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Welcome, spring's glorious wildflowers

Everywhere you look, an explosion of blooming wildflowers drape the roadsides, full of busy pollinators and happy colors. Although not all naturally occurring wildflower areas are spectacularly showy, our roadside corridors provide a critical haven for the hundreds of species of pollinators responsible for one out of three bites of our food.  Our pollinators need our help - and we need help from them! Florida's natural habitats are becoming increasingly more fragmented and impacted as we make room for a daily influx of 1,000 new residents to our state. 

To offset these impacts, there is much we can do individually and as a group of wildflower advocates to increase habitat for pollinators, from beautifying our roadsides and changing our habits cultivating our home landscapes. Our PWA member and IFAS Extension Agent in Santa Rosa County, Mary Salinas, offers  helpful tips for creating optimum habit for pollinators in our gardens in her article below. 

Keeping our roadside wildflowers blooming is an ongoing challenge! We'll hear from two counties who achieved success through completely different actions. "Wildflower Warriors" fought and won on the political front in Wakulla County to maintain a wildflower program.  And a PWA member in Okaloosa County, MaryAnn Friedman, scheduled a meeting in January, well before the spring bloom, to coordinate modified mowing management with an FDOT contractor to help conserve wildflowers and an endangered butterfly. 

I welcome your articles, comments and photos to make this newsletter a voice for the Panhandle Wildflower Alliance. Let's share our success stories and ideas to save our roadside wildflowers. I can be reached at or call 850-570-5950.

- Liz Sparks, Florida Wildflower Foundation PWA/FDOT Liaison

Wildflower warriors save Wakulla's roadside flowers

By Gail Fishman

In January 2018, the Wakulla County Commission took up a proposal from Commissioner Mike Stewart to streamline the mowing regimen along the county's state and federal highways. Fall wildflowers and grasses were flourishing because of a reduced mowing policy adopted by the county in 2009. However, Stewart felt the roadsides looked unkempt and posed safety problems.

Before the meeting, Scott Davis, Lynn Artz, Bonnie Bashem and others spent hours making phone calls, sending e-mails and attending meetings, during which they crafted an alternative mowing plan for consideration.

At the meeting, when Stewart revealed his proposal for an every-six-weeks full right-of-way mowing, Panhandle Wildflower Alliance members spoke up about the need to protect roadside plants. They noting that Wakulla County includes the Apalachicola National Forest and St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, as well as several state parks and wildlife management areas. Wakulla also is home to a stretch of the Big Bend Scenic Byway, and marketing touts the county’s natural assets and recreational opportunities, which draw both national and international visitors.

No one spoke in favor of increased mowing. Some of the PWA's suggestions were accepted, and the commission voted 3 to 2 to accept Mr. Stewart’s proposal. It was a partial win, but wildflower warriors were not giving up.

During the March 6 commission meeting, Commissioner Chuck Hess introduced another proposal that increased mowing on Crawfordville Highway while decreasing it in areas where wildflowers - especially endangered and threatened species - are found. The meeting was well-attended, with many PWA members poised to speak. After making a few tweaks, the board voted unanimously to accept Hess’ proposal with the caveat that it be reviewed in one year.

Had lead “wildflower warrior” Lynn Artz not mobilized wildflower lovers in Wakulla and Leon counties, and from the PWA and the Florida Native Plant Society’s Sarracenia and Magnolia chapters, this victory would not have been won.

Partnering to protect Frosted elfin Butterflies

Okaloosa County is home to some of Florida’s most diverse natural areas. Roadways in our county run through large portions of Eglin Air Force Base Reservation and Blackwater River State Forest (BWRSF), creating corridors of natural beauty.  In April 2009, entomologist Dr. Marc Minno and MaryAnn Friedman, an Okaloosa County resident, discovered Frosted elfin caterpillars on Sundial lupine (pictured) along State Road 189 in Baker in the midst of BWRSF. (Photo by Mary Ann Friedman)
In March 2012, the Florida Department of Transportation agreed to accept a mowing schedule change along the road to protect the imperiled butterfly and reduce impact on the lupine, which the butterfly requires. This area has been monitored annually, and active cooperation with FDOT and forestry continues.
                                                                                                            In other activity, Eglin has begun working with Bob Farley, FDOT District 3 vegetation manager, on roadways through the Air Force reservation to enhance existing wildflowers areas.
In 2016, Friedman asked the Okaloosa County Commission to consider a Wildflower Resolution. The board approve and signed its resolution on April 5, 2016. Commissioners have been very positive in response to citizen requests to enhance the beauty of our county roadways.
Utility lines of all kinds are underground along the roadways. Electric wiring overhead needs to be free of interference from tree limbs. Often we do not notice these things until our “protected road” becomes impacted by the vehicles used in maintenance or by the maintenance itself. At these times, it is important to know who to call and how to express oneself.
There has been active communication between the various agencies that oversee the care and maintenance of our county’s roads. In most years, a single email message early in the year to remind the mowing crews of certain area's special requirements has been sufficient to maintain contact and coordination. In other years, a roadside chat has proven beneficial to point out vulnerable plant species and provide photographs of imperiled butterfly species. Broadspectrum Services (now Ferrovial), which provides mowing and trash collection along S.R. 189, has actively sought these face-to-face meetings.
Many of the roads that have abundant native flowers border Blackwater River State Forest and Eglin Air Force Base Reservation. Prescribed burns performed by these agencies impact our roads at times. It is good to remember that the people who work at agencies like Jackson Guard (Eglin Natural Resources) and the Division of Forestry are outstanding advocates for nature.  The spirit of cooperation grows as we realize that we are all hoping for the same results: healthy habitat for all to enjoy.
Contact Information: MaryAnn Friedman 850-729-2893

From Justin Whipple, Project Manager, Okaloosa, Ferrovial Services, a FDOT District 3 Contractor:

Over the past several years, Ferrovial Services has had the extreme pleasure of working with Mrs. MaryAnn Friedman along S.R. 189 to assist with conservation efforts of the Frosted Elfin butterfly. 
Each year, before our mowing cycle begins, not only do we have discussion with our internal staff, but we also hold a meeting on site with our mowing and litter contractors to make them aware of the site and to avoid any unnecessary disturbance of this area.  For the past few years, we have invited Mrs. Friedman to our on-site meeting in order to reacquaint ourselves with the area and discuss the mowing limitations and expectations for the upcoming season.  We know that during the time period of Feb. 1-June 1 is critical to the preservation of the butterfly, so we are particularly mindful of the area if there are any maintenance activities that take place within these limits.

Protecting pollinators in our landscape

Bees, butterflies and other insects play important roles as pollinators in our environment. Over 50 major crops in the United States and at least 13 crops in Florida depend on honey bees. Many native plants in natural areas also depend on insect pollinators for reproduction. In Florida, over 300 bee species play a role in pollination!

Many factors affect the health of our pollinators. One of those factors we can easily control in our own landscapes is exposures to pesticides. How are bees and other pollinators exposed? Here are some of the major routes:
  • Drift of pesticides sprayed in breezy/windy conditions
  • The erosion of contaminated topsoil blowing in the wind
  • Direct feeding on pollen and nectar of treated plants
  • Contact with pesticides that have blown onto plant surfaces
  • Contact with water transpired by leaves of treated plants
  • Pesticides that move down through the soil to affect ground dwelling bees and other insects
Did you know that bees become statically charged when they fly, causing particles in the air to attract to them?

What are some ways that we can reduce the risk of exposure to pollinators in our landscapes?
  1. Use integrated pest management principles to reduce the incidence of pests and their impacts.
  2. Avoid treating areas containing flowering weeds/plants with insecticides. Never apply an insecticide to blooms or flowering plants.
  3. Avoid the use of neonicotinoids as this class of insecticides can be more toxic to bees than other classes of insecticides. There are many effective alternatives.
Bee friendly to our pollinators!

For more information:
Minimizing Honey Bee Exposure to Pesticides
Creating and Maintaining Healthy Pollinator Habitat – Xerces Society

Author: Mary Salinas -
Residential Horticulture Extension Agent for Santa Rosa County

A paddler's guide to Womack Creek blooms

Marylyn and Ed Feaver are avid kayakers and Master Naturalists who combine their passion for paddling and exploring botanical wonders on North Florida waterways near their home in Gadsden County. They recently received the annual  2018 Environmental Leadership Award from Paddle Florida.  Join them as they share their exploration of spring splendor on Womack Creek.

Spring time on Womack Creek is like visiting a horticultural park. Depending on seasonal rainfall and winter and early spring temperatures, one will see a variety of blooms. Womack Creek is a tributary of the Ochlockonee River, on the east side of Tate’s Hell State Forest, which protects the Ochlockonee and Apalachicola rivers watershed. 

The sequence of blooms there begins with alder catkins and the catkins of the hornbeam trees, with their delicate pink new leaves. Walter’s viburnum soon follows, blooming sometimes as early as January. The many blueberry bushes are also early bloomers.  Masses of these early spring flowers also can be seen in marshy areas off the Ochlockonee River.

However, spring really begins with the blooming of the Pinxter azaleas, which attract swallowtail butterflies. And the blooms following bring sulphur butterflies, dragonflies, bees and wasps. In the trees,  golden Swamp jessamine and orange Crossvine bloom in clusters. Along the edges of the forest are yellow Butterweed and early Bristly buttercups. Tiny bunched white flowers of the Yaupon, then Dahoon holly, appear about the same time as the purple tinged buds of Pumpkin ash. White and some pink-tinged Blackberry blossoms also show up in masses along river in sunny spots. Purple Clematis crispa sometimes appears early ( bloom far past fall) — one may have to look under their heart-shaped leaves for flowers. Parsley haw trees bloom all over the creek, heavier in some years than others. White Virginia sweet spire creates masses of pendulous blooms — who would think that white could be so arresting?

When the pink azleas reach their full bloom (usually from late March through April), Fringe trees also begin to fully bloom. Spring breezes move these long creamy petals and move the boughs and vines of blooming flowers —  a symphony, a dance. About this time, the American holly blossoms along with the swamp dogwoods — small star-shaped flowers massed together, in some years in bigger clusters than others. In late spring the Swamp roses begin to bloom, a little later than the purple spikes of the False indigo. Not infrequently one will see the few American snowbells in bloom.

When the temperature and humidity is just right and the wind is blowing your way, the scents of the flowers are noticeable:  The subtlety of Pinxter azaleas, the cinnamon scent of the Swamp roses, and the underlying strong scent of American wisteria, which cluster in trees in certain places on the creek.  

In the visible interior, one can see Cowcreek spider lily blooms, an endemic species discovered by Dr. Loran Anderson, professor emeritus, FSU Biology, and guardian of the FSU Herbarium.   Later purple Pickerelweed and an occasional Blue flag iris will find its way among the white lilies.  At this stage, all flowers are vying for your attention (or the insects'), but it’s hard to miss the Narrowleaf evening primrose, which catch the sun’s rays and sparkle them back to you. How can you resist not taking their photo.? 

Huge balls of Rusty haw berries are dots of white on the bushes, while below, lavender False dragonhead blossoms show on erect stems.  Muscadines and Poison ivy blooms from vines hanging from trees. The Ogeche tupelo blooms attract honey bees.

Creekside, early blueberries are ready to pick. Blackberries are ready by late spring on vines that also attract sunning non-venomous water snakes. Our favorite, blooming throughout the year, are Green-fly orchids on two special trees in the creek.

For photos and more information see “A Paddler Guide to the Flowering Plants of Womack Creek”,  It was a Florida Master Naturalist project we started with Steven Babcock and continued by us. 

For a report on what is blooming, hit the logbook section on the top, which gives a month by month report of blooms and critters on the creek. 
The Florida Panhandle Wildflower Alliance is a project of the Florida Wildflower Foundation funded by the State Wildflower license plate. This informal network of regional wildflower enthusiasts advocates for conservation of wildflowers in Florida's Panhandle. 
Click to follow Florida's wildflowers on the web
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Florida Wildflower Foundation  |  225 S. Swoope Ave., Suite 110  |  Maitland, FL 32751
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Florida Wildflower Foundation · 225 S. Swoope Ave. · Suite 110 · Maitland, FL 32751 · USA

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