by Fran Palmeri and Laurel Schiller
There’s no time of year in Florida when something isn’t blooming. But each fall it seems that Mother Nature has saved the best for last. Fall brings such an explosion of wildflowers you‘ll want to run to your nearest park and take it all in! A profusion of yellows accented with purples creates a feast for the eyes.
Blooming in the pinelands are vanilla plant, deer tongue, several varieties of goldenrod, tiny elephant’s foot and the brilliant red pine lily. The scrub is awash in blazing star, palafox, wireweed, red basil and goldenaster. In swamps and wet areas you might see climbing aster, string-lily and water lilies. Parks and other public lands are the best places to look for wildflowers. But on your way check out waysides and ditches.
Can’t figure out what flower you are looking at? No wonder since there are more than 4000 native and naturalized flowering plants in the state. There are lots of ways to educate yourself. State parks and county parks offer free walks often with an experienced botanist. Members of the Florida Native Plant Society (www.fnps.org) are goldmines of information. Their meetings and field trips around the state are open to the public. Serious botanizers should pick up Walter Kingsley Taylor’s books on Florida wildflowers (Florida Wildflowers in Their Natural Communities and The Guide to Florida Wildflowers in which plants are grouped by color).
Can you grow wildflowers of your own? Instead of driving to a park can you walk out the door and be greeted by Florida’s finest? Yes, there are varieties that adapt themselves to homescapes. Five of the easiest to grow are beach dune sunflower, Indian blanket, tropical sage, coreopsis and black-eyed susan. The first and second prefer dry sunny spots and once they are settled in thrive on neglect. The last three do well with some shade and occasional moisture. Best of all these plants reseed themselves liberally so you don’t have to start over each year. You can choose to keep new seedlings or give extras to the neighbors. Dotted horsemint, which attracts pollinators, is another good choice for our area. Beautiful goldenrod—which by the way does NOT cause hay fever—is good bet. Liatris, another sun lover, attracts butterflies.
Plant native wildflowers and your place becomes a haven for pollinators of all types. It will cheer you—and them—year round. You can pull up a chair and watch swallowtails nectar on liatris and bees feed on dotted horsemint.
Fran Palmeri (www.franpalmeri.com) is a nature writer/photographer.
Laurel Schiller is owner of The Florida Native Plants Nursery in Sarasota.