Photo essay: Wildflowers all year

Florida’s climate makes possible a wealth of beauty and variety

Railroad vine can be seen at most area beaches this time of year. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

In Florida, there is no time when nothing is blooming.

Even in the dark of December, tickseed and Spanish needles can be found here. More than 3,000 native and naturalized plants grow on the peninsula, the result of the land’s shape, location and climate — temperate in the north, subtropical in the Keys.

Not every plant grows everywhere. Commoners such as thistle are weeds to the world, but scrub lupine and scrub balm — once sprinkled throughout the central ridge of Florida — are now the rarest of the rare. With natural habitats being lost to development, plants become opportunists. Pine hyacinths thrive on a trash-laden lot along a busy highway. A bouquet of yellow bachelor buttons pops up on a sandy roadside.

Another beach wildflower: beach morning glory. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

As any gardener knows, plants have their preferences. Some like it wet; others, dry. Iris and pickerelweed can be found along rivers and streams, and in ditches. Prickly pear cactus thrives in desert-like conditions. Some species, such as blanketflower, can handle full sun; others, such as dayflower and scrub morning glory, dissolve in the heat of noon.

A weed to the world, thistle attracts pollinators. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

Though the Earth’s warming is changing the game plan, many plants bloom on a schedule. Southern dewberry and yellow jessamine herald the arrival of spring. Pawpaw, another early bird, is scattered throughout pastures. Coral bean attracts migrating ruby-throated hummingbirds in April. Around that time, irises flourish along creeks and ditches. When the rains start, pink Sabatia and yellow bachelor buttons spring up in the fields. In fall, acres of flattop goldenrod billow across the pine flatwoods.

Pine flatwoods serve as the matrix of the Florida landscape. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

In nature, nothing is alone. Butterflies, bees, flies, ants and birds depend on plants for food and shelter. Landfills attract birds who “plant” seeds. In turn, the birds transport pollen, ensuring the next generation.

Fire — in this case a managed burn at Oscar Scherer State Park — is the catalyst that produces pine hyacinth and many other wildflowers. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri
Beautiful iris, a harbinger of spring, thrives in wet places. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri
Prickly pear cactus: delicate blooms amid the thorns. It thrives in the desert-like conditions of the scrub. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri
Coral bean, beloved of the ruby-throated hummingbird, can be planted in your garden. You can find coral bean at a native plant nursery. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri
Plants sustain many different critters, including this Florida cooter, who is dining on spatterdock in the Everglades. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri
Look for blanketflower at the beach and along roadsides. It does well in gardens. Your yard can be a much-needed oasis for wildlife. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri
A rare endemic, scrub balm grows in only a few places on the Florida Ridge in the center on the state. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri
Yellow bachelor buttons and hatpins bloom right in our neighborhood at Carlton Reserve. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

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