Off the Beaten Path: Images of Florida Spring Wildflowers

by AbbyFitz

The city sprawl and asphalt can make visitors think Florida has been paved over. But Florida, particularly North Florida, is home to an abundance of colorful spring wildflowers.

Palm trees, beaches, and Disney World. That's the picture that most tourists have in their minds when they visit the Sunshine State. However, there's much more to Florida than the stereotypical tropical paradise everyone envisions.

In fact, you'll find swamps, prairies, pine and oak forests, springs, and lakes that crisscross the state. In the spring, all of these habitats are home to abundant and colorful wildflowers that will rival any beach in terms of scenic beauty.

After all, Ponce de Leon didn't name this beautiful land la Florida for nothing.

Most visitors to Florida arrive by plane or interstate, neither of which is very scenic and doesn't show off the beauty of Florida's springtime wildflowers.

Instead of taking the interstates to get to your destinations in Florida, take the scenic backroads through the northern part of the state, which is where you'll find Florida's prettiest flowers.

Getting there is Half the Fun

Interstates may be faster, but you won't see the real Florida unless you take an alternate highway.

I-95, I-75, and I-10 hurl visitors through Florida at breakneck speeds, funneling them towards Orlando and points south. For the most part, all they'll see are miles of pine trees, fields, and eventually city sprawl.

But for every interstate, there's a lesser known highway that roughly follows the same route. It will get you to where you need to go, but at a slower pace and with much prettier scenery.

As a native Floridian, I've learned to embrace these little-used byways. They're less congested than the interstates, scenic, and I have a chance to photograph my favorite subject: wildflowers.

Firewheels Along the Coastline

Florida Indian Blanket Flower
Florida Indian Blanket Flower
Author
Pink Indian Blanketflower
Pink Indian Blanketflower
Author

Florida Indian Blanket Flower

It thrives in the hot, dry sandy soil of the coast.

Instead of taking I-95 down Florida's east coast, consider driving along A1A, the Scenic and Historic Coastal Highway. You'll see everything from the oldest city in the nation, to the first oceanarium in the world. But, more importantly, you'll be able to watch mile after mile of the state's breathtaking beaches.

In St. Johns County in St. Augustine, I found these flowers beaming their colorful faces at me from both sides of the highway.

It seemed as if these hardy plants could grow just about anywhere. I saw them creeping across sand dunes and hugging the sides of A1A. I found the red and yellow one growing in between rocks near Marineland.

Though Indian blanket is its most popular name, they're also known as firewheels, gaillardias, and sundances. There's many stories as to how this flower got such a unique name, but my favorite is an old Indian tale.

An old respected blanket maker knew his death was near, so he made a beautiful blanket to give to the Great Spirit when he entered the afterlife. The Great Spirit was impressed with the old man's gift, but felt sad that no one else could enjoy such beauty. In return, the Great Spirit made flowers in the same pattern as the old man's blanket to grow in nature.

Rolling Hills of Color

Roadside Phlox
Roadside Phlox
Author

Roadside Phlox

In the spring, these flowers overtake green fields and turn them dazzling shades of pink, white, and purple.

Along U.S. Highway 90, your alternate for I-10, you'll find the most picturesque part of Florida. Most of the state is flat and nearly sea level, but in Madison, Suwannee, and Columbia Counties, you'll find rolling hills that continue endlessly into the horizon.

Purple Phlox
Purple Phlox
Author

Phlox is Latin for flame, and this beautiful flower burns bright pink, white, and purple in the Florida sun.

Like most Floridians, it's not a native, but it has adapted itself quite well to the warm, humid climate.

Some consider Phlox an invasive weed because they spread rapidly and cover everything. I think that is what makes them so beautiful. Looking out over the roadsides and rolling fields and seeing nothing but color only makes you smile and take a picture.

Purple and White Two Tone Phlox
Purple and White Two Tone Phlox
Author

Pink Evening Primroses

These little dots of pink are found deep in the heart of North Florida.
Pink Evening Primroses
Pink Evening Primroses
Author

Most travelers take I-75 through Florida on their way to visit Mickey in Orlando. But there's an alternate route many travelers don't use. 

U.S. Highway 441 was the first major highway into Florida. It's by far the most scenic way to get to Disney World or Miami.

In Alachua and Marion Counties, you'll find the beautiful Evening Primrose, also known as a Rose of Mexico, scattered in Paynes Prairie and the many fields that U.S. 441 meanders through.

Pretty Pink Rose of Mexico
Pretty Pink Rose of Mexico
Author

Originally from Nebraska and Missouri, the Evening Primrose is a snowbird who now calls Florida home. She's taken to her new stomping grounds nicely, though. Evening Primroses can be found blanketing land where nothing else will seem to grow.

These lovely flowers only become more beautiful with age. At first bloom, an Evening Primrose is a pale pink. However, as her bloom ages, the darker she becomes.

More North Florida Wildflowers:

Florida's wildflowers and roadside plants are worth skipping the interstate for.
Coreopsis, or Tickweed
Coreopsis, or Tickweed
Author
White Star Rush
White Star Rush
Author
Florida Cactus with White Flowers
Florida Cactus with White Flowers
Author
Purple and White Florida Wildflowers
Purple and White Florida Wildflowers
Author

How Can I be Sure I'll See Wildflowers During my Road Trip?

Florida's wildflowers are protected on public property, and most individuals think they're too pretty to mow.

Wildflowers in North Florida grow mainly between March and May. Unless it is unseasonably dry, it's almost a sure bet you'll spot wildflowers somewhere along your journey.

Also, wildflowers growing on roadsides are protected by the Florida Department of Transportation, and it's illegal to mow them until they've seeded. Florida residents love the wildflowers as much as you will, and they'll typically refrain from mowing their lawns and fields as well until the blooms are spent.

So on your way to Walt Disney World, Miami, or the beaches, get off the beaten path this spring and see for yourself why Florida is called "the land of flowers."

Books to Help you Identify Florida Wildflowers on your Trip:

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Updated: 02/22/2014, AbbyFitz
 
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AbbyFitz on 02/25/2014

I haven't seen any yet. Should be soon though!

ologsinquito on 02/25/2014

These must be starting to come up now.

AbbyFitz on 01/06/2014

Thanks for that bit of trivia! I'm glad you enjoyed my wildflower pictures, they are one of my favorite things to photograph.

Guest on 01/06/2014

AbbyFitz, You've presented so many of my favorite wildflowers, and you've captured their beauty very nicely. Your reminder of the value of back country roads promises time well spent, for it is always worthwhile to stop and ogle flowers.
P.S. Robert Redford named his festival in honor of his hit movie with Paul Newman, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."

AbbyFitz on 01/06/2014

Thank you Kathleen! I never thought about the Sundance Festival being associated with the flower, but who knows?

KathleenDuffy on 01/06/2014

Lovely article with beautiful photographs! I wonder if Robert Redford named his film festival after the sundance flower? This article deserves a wide reading public!

AbbyFitz on 01/05/2014

Thank you! Sometimes it's good to know there's more to see than what you're expecting on a vacation.

ologsinquito on 01/05/2014

This is so informative. Most of us who don't live in Florida just think of Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Disney World and all the beaches. We don't automatically think of all the roads less traveled. That evening primrose clutch purse is beautiful.

AbbyFitz on 01/05/2014

Thank you frank! It's a common misconception. When I travel and people ask me where I'm from, they automatically assume I live near the beach. In fact, I live about an hour from the Atlantic and I'm lucky if I go once a year.

frankbeswick on 01/05/2014

What you say about the north of the state is interesting, and it made me realize that when I think of Florida I have had a mental image of the south of the state and the Everglades. The north has never been part of my consciousness. Articles like yours expand the reader's mind by making them think about places they have overlooked.


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