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Spring Wildflowers in Florida
The perennial shower of Florida's spring wild flowers begins early, in March, and the display
is always an exceptionally fine one. After all, it was in the spring of
1513 that their number, variety and splendor so inspired world explorer
Ponce de Leon that he named a newly discovered territory the "land
of flowers," or Florida.
Other good North Florida locations in out-of-the-way places can be found at the Florida Wildflowers Foundation.
landscaped with thousands of indigenous trees, plants and shrubs, Florida's
growing conditions proved so agreeable that European settlers added
hundreds more to the native flora. Today, there are an estimated 3,500
different species growing around the state.
Two of the easiest and most obvious places to see wild flowers in Florida
are along two heavily traveled interstate highways. The state has planted
200 miles of crimson wild flowers along I-10 between Tallahassee and
Jacksonville, and 215 miles of annual phlox along I-75 from Tampa north
to the Georgia state line. In all, over 1,000 miles of highways have
been planted with wild flowers state-wide.
Some roadside flowers will be familiar, but others will be brand new because
they are endemic or imported perennials from Mexico, Asia, and the Caribbean
that thrive in the Southeast's moderate temperatures.
It surprises many first-time visitors that the wild flower season in Florida,
at least, is year-round. Bright green ferns, which many people identify
only as extra ornamentation for cut flowers, are classified as wild
flowers, and scores of different species grow continually in swamps
and ditches. Some, such as the cinnamon fern, do flower exclusively
As enduring and delightful as they are, ferns are not what set the fields,
plains and roadsides afire. Much of the color comes from several varieties
of phlox, particularly the purple, needle-like flowers of the Creeping
Phlox which grow low to the ground in compact tufts in open fields and
pinelands as far south as Orlando. Common throughout the entire region
is the Annual Phlox, actually native to Texas, which exhibits the showy
purple flowers found along roadsides and in open places.
Adding to spring's mantle of purple is the Florida Violet, which despite its
name is found in adjoining states as well. These low to the ground flowers
are abundant in open woods and clearings everywhere.
Spring also ushers in the red poppy mallow to northwest Florida and Alabama,
plus the even more striking Turk's-cap or Wax Mallow, a bushy shrub
whose scarlet pendant flowers never fully open. The Yellow Jassamine
adds a splash of contrast to the hammocks, thickets and clearings. Its
climbing woody vines often collect and merge to form a striking sight.
A few of the most colorful flowers, such as the Columbine, are rare in
Florida but quite common farther north. The brilliant flowers of the
Columbine, found only in three Panhandle counties, are pollinated by
hummingbirds seeking the nectar at the end of the plant's spurs (spurs
which happen to be just as long as a hummingbird's bill).
The roadsides and fields offer the most obvious arrays of wild flowers,
yet some of the greatest color shows occur in more out-of-the-way places,
the swamps and long stream banks.
Characteristic wild flowers of the
wetlands include the Ti-ti (also called Leatherwood) and the Black Ti-ti,
both of which produce long, showy racemes of fragrant flowers.
There are many more spring wild flowers, hundreds more, and the only way to
appreciate what you're viewing is with a good guidebook. Florida
Wild Flowers and Roadside Plants by Bell and Taylor (Laurel Hill
Press: Chapel Hill) is the definitive work. With more than 500 plants
identified with text and color photographs, the book is a good companion
throughout the year.
The vibrant colors that begin in March are not like the momentary color
flashes of autumn, a brief moment of glory that too quickly fades and
disappears. Many spring wild flowers remain in bloom through the summer
and sometimes as late as fall.
And the early arrivals will be later joined by others that won't reveal their full brilliance until the hot
days of summer. Spring is only the beginning of the wild flower season.
Where to See Spring Wildflowers
In the timber-managed state and national forests, areas that undergo prescribed
burns often have some of the best wild flower habitat, since the fires
remove much of the shady canopy.
At Florida's Blackwater State Forest, the best wild
flower viewing is along the hiking trails. These include the Bear Lake
Recreation Area loop trail, which goes through a number of systems.
The Wire Grass Trail also offers good wild flowers most of the year.
Another good Panhandle hotspot is Florida Caverns State Park
near Marianna. The forest and swamp border the scenic Chipola River.
the Apalachicola National Forest, it's the Post Office
Bay savannahs area on the Apalachee Savannahs Scenic Byway in the southwestern
section of the forest. The wild flowers share the same savannahs as
the carnivorous plants.
In Osceola National Forest, the trails leading from the
Olustee Battlefield and the Mt. Carrie wayside park (on U.S. 90 across
from the Columbia Correctional Institution) pass through good wild flower
displays. The palmetto cover is far less dense in this southern part
of the forest, providing better wild flower habitat for blazing stars,
goldenrod, aster, milkweed, and orchids, all of which grow in profusion
following a summer burn.
Wild azaleas grow along the Middle Prong of
the St. Mary's River in the northwest section in the vicinity of the
San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park near Gainesville has some colorful displays,
as does nearby Paynes Prairie Preserve, which has
more than 700 wild flower species--thanks to the great variety of habitat
including wet prairie and sinkholes. Wild flowers last well beyond spring
and into the fall here.
The Longleaf Pine Reserve in Volusia County, Merritt Island NWR near Titusville, Seminole State Forest west of Sanford and Wekiwa Springs State Park near Apopka are all good sites for Florida wildflowers.
Wildlife Management Area near Orlando borders the St. Johns River and can
be quite a good location. It is located on Taylor Creek Road, off State Road 50
Swamp Sanctuary can be an excellent spot. And don't overlook Everglades National Park.
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