Serendipity comes in multiple hues

A change of plan leads to an uncommon find

This is the view down the trail at Southfork, past fields of saw palmetto. Photo courtesy of Fran Palmeri

When I wake up in the morning, my first thought is, “Where shall I go today?” I have walked Florida since coming here at age 9. Often I will be driving somewhere when suddenly I am led to stop to photograph something along the roadside or take a walk in a park.

And so it was the Sunday before last that, driving State Road 62 to check out a wildfire near Frostproof, that I was prompted to drop into the Southfork tract of the Little Manatee River. I hurried down the trail with few expectations. I had been here many times — what could possibly be new?

This time of year, blue-eyed grass, which is in the iris family, can also be found along roadsides.

Fields dense with saw palmetto did little to change my mind, but wildflowers alongside the trail kept me going. Bouquets of bantam-buttons and blue-eyed grass had sprung up despite the drought in this very warm La Nina winter. Cowpea and pennyroyal, attended by bees, were tucked into the grasses.

Making a right at an old oak tree, I proceeded down “bird walk” to the creek. A catbird calling, tiny warblers flitting about the trees and a lattice of leaves against blue sky all evoked the magic that so endears me to Florida.

Pennyroyal, a true harbinger of spring, is attended by a bee. Photo courtesy of Fran Palmeri

It was then I came upon a wildflower in the grassy area near the creek. Many Florida wildflowers are small, but this one was at least 2 feet tall with a bright white blossom, a red one and an immature bloom at the base. I had never seen it before.

Osceola’s plume proves there is always something new to be found. Photo courtesy of Fran Palmeri

I photographed it from every angle, challenged by dim light and strong emotion. Continuing down the trail, I scoured my memory. Nothing came to mind except the cover of Archbold Research Station’s plant list.

A bouquet of bantam-buttons awaits admirers of Florida’s natural beauty. Photo courtesy of Fran Palmeri

My plan to go to Frostproof scrapped, I crossed over the creek and walked up the trail, finding more saw palmetto and wildflowers. The call of a rufous towhee told me this was scrub habitat. I meandered along a few other trails before the setting sun called an end to the day.

Sure enough, when I returned home and dug up the Archbold plant list, there was “my” plant on the cover: Osceola’s plume (Stenanthium densum) — not rare but uncommon in my neck of the woods.

Cowpea hides in the grasses. Photo courtesy of Fran Palmeri

A few days later, I was moved to send this essay for comment to my writing buddy, Barbara Dondero. She returned it with a beautiful drawing of Osceola by Theodore Morris. She had just met the artist at Sarasota County’s Lost Tribes exhibit celebrating Florida Archaeology Month. Doing copious research and even participating in digs, Morris depicts Native American life and does portraits of leaders like Osceola, who was revered by his people but betrayed by our government and thrown into prison, where he died. Now the Seminole is celebrated in place names and a wildflower.

This is the right turn at the old oak. Photo courtesy of Fran Palmeri

The unplanned foray always yields the richest rewards.


Eight days later, I stopped back at Southfork to look at Osceola’s plume and found that the large white blossom and the immature plant had both turned red. I have never seen a wildflower change so dramatically in such a short period of time.

Osceola’s plume shows a new hue. Photo courtesy of Fran Palmeri

Open every day, Little Manatee River Southfork Tract can be accessed on State Road 62, 12 miles east of U.S. 301 in Manatee County.

Running through April, The Lost Tribes exhibit is at Sarasota’s Chidsey Library, located at l701 N. Tamiami Trail. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 4:30 p.m.

Osceola by Theodore Morris. Image reproduced with the permission of the artist
The path down ‘bird walk’ takes me to the creek. Photo courtesy of Fran Palmeri
A pine warbler hides in the branches. Photo courtesy of Fran Palmeri
Maples key out amid Spanish moss. Photo courtesy of Fran Palmeri
The rufous towhee hangs out on the edge of scrub habitat. Photo courtesy of Fran Palmeri
The lattice of leaves against a Florida winter sky steals my heart. Photo courtesy of Fran Palmeri
Osceola’s plume stands out brightly in its natural setting. Photo courtesy of Fran Palmeri