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Saturday, Dec 20, 2014
South Shore News

Wildflowers provide incredible panorama of color

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We drove from Brandon to Pennsylvania, mostly on Interstate 95, at the end of May and came back a week into June. While there was always something to see along the way, North Carolina had by far the best of the roadside wildflowers. In some places we spotted an acre or two of gorgeous color and more not far down the road.

In 1965, North Carolina began its roadside beautification plans with the establishment of the personalized license plate fund. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of those license plates was set aside for the planting and care of wildflowers. Today the state has approximately 1,500 acres of wildflowers along its interstate routes, said Derek Smith, North Carolina's roadside vegetation asset management engineer.

Of course, all along our trip I was wanting to get closer so I could tell the names of the different wildflowers. You know how I am. Besides, David would ask me what they were, and I could only guess as we sped by. They sure make the driving and riding more pleasant.

It turns out we were enjoying the end of the spring flowers: red poppies, baby blue eyes and rocket larkspurs to name a few. There were lots of lance-leaved coreopsis in the mix, which we can grow here. Many crape myrtles not yet in bloom were standing amid acres of daylilies just beginning to bloom.

In the fall you will see cosmos, various sunflowers, asters and biden/bur-marigold. The biden is one of the wildflowers/weeds with little white daisy flowers growing in our Florida gardens, which butterflies love.

During the heat of summer, North Carolina relies on crape myrtles, various ornamentals and daylilies along its primary routes. Over the past 14 years, more than 2 million, one-gallon daylilies have been installed. Yes, that's two million. And from the many I saw I can easily believe it.

No other state had anything like it, though we did not go through Tennessee, where we have seen wonderful wildflowers on other trips.

We went north through Florida on Interstate 4 and I-95 but came back partly on Interstate 75, where we saw the second best wildflowers of the trip - acres of pink, white, red and lavender phlox along the roadsides and sometimes spreading into the fields. There used to be many of these even on the backroads in the Seffner/Plant City area, when we first came here and all through the 1990s.

I was glad to read that the Hillsborough County Commission is now considering a program for planting native wildflowers along our roadways, too.

v vToday's pick is the Coreopsis, or tickweed, our Florida state wildflower, which is blooming along some of our roads right now. There are 15 species that do well in the northern half of the state, fewer farther south. These annuals are short-lived perennials, members of the daisy family that come in single and double forms. I love any kind of daisy and like the single form best.

Coreopsis come mostly in shades of yellow and orange, and the peak bloom is from spring through early summer and again in the fall. They can be started from seed and need full sun. Thompson & Morgan Seeds also has mahogany with deep red flowers - and some with combinations of color: red and yellow and red with a border of white or yellow.

v vNow's the time to report that there seems to be some control now of kudzu, the vine that ate the South. We saw very little of its damage. Not so many years ago we'd see whole forests were covered with it.

It's a very interesting plant and was imported and sold as a landscape plant. Trouble was, its enemies were not imported and it took over. Whatever you do, don't plant kudzu, no matter how lovely the flower.

v v? The Tampa African Violet Society will meet at 7 p.m. July 11 at the Common Ground Christian Church, 4207 N. Blvd., Tampa. Award-winning grower Mina Menish will present How to Successfully Propagate African Violets. A plant raffle will be held and growing tips offered. Visitors are welcome; parking and admission are free. For more information, call Jim Boyer at (727) 871-2014 or email him at jasb39@gmail.com.

Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, author and freelance writer who can be reached at monicabrandies@yahoo.com. Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.

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