Those who are not familiar with Florida winters and flowers might assume that there is no spring-time in such a warm climate. But this is definitely not the case. While our friends up north are grateful for the emergence of skunk cabbage, we are beginning to enjoy some truly beautiful flowers as the first signs of spring. This is more obvious than in some years since we have had two winters in sequence with extremely cold periods which killed many plants to the ground.
One of my favorites is bay lobelia because it is a wonderful shade of blue and it reminds me of bluets up north. It favors damp places and due to its small size requires a “down and dirty” approach to get a really good look at its miniature beauty.
Willows on the other hand are right at eye level. While they do not rank high on the flower beauty scale, they are exciting both as a sign of spring and also because they are quite attractive to birds. I think this may be primarily because of their attractiveness to insects, which the birds eat.
Wax myrtle on the other hand is just starting to show enlarged buds and these inconspicuous flowers promise a future bumper crop of the bluish gray fruit which is so important to tree swallows, yellow rumped warblers and a number of other birds during the winter. There is no local shrub which is of greater importance to birds, and probably no other species which gets less respect.
Two exotic species that I am fond of in the preserve are orchid tree or bauhinia, and Surinam cherry. Bauhinia actually blooms most of the winter and for that characteristic deserves to be widely planted since it is beautiful, highly attractive to butterflies, and completely non-invasive (it is a sterile hybrid). I like to stand quietly near our two trees and watch for butterflies to come for nectar. The photo shown here is of a long-tailed skipper which has an interesting technique for obtaining nectar. It approaches the flower from below and reaches up with its tongue to get a sip. The Surinam cherry is one of the “stoppers” famed for their supposed ability to cure loose bowels. I love their spectacular flowers with numerous long male stamens and one long upwards pointing female pistil. In both of these plants the pistil extends well beyond the stamens in an apparent design to reduce the amount of self-pollination as an insect approaches the flower laden with pollen.
There is such a wonderful feeling about the renewal of life in spring-time that is reflected in the magic of flowers. The beautiful colors and myriad forms that are so remarkable are in fact designed primarily for the eyes of insects and birds. Most mammals do not even have color vision. Thus isn’t it interesting that the flowers that plants have evolved for procreation have such a powerful attraction for humans, in large part because our primate ancestors required color vision to make informed choices about what to eat?
Bill Dunson, Englewood, FL & Galax, VA