Les Harrison is the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director
Nothing says natural beauty like wildflowers. This time of year, nature puts on a stunning show. The ground is covered in a lush blanket of wildflowers, including our state flower, coreopsis. Milkweed is also in bloom for the arrival of monarch butterflies and caterpillars. Now is the time to get outside and enjoy it!
While there are very few months of the year in Wakulla County which do not have some native plant blooming, spring is the high point. The multitude of bright blossoms are a cheerful contrast to the preceding months.
Some may consider these native plants as random weeds with little or no purpose. In reality, they do play a part in the natural chain of events which support a variety of occurrences that make up the much-envied surroundings in this region.
Milkweed has come to the attention of many, recently, as a critical food source for the Monarch butterflies. Asclepias is the genus which includes the native milkweeds and those from other continents which number over 140.
The common name is derived from the milk-colored sap in the stalks. The latex sap contains alkaloids which can be an irritant or worse to mammals, but are the food source for Monarch caterpillars.
The colorful butterflies benefit from this plant genus in multiple ways. In addition to the nutrition during the critical growth and transition phase, the plant makes the insect unpalatable to birds.
The avian residents have learned the Monarchs are best observed, not consumed. Viceroy butterflies, which mimic the color and wing pattern of Monarchs, benefit from the reputation of being an unpleasant menu choice and are usually undisturbed by birds.
With the exception of some folk medicine applications, milkweed has no use in commercial agriculture. Many are inadvertently eliminated when controlling weeds that are problematic for producers.
Fortunately, homeowners and landscape managers are planting the native and exotic varieties as a means of supporting the Monarch population. Examples can be seen at the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Office.
Golden Mane Coreopsis is another currently blooming wildflower species on display at the Wakulla Extension Office. Also known as Tickseed, this native provides an attractive show for people and insects.
There are seven species in the Coreopsis genus native to the state of Florida, and they have been named Florida’s state flower. Coreopsis are considered perennials as they reappear each year.
These plants have bright green leaves that can be either entire or lobed. The plants have single or double flowers which come in a variety of colors including orange, pink, purple, red and yellow. Blooms are one and a half to two inches wide appearing in the spring, summer and fall.
Coreopsis require a sunny location in the landscape and perform best in well-drained soils that are not too rich. Excessive organic matter in the soils and overwatering will cause these plants to topple over.
Many of the wildflower seeds in the demonstration area were donated by Jeff Norcini of Oecohort LLC. They have been propagated and managed by Dan Dobbins, a 2014 Master Gardener graduate.
Visitors to the demonstration garden are guaranteed a colorful show. Stop by and smell the wildflowers!
To learn more about wildflowers in Wakulla County, contact the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco/.