Ahead of the Curve: Spotting Wildflowers
Here are some of Florida’s most stunning vistas, where you look down, not up.
Admittedly, the Spanish haven’t always gotten things right. Thinking the New World was India? Come on. And that inquisition wasn’t something anyone wants to remember.
But one thing the Spanish did get right was naming our state “La Florida”—or, “flowery land.” The Sunshine State has more than 2,000 types of native wildflowers, from tiny, rare orchids to brazenly beautiful stands of sunflowers. And because our state is warm year-round, there is almost always something in bloom.
In the spring you can see more than 150 different wildflowers at CREW Land and Water Trust. Environmental education specialist Deb Hanson recommends treating your nature walk like an Easter egg hunt. “Move slowly and look for little specks of color—sometimes you’ll have to get down on your knees to see them really well. I recommend bringing a hand lens so you can really see their details.”
In the spring, the “golden snitch” of the wildflower world is a grass pink orchid. Hanson recommends checking around the edges of marshes and in low-lying areas for this pale pink beauty. “The flowers are an inch to an inch and a half, so they’re quite small but really beautiful,” she says.
In the fall, Hanson says, visitors come looking for the elusive pine lily, a dramatic yellow and red bloom. “It’s as big as your hand and it’s bright red and they’re really uncommon.”
Pepper Ranch, part of Conservation Collier’s land holdings, is also a haven for wildflowers. Visit in the fall if you want to see fields upon fields of wild sunflowers. “In October, we have a really impressive display of helianthus agrestis. They’re all over the west side of the ranch; they really take over the pastures,” says Alexandra Sulecki, program manager for Conservation Collier.
While you’re at Pepper Ranch, keep an eye out for scarlet milkweed (a breeding ground for monarch butterflies), climbing aster, dainty mistflowers and flowering thistles.
Lisa Roberts, executive director of the Florida Wildflower Foundation, recommends the Naples Botanical Garden’s wildflower meadow for easy bloom viewing. “But early spring and fall really are your best times for spotting wildflowers. By May, it’s too hot for many of the varieties,” she advises.
If you’d prefer not to leave your car, take a road trip on the Florida Turnpike. Roberts says it is one of the best roads to see wildflowers in the country, thanks to the road manager’s progressive wildflower-planting initiative.
And don’t be afraid to simply pull over (when safe, of course) and get out to look at all the variety. “The No. 1 thing I recommend is slowing down. People move so fast these days, they may not notice all the tiny flowers around them,” Roberts says.
$223, 417: The amount of money raised for the Florida Wildflower Foundation through sales of specialized wildflower license plates in 2012-13