
My husband and I have removed much of the strangler vines and opened up the forest a bit on the vacant lots surrounding us.
My house as seen from the forest.
My house as seen from the forest.

Friends in the garden

No hub about my garden would be complete without showing you my friends who sit patiently wherever I'm working and keep watch over me.

Many of you will remember Dick, my old mastiff, star of his own hubs. Sadly, he passed away. But, good news: one of his granddaughters, Elinore came to live with me when her family lost their home and couldn't keep her anymore.

Here she is, and just like her grandfather, she follows me about, never more than six feet away from me and ready to bark and growl at any perceived menace: a bird in the bush making a racket, a falling palm frond that sounds like something is there, the neighbors, the cat from across the street... Did I mention she inherited her Grandpa's innate cowardice? Yes, she barks and growls and then runs away to the back door. "Let me in; let me in; let me in before it hurts me."

Elinore, granddaughter of my beloved old boy, Dick and my new best friend.
Elinore, granddaughter of my beloved old boy, Dick and my new best friend.

Bye now! Y'all come again.

A housewarming gift from a friend on my first winter here. I call him "The Filibustering Frog."
A housewarming gift from a friend on my first winter here. I call him "The Filibustering Frog."

Thank you for the visit

Thank you for sharing this wonderful Winter Solstice with me. I hope you enjoyed this visit to Florida, and if you're busy scraping ice off your windshield and shoveling snow, my heart bleeds for you.

Best of the season to everyone. May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be green.

-- Lynda M Martin, December 22, 2011

A virtual tour of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens of Sarasota, Florida

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Comments 20 comments

rebekahELLE profile image

rebekahELLE 4 years ago from Tampa Bay

Very nice. It's been a mild, warm winter solstice here, hasn't it? I love the late afternoon, early evening sky. It's simply gorgeous. I have many of the same plants on my property. I'm hoping to have some time to do some yard work this Christmas break. Yards do require a lot of attention and upkeep. I'm sitting here now in shorts and a tank top!

Enjoy the holiday season and the hopefully mild winter months ahead. I enjoyed reading your hub and seeing your photos.


Tammy Lochmann profile image

Tammy Lochmann 4 years ago

Nice! I love southern gardens and all the green even in the winter. Your pictures are beautiful!


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 4 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Hi rebekaElle and Tammy. Hello to my southern resident compatriots. Yes, Winter Solstice is a treat here, isn't it? More like Indian summer back home. You especially, Tammy, my fellow Canadian, must be enjoying Mississippi this time of year. Thank you both for taking the time to comment. Best wishes for the season to you. Lynda


Duchess OBlunt 4 years ago

I enjoyed this Lynda while I envied you a little. I am shivering up here in Ontario in -10 degrees Celsius!

I would love to taste a grapefruit right from the tree. I already love them, so if they are that much better - well - my mouth is watering....

Is the fruit from the Agave plant edible?

Lovely hub, and beautiful pictures.


FloraBreenRobison profile image

FloraBreenRobison 4 years ago

These are beautiful pictures. My Mom and I like to celebrate the solstice and equinox, but the Winter solstice often is dismal weather here, so we don't get any pictures taken for this holiday. Happy New Year.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 4 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

Ah so lovely. And I am so glad you pointed out how nature was left alone 20 years ago whereas now we tend to think that lovely forestry has no value and then we wonder about all the flooding.

And finally the winter solstice has arrived. It is worth celebrating. Here in NYC we have temps in the 30s - ah but now we also gain a bit of daylight each day - and that is what makes the arrival of the winter solstice so wonderful - more daylight.

A friend and I celebrated by having a lovely meal and laughing and laughing.

Thanks for this wonderful photo essay.

Joy to your world!

Carolyn


Nan Mynatt 4 years ago

Thanks for sharing your beautiful world of plants. I don't know how you have time to write and work. Happy Holidays!


drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida

The variety and beauty of your various gardens, Lynda, is rivaled only by the variety and beauty of your lovely photos and illustrative prose. You are a masterful, oops! mistressful gardener, my dear. Absolutely beautiful. So is Elinore. Hope your Christmas was Merry and may your New Year be 366 days of Happy.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 4 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Hi Duchess, Sorry to hear you're cold, but happy to share the warmth and beauty of my lot with you. I'd send you a grapefruit if I could. Why don't you come down here and eat one? As to the agave -- I don't know. Thanks for reading.

Hi Flora. Thanks for taking the time to comment and sorry your Winter Solstice was gloomy. Can I send you some sunshine?

Hi Bkcreative -- Yes, we do undervalue nature to a terrible degree. What is so silly about the situation here is that the forest and trees keep the house cool and cut down on AC bills -- but that doesn't stop the contractors. What do they care? Thanks for dropping by.

Hi Nan -- gardening helps me keep a good balance in life and a chance for some much needed exercise. Happy holidays to you, too.

Nice to see you drbj -- actually, one needn't be a master or a mistress of the green arts to have a successful Florida garden. Provided you choose the appropriate plants, they take care of themselves. And yes, Elinore is a beauty, and a very gentle and loving dog. I'm thrilled to have her, and to think she carries all my old friends in her genes. May you also have a brilliant and successful New Year.

Thanks to everyone. Lynda


CloudExplorer profile image

CloudExplorer 4 years ago from New York City

I was excited to read this hub, I must return though due to the extreme length of it all so that I can get a much better take on it all in its full entirety.

I think all the imagery was amazing and this hub deserves some sort of award for beauty and its awesome look & overall appeal to the senses.

I must say though from the very start I was kinda jealous of you having such a warm climate during a cold time where I'm from, out in NYC.

Well, I guess not I'm not too jealous, because I actually get to hit the ski slopes during the coldest parts of the winter & go snow boarding way up in the mountains of PA during the winter season LOL.

I loved your hub, and I'll be sharing it will all my sharing tools and networking sites I'm on. Voted up in every way I could.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 4 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Thank you cloudexplorer, and I am sorry for you, having to face a cold winter. Being Canadian, I understand about the joy of winter sports but seeing as I'm too old now to ski and hate the cold, Florida is a much better place for me. At least I can garden year 'round. Thanks for your kind words and glad you enjoyed the tour. Lynda


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 4 years ago from London, UK

You have a perfect eye for plant combination. These pictures are super. Thank you for sharing. Wishing you a wonderful and prosperous New Year.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 4 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Best wishes for you, too, Hello, hello. May your New Year be happy and prosperous and may you enjoy good health. Oh, and thank you. Lynda


Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Beautiful pictures and I am envious of you in the sunny south at this time of year. My mother in law lives in Dunedin and I'm sure her oranges are almost ready to pick too. Sorry for the loss of Dick, but happy that you were able to have his granddaughter come and live with you. Hope that you had a Merry Christmas and while I am here I would like to wish you a Very Happy New Year.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 4 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

And a Happy New Year to you, Just Ask Susan. I'm sure you'll be visiting your mother-in-law during harvest (I would be, never turning down an opportunity for free eats.) Yes, Elinore is a great comfort after losing her grandfather, but Dick was very old for a mastiff and lived a good life. Thanks for your comment. I love getting comments. Lynda


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia

Great tour of your garden. Being in Central Georgia, the winters aren't too bad, here. The really cold days are usually few in number and followed by very mild days. But we can't have a garden that looks like yours year round. I envy your Spanish moss. As for your "Florida steam bath," I like heat, but the bugs are a unique form of torture! Thank you for sharing a small part of your life. Have a Happy and Creative New Year!


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 4 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Hi Cyndi10 -- why, we're almost next door neighbors! I do enjoy the climate, and as to the bugs -- just the price one has to pay, I suppose. Thanks for stopping by.


Mr. Happy profile image

Mr. Happy 4 years ago from Toronto, Canada

"Sometimes I think I can hear them grow." - Haha ... you probably do! (I found that pretty funny.)

Yes, I am scraping ice of the windshield. It finally started dumping on us yesterday. Hence, I have been inside the house spending endless hours on Hub-pages for the past forty-eight hours almost ... But I like seeing the windows frosted and I honestly had a bummy Christmas in the sense that, I really did not feel like it was Christmas: I was running around in a wind-breaker and a tiny sweater for the most part, with not a drop of snow. I feel like I need snow for Christmas.

Your photos are great! I love your garden and the ruggedy look of the background: the wild forest/jungle. Good to see Elinore too! She's such a sweet-heart!

All the best! It was a nice break from looking at snow outside to looking at your sunny garden through this article. Thank You.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 4 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

It's a good thing I wrote this when I did. Since then, we've had two frosts, and the second while not severe and unfortunately, unexpected, did in some of my more tender flowers. Oh well, not like the injured won't come back good as ever and the dead can't be replaced.... Plants are great that way.

I heard about the snow up there. Sorry for ya'. Lynda


Florida Native 2 years ago

start amending your soil and you won't need so many pots.

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