Panhandle interest puts wildflowers on fast track

BLOUNTSTOWN – It was a beautiful day in Calhoun County – blue skies, maple tree seed pods shining red – when about 70 people streamed in from 15 counties streamed into Rivertown Community Church. Drawn by their common passion for Florida’s wildflowers, they had came to learn more about fostering wildflowers along federal, state and county roads in the Florida Panhandle.

Bob Farley shares FDOT plans with meeting attendees.

The meeting — sponsored by the Florida Wildflower Foundation and Panhandle Wildflower Alliance, and hosted by the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce — took place in late February, when Panhandle roadsides were setting up spring’s first blooms. The Panhandle Wildflower Alliance is a network of citizens who care about wildflowers and their services, such as their supporting roles to pollinators. Public roadsides provide the opportunity for long stretches of land that have just the right amount of sun and water for many different kinds of beautiful flowers. Learning how to use these venues to let wildflowers flourish while maintaining safe roads at the same time is a concern of both wildflower enthusiasts and those who maintain roadsides.

County Commissioner Thomas Flowers, who welcomed the group, pointed out that not only are wildflower lovely, they are important sources of food for pollinators. He also noted that beekeeping is an important industry in the area.

Jeff Caster, the Florida Department of Transportation’s landscape architect, told the group about the department’s statewide commitment to increase wildflowers along state and federal highways throughout Florida. Only a year ago, FDOT passed a new policy for more wildflowers; much progress already has been made, and many more plans and projects are in the works. FDOT District 3 Wildflower Coordinator Dustie Moss also gave the group an overview of how to work effectively with the district and reviewed the FDOT wildflower area definition.

Kristy Terry with Calhoun County’s wildflower sign.

Bob Farley, who works with Moss, is developing plans for managing the district roadsides for more wildflowers. He told the group about designating more areas for planting wildflower seeds to make a showy display along north Florida roads. He also described how Interstate 10 roadsides will be mowed less widely in many places, allowing more room for wildflowers to grow naturally.

Counties with their own wildflower programs also shared what they are doing to allow roadside wildflowers to grow. In some cases, as in Calhoun County, a comprehensive wildflower program is already underway.

Calhoun County, which passed one of the more recent resolutions to protect roadside wildflowers, is setting a blistering pace for other Panhandle counties. Recently, the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce funded the signs to mark roadside wildflower areas, and the chamber is organizing the North Florida Wildflower Festival, to be held in Blountstown on April 25. The event will promote environmentally friendly and sustainable gardening practices with featured speakers, demonstrations, kids activities, and plant and gardening vendors. Click for more festival information.