Picture of wildflower hunters walking through the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve

Wildflower hunters Rick Cruz and Julie Cardenas search for the rare Ghost Orchid in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve.

Photograph by Scott Keel, ZUMA Press, Inc/Alamy

By Maryellen Kennedy Duckett

Spring through fall, wildflowers bloom along Florida’s bucolic back roads, busy Interstates 75, 95, and 4, and Florida’s Turnpike. Hit the road to see the fruits of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Wildflower Program, launched in 1963 to cultivate roadside habitats for native insect pollinators and scenic drives for grateful motorists.

Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Copeland

The state park bills itself as “the orchid and bromeliad capital of the continent.” Actually seeing abundant wildflowers up close, though, requires donning waders and venturing into the swamp somewhere along the 11-mile, rutted road running through the strand. Take only photographs and memories, of course; stealing plants is illegal, as detailed in Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession (Ballantine Books, 2000). The best-selling book centers on the Fakahatchee swamp, the local Seminole tribe, the orchid collector subculture, and the poacher who took endangered orchids from the preserve.

Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park, Pensacola

Protected within Tarkiln’s 4,200-acre wet prairie habitat are some of the state’s largest strands of endangered white-top pitcher plants. These native perennials are carnivorous. Hollow, tubelike leaves covered completely or partially with a flap allow the plants to trap unsuspecting insects. Visit in late March through April to see the blooming white-tops—found mostly on the Gulf Coast between the Apalachicola and Mississippi Rivers—nodding in the breeze. “Follow the half-mile Tarkiln Bayou Trail along a sidewalk and elevated boardwalk to meander through prairie, cypress, and titi forests,” says park manager Geoff Davidson. “In addition to the white-top pitcher plant, almost a hundred other rare plants depend on this habitat, including the sweet pitcher plant and Chapman’s butterwort.”

Liberty County Self-Guided Wildflower Tour, Hosford to Sumatra

In spring and fall, wildflowers bloom along each side of the 25-mile stretch of State Road 65 in Liberty County, according to a self-guided tour that runs through the Apalachicola National Forest. The mowed grassy strip bordering the route is for emergency pull-offs only, so detour down any of the numbered forest roads to stop and admire the floral array, including cheery spring helenium, colic root, and tickseed in spring, and spiky purple blazing star and bright, golden-yellow narrow-leaf sunflowers in fall. Before your drive, visit the Florida Wildflower Foundation’s Eastern Panhandle Wildflowers mobile site for maps and suggested tour stops in Liberty County and throughout northwest Florida.

TRAVEL TIPS

Practical Tip: Take only photos. It is illegal in Florida to pick the flowers of endangered or threatened species.

Best Bet: Use the Florida Wildflower Foundation’s updated What’s Blooming map to locate and learn about wildflowers currently in bloom.

Fun Fact: Florida’s official state wildflower is actually all 15 Coreopsis species found in the state. Primarily bright yellow (pink can be seen in northern Florida), Coreopsis belongs to the daisy family and is commonly referred to as tickseed due to its seed, which resembles a bug or tick.

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