Summer news from PWA counties

It is a busy summer and good news abounds for wildflower conservation in Florida’s Panhandle area. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has successfully planted a large wildflower meadow along Interstate 10 near the Sneads exit, the City of Sopchoppy was awarded a Florida Wildflower Foundation (FWF) Viva Florida landscape grant for the Depot Park wildflower garden, a native plant meadow is flourishing at Citizens Lodge in Marianna, and a new wildflower pilot project funded by FWF has popped up in Wakulla County along the St. Marks Historic Rail Trail. Of course, it takes a lot of volunteer support to make all this happen, and we need your help! Read on to learn ways you can become involved.

— Liz Sparks, FWF Panhandle Wildflower Alliance Liaison

Wildflowers Need Your Help!

FWF is working to expand roadside wildflower conservation programs throughout the state by working with local wildflower advocates. We are looking for groups and leaders to help initiate or direct existing wildflower programs in Bay, Escambia, Holmes, Leon and Okaloosa counties.

The time commitment is not huge, and the Foundation provides support at every step along the way. An established process outlines how to identify naturally occurring wildflower areas along roadsides, how to work with local county government, and how to coordinate a wildflower conservation program.

Candidates should have good organizational and communication skills. Being connected with local government officials also is helpful. Botanical knowledge is a plus but not critical and can be offset by recruiting volunteers with knowledge of native plants. Creating a team with diverse skill sets — especially in the area of public outreach and education — makes for a successful program.

Leaders in each county recruit other volunteers to help monitor roadside Wildflower Areas from March through May and September through November, which are considered the flowering seasons in the Panhandle. Monitoring includes checking for mowing compliance, identifying and documenting wildflowers and invasive species in Wildflower Areas, and reporting to the county leader. Monitoring once every two to three weeks is sufficient to document the presence of wildflowers during a season.

FDOT plants new Wildflower Areas on I-10 and SR 71

by Dustie Moss

A project to establish wildflowers is underway within the median area near the Grand Ridge exit on Interstate 10 and along State Road 71 near the state line at Malone. Contractors started by mowing some of the existing Wildflower Areas after they bloomed to help reseed them naturally. They then sprayed a selective herbicide so not to harm existing flowers but to eradicate weeds. We are pleased to see new growth in the spring. We have started mowing around all Wildflower Areas to keep the weeds from seeding into them.

New wildflower photo collections

Exciting news for wildflower enthusiasts in the Panhandle. Bob Farley and Floyd Griffith have teamed up to produce stunning photo collections of wildflowers in each of the 16 Panhandle counties. Copies of these collections can be found at the main branch of each county’s public library; ask at the reference desk.

Bob put photos in alphabetical order by genus in a 3-ring binder so that all similar species would be grouped and viewers can make copies for their use without a computer. Library staff also have thumb drives with Powerpoint and PDF files for digital viewing and reprints or copies to branches. Thank you Bob and Floyd for sharing your fabulous photos!

What’s Happening Around the Panhandle

Calhoun County

What is all the buzz about pollinators and native plants? Learn all about them from experts Karen and Travis MacClendon while helping beautify the Blountstown Pollinator Garden next to the Historic Museum and getting a great workout. Volunteers are always welcome to join the MacClendons to weed the garden. Contact them at sivartmac@gmail.com.

Wildflower Area at SR71 exit of I10. Photo by Dustie Moss

Franklin and Liberty Counties

Jim Folsom enthusiastically has volunteered to lead the Florida Wildflower Foundation’s roadside wildflower conservation efforts in Franklin and Liberty counties. Having retired with his wife, Debra, to their home on St. George Island, Jim has renewed his decades-long interest in the Panhandle flora. Following a 36-year career as director of The Huntington’s Botanical Gardens (Southern California), Jim remains dedicated to public outreach that advances understanding, appreciation and conservation of plant biodiversity. Combining these long-term interests, he intends to:

  • Learn more about how we can advance wildflower programs that have been developed;
  • Meet with the many people responsible for managing and maintaining public rights-of-way in order to learn more about their many wildflower challenges and opportunities;
  • Communicate with and train others in the community interested in volunteering to promote and preserve the region’s native wildflowers; and
  • Create opportunities for public programming to promote use of native plants in local landscaping.

Jim is anxious to learn the lay of the land — physically, culturally and politically. He welcomes contact with others who have participated as county volunteers in previous years, as well as people new to FWF programming who would enjoy learning more about the regional flora and how we can work together to preserve our natural heritage of spectacular native plants. Contact Jim at jfolsom@huntington.org or 818-599-8595.

Gulf County

by Susan Wozniak and Nancy Jones

Gulf County is upgrading the shoulders along most of its county roads this summer. However, wildflowers are flourishing beyond the black silt fence, including yellow Tickseed (Coreopsis spp.), Tampa vervain (Glanduaria tampensis), Fleabane (Erigeron spp.), and Pink meadowbeauty (Rhexia virginica). Deeper into ditches, if one looks closely, an assortment of whimsical Ladies’ hatpins (Eriocaulon decangulare), spiky Starrush whitetops (Rhyncospioa colorata) and a glistening Threadleaf sundew (Drosera filiformis) put on a show.

Jackson County

by Christy Andreasen

The Board of County Commissioners, staff, dedicated volunteers, and wildflower enthusiasts and liaisons have worked since November 2016 to establish the county’s sustainable wildflower program, including reduced mowing along certain roadsides for wildflowers.

In addition to this effort, Jackson County Public Works/Parks and Recycling Department agreed to dedicate a 4-acre piece of Citizen’s Lodge in Marianna as an official Wildflower Area. Mowing will be reduced through the growing months, with a clean cut each winter.

Local wildflower enthusiasts have enjoyed the recent increase in species present at Citizen’s Lodge within the area. The area is being monitored by staff for varieties of species, with the intent of planting additional seeds in the future. These seeds are being graciously donated by Marianna residents John and Becky Trott, advocates for Wildflower Areas.

On May 1, a Beautification Day was held at Citizen’s Lodge to spruce up the area in conjunction with the awareness campaign for Jackson County, which recently joined the Keep America Beautiful program. County staff, community members and volunteers from Rivertown Community Church replanted flower beds leading into Citizen’s Lodge and added two new rose gardens near the building. A special thanks goes to RCC for their generous donation for supplies and to the Jackson County Board of County Commissioners for supporting the project.

Keep JCO Beautiful — Jackson County’s official Keep America Beautiful affiliation name — will work alongside the wildflower initiative to help keep our roadsides and waterways clean for the enjoyment of residents and visitors.

The Jackson County Tourist Development Council would like to extend a special thanks to all volunteers, donors, staff, liaisons and commissioners involved in helping to get the program off the ground. We are excited to see continued growth in these initiatives as we move forward!

For more information on wildflowers in Jackson County, please email Christy Andreasen, TDC executive director, at andreasenc@jacksoncountyfl.gov.

Wildflower Meadow at Citizen’s Lodge in Marianna. Photo by Floyd Griffith

Leon and Wakulla Counties

FWF partnered with an energetic team of Leon County Master Gardeners to establish a pollinator demonstration garden as a pilot project with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Greenways and Trails.

The garden is adjacent to a busy community park (1362 Old Woodville Road) and the popular St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail, which runs 16 miles from the outskirts of Tallahassee to the small coastal town of St Marks. Volunteers, led by Jeanne Breland of Tallahassee, planted a dozen species of colorful native wildflowers and plants that will offer habitat for diverse pollinators.

The new garden will provide a waystation for pollinators while inspiring trail visitors to add wildflowers to their own landscapes and boosting the Foundation’s mission to create corridors of pollinator habitat throughout Florida.

“It has been over six weeks since the plants went in and most of them are doing well,” Breland said. “The goal of the wildflower garden as I see it is twofold. It adds interest to the trail, and as the garden matures, it will become a trail of its own with the plants reseeding. As the bikers and walkers pass by, they will be able to enjoy the garden, the butterflies and whatever else is visiting the garden that day. Additionally, it may inspire others to start a garden of their own.”

The garden is meant to be almost labor free rather than labor intensive. The native plants are mostly drought tolerant and can be purchased locally either as seeds or plants. We will keep you posted as the garden matures.

The St. Marks Garden includes ‘puddler’ for pollinators. Photo by Jeanne Breland

Santa Rosa County

by Suzanne Spencer

The spring/summer wildflower season has been quite showy in Santa Rosa County, with consistent rains promoting the growth and proliferation of many species. The spring wildflowers started showing up about two weeks later than the past several years due to the colder winter weather. A late spring, along with the help of the rain and moderate temperatures, promoted an extended bloom season for several populations. Tracy’s sundews (Drosera tracyi) really put on a show on Dickerson City Road from late April into May. Another native wildflower seen in good numbers during late spring and into summer has been the Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta).

The Santa Rosa County Roadside Wildflower Program, which promotes the growth and proliferation of wildflowers through a schedule of reduced and selective mowing practices on designated roadside areas, continues but with a few changes. A one-tenth mile section on Garcon Point Road north of Interstate 10 was dropped from the program because of the commercial development of adjacent property. While the loss of this stretch of prime Wildflower Area constitutes a set-back to the program, this has been mitigated somewhat by including a new designated Wildflower Area. Approximately 2.2 miles along both sides of Willard Norris Road was added to the program in June. This section of road has a wide right-of-way and is fairly rural, with Pond Creek running through the middle of the area. A nice variety of wildflowers naturally exist here, and it will be exciting to monitor the populations as they benefit from the reduced mowing regime. Currently, Santa Rosa County has a total of approximately 65 miles of designated Wildflower Areas on the six county and four state roads included in the program.

Drosera tracyi blooms along Dickerson Road. Photo by Suzanne Spencer

Wakulla County

by Sandy Tedder

Sopchoppy Depot Park Wins Two Awards

by Lynn Artz. Reprinted permission of Wakulla News, published May 26, 2021

Sopchoppy Depot Park has received the 2021 Excellence Award for Institutional Landscapes from the Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS). The award is for a high-quality native plant landscape in an institutional setting such as a public site, government entity, church or school.

Depot Park is on Rose Street in Sopchoppy across from the historic train depot. Members of the Sarracenia Chapter of FNPS have been instrumental in landscaping the depot and park with native trees, shrubs, wildflowers and grasses since 2018. The 1.7-acre park now boasts more than 100 different native plant species, including 6 species of native milkweeds and a bog garden with pitcherplants.

FNPS announced the winner of the excellence award on May 22nd at its annual meeting. Awardee benefits include a customized plaque, statewide media exposure, and a feature story in the FNPS magazine and website.

In addition, on May 14th, the City of Sopchoppy was awarded a Viva Florida Landscape Demonstration grant from the Florida Wildflower Foundation (FWF). This grant program helps parks, nature centers, and other public spaces purchase Florida native wildflowers to showcase the beauty of Florida natives and demonstrate their use in landscapes.

The City of Sopchoppy plans to expand and enhance the native plantings in Depot Park. Grant funds will help volunteers create a 2,000-square-foot wildflower meadow in the southwest corner of the park, replant the park entrance with native plants, and add new native species throughout the park.

Educating the public is a major emphasis of the FWF grant. New signage will help park visitors learn the names of native plants. A seed library will encourage park visitors to grow native wildflowers in their own yards. Seeds collected from park plants will be offered in packets with information about how and where to plant the seeds. Informative self-guided tours of the park also will be developed. Expect spring, summer and fall wildflower tours.

For information about the FWF demonstration grant or to volunteer to help with the planned wildflower meadow, please contact Mayor Lara Edwards (lara.edwards@sopchoppy.org; 850-212-3184) or Lynn Artz (lynn_artz@hotmail.com; 850-320-2158). For information about the FNPS landscape excellence award, please contact David Roddenberry (david.roddenberry@comcast.net).

Native Plant Garden at Sopchoppy’s Depot Park. Photo by Sandy Tedder