Monday, April 28, 2014

Loving wildflowers

A few days ago, I chanced upon an unexpected expanse of flowers as I rounded a curve on Number 2 Road in Yalaha. A huge field of perennial peanut stretched out across a hillside. The land — it had to be 20 acres or more — was emblazoned with bright yellow blooms.

Needless to say, I pulled over to take a look.

Almost immediately, I realized the property was a subdivision that must have stalled in the making. Roads and utilities were in place, but no structures other than an entry were built. Although a dark-brown stockade fence outlined part of the property, there were places where disobedient plants had strayed beyond their intended limit. Like many wildflowers, perennial peanut has a mind of its own, oblivious to man-made confines.

After taking several pictures, I stood by the fence and enjoyed the view. It was a pretty location of rolling hills with a horse farm in the distance and a tree farm across the way. Number 2 Road connects State Road 19 in Howey-in-the-Hills with County Road 48 in Yalaha. The curvy two-lane meanders by homes and small farms that run the gamut from ramshackle to ranch-style regal.

As I stood there gazing upon the blanket of floral color, I wondered what the developers were thinking. Perennial peanut is not your typical subdivision choice since it is neither inexpensive nor as easy to sow as grass. Someone went the extra mile to pick this drought-tolerant, Florida-friendly substitute for traditional lawns. Whoever did it must have shared my passion for adding color to the landscape.

In the 22 years since my husband, Ralph, and I bought the property where we live, I've wanted to cover it in fields of wildflowers. I've always wanted to be able to walk outside and step into a living palette of color. I would like to be able to pick a bouquet of phlox and blanketflower, coreopsis and black-eyed Susans.

A field of phlox

Unfortunately, it hasn't happened. I used to bemoan that fact until recently when I realized that our property actually is full of wildflowers. They are just different from those I envisioned.

Instead of a field of perennial peanut like the one I discovered in Yalaha or roadside plantings of colorful wildflowers like those along portions of I-75 or U.S. Highway 27, our property is dotted with assorted unplanted blooms. Purple passionflower vines (Passiflora incarnate) twine their way around whatever trees they can climb while red tasselweed (Emilia fosbergii) and white Spanish needle (Bidens alba) appear ubiquitously across the ground. There are unidentified pink flowers growing by the lakeside together with any number of unnamed grasses, sedges and reeds.

A Spanish needle bloom (with a red Florida tasselweed in the foreground) attracts a buckeye butterfly
Passionflower vines twine their way across the ground and up anything they can climb

Elderberry bushes grow next to thorny tumbles of blackberry brambles. Small yellow flowers called butterweed (Packera glabella) look like ready-made bouquets, while one whiff of the tiny blue toadflax (Linaria canadensis) always reminds me of daffodils on Cape Cod.

A butterweed bouquet brightens the lakeshore

Someday, I'd still like to have an expansive stretch of more traditional wildflowers. Doing so, however, requires planning, timing and soil preparation. The field of perennial peanut, probably installed as sod or plugs, must have been a time-consuming, pricey project and as much as I appreciate its beauty, I'm realistic enough to know it doesn't mesh with our priorities.

Still, a girl can dream and admire — and appreciate beauty wherever she finds it. I never know what I'll find when I take back roads. That's exactly why I take them.

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