Wildflower lovers are building a statewide profile of what can be seen along the highways and in gardens and natural areas. You can join in—all you need is a digital camera, a map or GPS unit and a field guide.
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By Jeff Norcini
Earlier-than-normal blooming of spring wildflowers seems to be occurring more often, but this year stands out because some wildflowers are blooming nearly a month earlier than expected. The influence of this “abnormal” weather will probably be greatest in North Florida. If NOAA climate predictions hold true, March will likely be wetter and warmer than normal, which would speed up the time when mid- or late-spring wildflowers bloom, such as Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) and Blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella).
This also means that now is not too soon to be looking for wildflowers that normally would bloom in late March or early April, such as Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium spp.), Lanceleaf tickseed (Coreopsis lanceolata), Southeastern sneezeweed (Helenium pinnatifidum), Lyreleaf sage (Salvia lyrata), and Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis). The remainder of the spring weather should be normal, so the effect of the warm, wet weather should dissipate by the end of spring … unless it doesn’t.
In Central and South Florida, temperatures are expected to be above normal in March, with normal temperatures the remainder of spring. While rain should be normal throughout spring, NOAA predicts that drought conditions will persist in a large portion of south Central Florida and are likely to develop in South Florida (see U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook).
Given that outlook, the best places to see native wildflowers will be naturally moist areas, especially in April and May. Look for two of the showiest and most common wildflowers in moist sites — Leavenworth’s tickseed (Coreopsis leavenworthii) and Black-eyed Susan (in North Florida, it tends to occur in drier locations). Because March is expected to be warmer than normal, look for typical April and May bloomers a few weeks earlier than you otherwise would. For instance, Leavenworth’s tickseed and Black-eyed Susan are already blooming.
A good place to view showy stands of wildflowers that prefer moist sites is along Florida's Turnpike south of Orlando, from about mile marker 220 south to Yeehaw Junction. Leavenworth’s tickseed and Black-eyed Susan have started flowering in these areas, which means the brilliant yellow flowers of Southeastern sneezeweed should be brightening roadsides and natural areas soon.
Because March is expected to be warmer than normal, Prairie iris (Iris hexagona) and Duck potato (Sagittaria spp.) should be flowering by early April. If you get lucky, you might even spot the bright reddish spikes of the Leafless beaked orchid (Sacoila lanceolata) that month.
Not near an area with naturally moist conditions? Head toward the coast. Blanketflower and Beach sunflower (Helianthus debilis) are showy native wildflowers that thrive in dry, sandy conditions. They can be bloom at any time of the year in South Florida, and typically start by early to mid-spring in the Panhandle.
Blooming is dependent on a complex interaction of genetics (that is, the “blueprint” of how the plant is expected to perform) and the environment — mainly day length, temperature and soil characteristics, the most important of which is moisture. The influence of these environmental factors varies among wildflower species. To make this issue a bit more complex, the previous year’s weather can influence wildflowers the next year, especially those that reseed. Weather can affect seed dormancy; dormant seeds do not germinate until the factor(s) causing dormancy have been alleviated, which could take several months or more. Wildflowers producing a high level of dormant seed may not yield a good stand of plants the following year.
Roadside Sneezeweed in North Florida. Photo/Gil Nelson
See details about these routes.
Florida's garden clubs led the way in beautifying roadways with wildflowers. In the 1960s, the Florida Department of Transportation joined the effort. FDOT now has its own wildflower program, whichplants wildflowers and maintains natural populations along hundreds of miles of federal and state highways. Counties and cities can establish or care for wildflowers along roads and trails and in parks they maintain. They also can request that FDOT plant wildflowers and alter mowing practices within their boundaries.
Want more wildflowers along roadsides and multi-use trails near you? Learn about a resolution that is the first step to preserving and planting wildflowers in your county. Read more.
Many of our native wildflowers reproduce only by seed. Picking a flower reduces the ability of that plant to reproduce and for that population of wildflowers to sustain itself. Instead, use wildflowers in your yard or in containers. Seed packets are available in the Florida Wildflower Foundation Flower Shop and from the Florida Wildflower Seed and Plant Growers Association. Florida native wildflower seed packets also may be available at native plant garden centers.
More reasons not to pick wildflowers:
The Florida Wildflower Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization; contributions are tax deductible. A COPY OF THE OFFICIAL REGISTRATION AND FINANCIAL INFORMATION FOR THE FLORIDA WILDFLOWER FOUNDATION, A FLORIDA-BASED NONPROFIT CORPORATION (REGISTRATION NO. CH12319), MAY BE OBTAINED FROM THE DIVISION OF CONSUMER SERVICES BY CALLING TOLL-FREE 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) WITHIN THE STATE OR VISITING THEIR WEBSITE HERE. REGISTRATION DOES NOT IMPLY ENDORSEMENT, APPROVAL, OR RECOMMENDATION BY THE STATE.