On Palm Sunday in 1513, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon sighted land. He dubbed it La Florida — "land of flowers" — in honor of the Spain’s Easter celebration. The abundant wildflowers he almost certainly would have seen may have also influenced the name choice.
Florida’s indigenous people and settlers utilized native wildflowers for a variety of things, from medicine and food to aesthetics. They recognized wildflowers’ places in nature’s hierarchy and their importance in the plant and animal kingdoms. This history is depicted in Florida's state seal.
However, Florida’s modern history — with its hyper-development of natural places — has erased much of the landscape in which wildflowers once grew.
For decades, though, many Florida garden clubs have kept wildflowers front and center in their communities. Their roadside efforts predate those of Lady Bird Johnson, who championed the federal Highway Beautification Act adopted in 1965. Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Transportation unknowingly planted grass sod containing red clover in the early 1960s. When the clover bloomed and complimentary calls and letters flooded in, the state’s roadside wildflower planting program was born.
FDOT’s plantings were only somewhat successful, because little was known about growing wildflowers. Clearly, research was needed, but where would the funding come from?
To solve the problem, FDOT and the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs created the State Wildflower license tag, which went on sale in 2000. The Florida Wildflower Foundation was created in 2002 to receive and disperse the $15 donation made with each tag sale.
Thanks to State Wildflower tag owners, more than $3 million has been raised for research, planting and education projects statewide. Projects have included propagation, seed protocol and gene flow studies; schoolyard and community wildflower gardens; literature and brochures; videos and more. Visit our Planting and Research pages to learn more about our projects.
Plants and animals have evolved together in Florida to form unique and distinct ecosystems. Plants form the first level of the food chain for herbivores, such as deer, rabbits, squirrels and mice. Some birds eat flower seeds, and others feast on the insects that visit wildflowers.
But it’s not all about who’s eating who. Insects use wildflowers as food and nectar sources. These plants also serve as shelter, platforms for eggs, and places to overwinter.
Watch your wildflowers and you will experience a web of inter-connectivity between plants and animals.
The Florida Museum of Natural History’s popular Florida butterfly/wildflower brochure was printed with a grant from the Florida Wildflower Foundation. The beautiful guide to our butterflies and Florida wildflowers is ready to download and print on a legal-size sheet, or to enjoy on-screen. Click here (PDF) to download the beautiful guide to print on legal-size paper or to enjoy on-screen. Limited copies are available for Florida environmental events and schools; send your request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
These books are available through Amazon.com and in franchise bookstores. Many also can be ordered through Great Outdoor Publishing (www.FloridaBooks.com). The last book also is available from UF/IFAS Publications in Gainesville (1-800-226-1764).
Florida Native Plants (Robert Haehle & Joan Brookwell, 1999)
The Guide to Florida Wildflowers (Walter Kingsley Taylor, 1992)
Florida Wildflowers in Their Natural Communities (Walter Kingsley Taylor, 1998)
Florida Wild Flowers and Roadside Plants (C. Ritchie Bell & Bryan J. Taylor, 1982)
Wildflowers of Florida Field Guide (Jaret Daniels, 2010)
Florida Keys Wildflowers: A Guide to the Common Wildflowers of the Florida Keys (Roger Hammer, 2004) Also, Everglades Wildflowers (Roger Hammer, 2002)
The Right Plants for Dry Places, Native Plant Landscaping in Central Florida (Suncoast Native Plant Society, ISBN: 0820004235
A Gardener's Guide to Florida's Native Plants (Rufino Osorio, 2001)
Native Plant Landscaping for Florida Wildlife
(Craig Heugal, 2010)
Bringing Nature Home (Douglas W. Tallamy, 2007)