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Native Wildflowers Account For Our Fall Color

The attractive hues of autumn bloomers attract the attention of butterflies, too. The combination make an almost infinite combination of colors and shapes.
Photo by Les Harrison

By Les Harrison
Wakulla County Extension Director

Wakulla County has many natural wonders which encompass all 12 months of the year. The woodlands, the springs, and the coast all rate highly with anyone who has an appreciation for outdoor environs.

Alas, one recurring fete which does not occur locally is a splendorous change of leaf color in the autumn. The brilliant hues of seemingly endless supply of larches, hickories and all the other hardwood species just do not show out here in north Florida.

This is not to say, however, there is little to no fall color in the area. Native wildflowers more than compensate for the short-lived colorful leaves.

The western part of Wakulla County hides a fleeting treasure available to only those with a curious mind and a will to witness the ageless autumn display.  Fall wildflowers are marshalling a colorful shout against the muted and inevitable silence of a coming winter.

A leisurely ride out Smith Creek Road into the Apalachicola National Forest provides the opportunity to observe vibrant displays in and under the pines, palmettos and other permanent residents of the area. In the current cul-de-sac lifestyle of two income homes and crammed schedules, even for the children, the autumn forest provides a stark contrast with its timeless seasonal cycle.

A GPS is recommended for the novice observers venturing off Smith Creek Road, or at least a compass for basic headings.  The forest roads can be confusing, and remember, the sun sets in the west.

The aptly named Golden rods are common in clumps and as individuals.  Golden rods were once considered a strategic resource critical to national security.  Thomas Edison used these flamboyant perennials to produce a natural rubber when off-shore sources were threatened by world politics.  A ball of golden rod rubber currently resides at Edison’s winter home in Fort Myers, Florida

The showy autumn-blooming goldenrods are a treat for the eye of human residents, but also supply much needed pollen and nectar for insects preparing for winter soon to come. This delta flower beetle and European Honeybee, along with many others utilize this bright resource.
Photo by Les Harrison

On the other end of the color spectrum is the Blazing Star.  This plant produces lavender blooms on an eight to 12 inch spike.  The clusters are frequently seen on roadsides because the plant has a need for exposure to sunlight.

The Pitcher Plant, while not a wildflower, is a colorful local inhabitant of wetter terrain.  Sometimes located in a roadside ditch, sometimes found on the edge of swampy areas, the plant is frequently found in a group.

A carnivorous plant whose unique prey-trapping mechanism features a deep cavity filled with a liquid. Unsuspecting insects are attracted by lures into the cavity formed by the cupped leaf.

The interior sides of the pitcher are slippery and leave nothing for a fatigued insect to rest upon.  Soon the prey is drown its body is gradually dissolved providing the plant with needed nutrients.

Ladies Hatpins are commonly found with pitcher plants in wet areas.  The diminutive button-like bloom clusters are located on the end of a ram-rod straight stalk.  These perennials bloom throughout the warm seasons of the year.

Blue Mistflowers are aggressive colonizers that spread by underground runners.  The dense deep blue and purple blooms appear as autumn progresses.  Like the blazing stars, they are frequently seen on roadside habitats because of their requirement for sunlight.

And there are so many more not detailed here: Asters, False Foxgloves, Sunflowers, Deer Tongue and the list goes on.  However, as the days get shorter, so do the visual treasures of autumn 2017.

And there is another big advantage of wildflowers over leaves. Nobody ever spent seemingly endless hours raking them.

To learn more about local wildflower, contact your UF/IFAS Wakulla Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco/