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Wetlands and Wildflowers Bloom into Focus at the Wildlife Park

By Kate Spratt Posted on May 16, 2019

As a warm summer breeze moves across a vast wet prairie, the dainty pink blooms of false foxglove dancing among wiry wisps of longleaved threeawn and cutover muhly grass. Carnivorous plants such as sundews, butterworts, and pitcher plants patiently await the misstep of their next insect meal. The breeze winds it’s way up the trunk of a stunted pond cypress, swirling the tree’s tender needles around the slender feet of a limpkin.

Life is abundant in the wetland, from the tiniest of flowers to the furry and feathered.

How are Wetlands defined?

Wetlands are a very specific ecosystem typically found on the transition between dry land and a water source. Wetland areas are usually characterized by the closeness of the water table to the surface of the ground, the presence of a diverse group of wildlife and vegetation which are adapted to excel in wet environments with poorly drained or hydric soils. This ecosystem helps to filter our water, protect our coastal communities from floods and provides habitat for wildlife.

While full of thriving life, wetlands are in jeopardy across the continent as increased development continues to dewater and destroy these critical habitats. Since Florida became a state in 1845, the total wetland area has decreased by approximately 44%.

May’s Prairie is a large wetland ecosystem at the Chinsegut Conservation Area.

How can you help wetlands?

Here are five suggestions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):

  1. Choose native species when landscaping around your home, using native wetland plants when possible.
  2. Do not fill wetlands when developing land.
  3. Use non-toxic products for household cleaning and care of your lawn and garden.
  4. Be smart about lawn and garden fertilizer by using a mulching mower or use non-nitrogen lawn supplements to avoid nutrient pollution.
  5. Enjoy scenic and recreational access to coastal wetlands by using marked trails, preserving their integrity for future generations.
stokes aster
Stokes Aster in full color at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Image by Kate Spratt.

What defines a Wildflower?

Wildflowers grow just about anywhere and everywhere!

What exactly is a wildflower?

They are a flowering plant that grows in the wild, completely on their own, without cultivation. If it is indigenous, it’s called native and if it has been introduced from somewhere else, it’s referred to as naturalized.

Wildflowers are important to the ecosystem as they typically require less water and are less prone to disease or pests. They also provide critical habitat for beneficial insects, wildlife, and pollinators.

tropical milkweed
Dainty blooms of Tropical Milkweed at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Image by Kate Spratt

How can you help wildflowers?

Click it, don’t pick it! Many native wildflowers reproduce only by seed and if you pick it, the seeds are not available to repopulate the flowers. Instead, snap a photo of the flower to appreciate for a longer period.

As tempting as it may be to pick them, it is illegal in Florida to pick the flowers of any endangered or threatened species.

prickly pear
Prickly pear blooming in the Homosassa Tract of Withlacoochee State Forest. Image by Kate Spratt

Wetlands and Wildflowers Program May 30 at the Wildlife Park

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park invites everyone to come and learn more at our annual wetlands and wildflowers program, held on Thursday, May 30, 2019, at 11:00 a.m. in the park’s Visitor Center. Jodi Spaulding, park volunteer and member of the Citrus Native Plant Society, will present a program on wetlands and native wildflowers.

Learn about the many varieties of Florida wildflowers, how wetlands work, and what you can do to protect them. You’ll leave the program with a better understanding of the importance of wetlands and wildflowers to our ecosystem and have the opportunity to ask questions about plants that grow well in our area.

The event is free, however, regular admission applies if you wish to visit the park. For more information on this and other events at the State Park, visit FloridaStateParks.org.

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