by Sheila Dunning, UF/IFAS Extension Agent
Each fall, nature puts on a brilliant show of color throughout the United States. As temperatures drop, autumn encourages the “leaf peepers” to hit the road in search of the red-, yellow- and orange-colored leaves of northern deciduous trees. In Northwest Florida, the color of autumn isn’t just from trees. The reds, purples, yellow and white blooms and berries that appear on many native plants add spectacular color to the landscape.
American Beautyberry is loaded with royal-colored fruit that will persist all winter long. Wispy pinkish-cream colored seedheads look like mist atop Purple Lovegrass and Muhlygrass.
Monarchs and other butterfly species flock to the creamy white “fluff” that covers Saltbrush. But yellow is by far the dominant fall flower color. With all the goldenrod; narrowleaf sunflowers; and tickseed, the roadsides are golden. When driving the roads it’s nearly impossible to not see the bright yellows in the ditches and along the woods’ edge. Golden asters, tickseeds, silkgrasses, sunflowers and goldenrods are displaying their petals of gold at every turn.
These wildflowers are all members of the aster family, one of the largest plant families in the world. For most people, an aster resembles a daisy. However, while many are daisy-like in structure, others lack the petals and appear more like cascading sprays.
So if you are one of the many “hitting the road in search of fall color,” head to open areas. For wildflowers, that means rural locations with limited homes and businesses. Forested areas and on-grazed pastures typically have showy displays, especially when a spring burn was performed earlier in the year. Peeking out from the woods’ edge are the small red trumpet-shaped blooms of red basil and tall purple spikes of gayfeather.
Visit the Florida Wildflower Foundation website, www.flawildflowers.org/bloom.php, to see what’s in bloom and the locations of the state’s prime viewing areas. These are all native wildflowers that can be obtained through seed companies. Many are also available as potted plants at the local nurseries.
Read the name carefully though. There are cultivated varieties that may appear or perform differently than those that naturally occur in Northwest Florida.
For more information on common native wildflowers of North Florida, go to http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/epo61.