Summer whites flourish in the wild, too

’Tis the season for that coolest of looks

“As if some little Arctic


Upon the polar hem,

Went wandering down the latitudes,

Until it puzzled came

To continents of summer,

To firmaments of sun,

To strange, bright crowds

of flowers,

And birds of foreign


Emily Dickenson


Florida has its own Alps, as seen on Siesta Key Beach. Photo by Fran Palmeri

Summer is the time in Florida when Mother Nature brings out the whites: lilies floating in ponds, tarflower in pine flatwoods, Elliot’s milkpea curling across a trail, swamp hibiscus, narrow leafed Sabatia, crownbeard — to name just a few of the wildflowers currently in bloom all over the peninsula. Buttonbush favors wet places; frostweed, dry woods.

Some like it hot. At temperatures that might wilt other flowers, beach morning glory thrives in long hours of direct sunlight, while endangered scrub mint survives the triple-digit heat of rosemary scrub, Florida’s desert.

Tarflower. Photo by Fran Palmeri

Plants bloom nonstop against a backdrop of thunderheads, Florida’s Alps, which climb higher and higher on steamy afternoons. Great Southern White butterflies are out and about. Let us not forget incandescent mushrooms, which pop up in dank places after a hard rain, and the pristine clean great egret, who navigates a swamp without sullying a feather.

Elliott’s milkpea. Photo by Fran Palmeri

Some gardeners focus on white flowers. Vita Sackville-West’s world famous white garden at Sissinghurst is the supreme example. A Florida gardener might create an all-white native wildflower garden by checking out the plants on websites such as, or (the Florida Native Plant Society).

A renowned gardener in her time, Emily Dickinson was reputed to have worn white while tending her flowers. White is still popular for brides (attended by flower girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes), but these days, all of us can choose to wear white anytime we feel like it.

A Great Southern White nectars on golden dewdrop. Photo by Fran Palmeri

Years ago, the wearing of white clothing was strictly dictated by the calendar. On Memorial Day, my mother would bring out her white sling-back shoes to wear with a red-and-white polka dot dress. My father, a captain in the U.S. Navy, broke out his summer “whites,” and my sister and I wore white straw hats to church. After Labor Day, whites were packed away and, soon thereafter, cool winds and colored leaves ushered in fall clothing in more somber colors.

Spider lilies. Photo by Fran Palmeri

In Florida and — increasingly — points north, Mother Nature keeps the whites going through fall. There are some white flowers — such as the indefatigable Spanish needles — that bloom brightly through the dark days of winter.

A great egret navigates a swamp. Photo by Fran Palmeri
Buttonball bush favors wet places. Photo by Fran Palmeri
Mushrooms pop up in dank places. Photo by Fran Palmeri
Pollinators love frostweed. Photo by Fran Palmeri
Beach morning glory likes it hot. Photo by Fran Palmeri
Lichen comes in white, too. Photo by Fran Palmeri