The Panhandle Wildflower Alliance (PWA) is a communication network for wildflower enthusiasts living in northwest Florida from Escambia to Jefferson Counties. A main purpose of this Alliance is to promote roadside wildflowers, not only for their beauty, but also to protect pollinators. The third annual meeting of this group was held at the Washington County Agricultural Center, hosted by Matthew Orwat, Horticulture Extension Agent Thursday, Feb. 18.

Also on the host planning committee were Heather Lopez, Director at the Washington County Tourist Development Council, and Glenda Wilson, President of the Washington Count Master Gardeners.  The Master Gardeners registered all of the meeting participants and also made sure all of the refreshments and lunches were set up and ready for all who attended the meeting.

Meeting attendees came from over eleven counties in the northwest Florida Panhandle area from Leon County to Escambia County. John Howell, manager at Broad-spectrum, a company that provides roadside maintenance services in a number of locations throughout the area, provided generous refreshments for the group. The North Florida Wildflower Festival Queens – Caitlyn Carpenter (left) and Victoria Barfield -- also graced the meeting and helped hand out meeting materials and tickets for door prizes of native plants, provided by Trillium Gardens, a native plant wholesale nursery in Tallahassee.

The Magnolia Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society and the Florida Wildflower Foundation (FWF) – which sponsors the PWA – provided a wide array of materials about wildflowers. Lisa Roberts (left), Executive Director of the FWF, and Gail Fishman, President of the Magnolia Chapter both welcomed everyone to the meeting.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT)is a very involved partner with the PWA. The Secretary of the Department, Mr. Jim Boxold, wrote a letter to the group, saying “I want to thank you for all you have done to help District Three and the entire agency become aware of how vital roadside wildflowers are to our farms and forests. You have helped us understand how decisions about roadside mowing can enhance these biological corridors without compromising safety or other department operations.” Dustie Moss is the FDOT District 3 Landscape Project Manager as well as the District Wildflower Coordinator. She also welcomed the group. A number of participants at the meeting are involved in maintaining the roadsides, so communication between wildflower enthusiasts and roadside maintenance personnel helps us all work together with greater understanding and effectiveness. 

The primary purpose of this meeting was to educate each other on who is involved in the effort to conserve and enhance roadside wildflowers, and to learn of the achievements occurring throughout the panhandle area. Each of the counties attending the meeting reported to the group on the wildflower support activities occurring in their local area. County wildflower resolutions provide a vehicle for citizens to request that certain areas along state and county roads be managed for wildflowers, which may include planting native wildflower seeds, but also identifying naturally occurring wildflower areas and mowing less to provide more space for these wildflowers to grow. Each county that reported on their activities demonstrated the various different approaches that are being taken in this effort, tailoring the approach to meet the particular interests and needs at the county level. Garden clubs, master gardener groups, native plant society chapters, conservation groups, butterfly groups, Tourist Development Councils, Chambers of Commerce – all have been active in the counties.

In addition to citizen interest, other state organizations such as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, particularly the Public Access and Wildlife Viewing Services, which includes the Great Florida Birding Trail, are involved in supporting natural biological corridors. State parks are also interested in wildflower corridors adjacent to and within park boundaries. Individuals from these organizations also attended the meeting.

Jeff Caster, State Landscape Architect for FDOT, began the meeting by informing the group of the updated Wildflower Program Procedures (first developed two years ago), and also a Wildflower Policy for the Department, and Wildflower Program Standards for each of the FDOT District Secretaries.

Bob Farley, the District 3 Vegetation Manager, gave an outstanding presentation on 13 current natural wildflower areas already specially designated for managed mowing in 10 counties throughout the panhandle area. It is so encouraging to see the progress made in a relatively short time.

Jaret Daniels is assistant professor of entomology at the University of Florida and assistant curator of lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. He is also an expert about the Monarch Butterfly, which is experiencing a serious decline in numbers, in no large part because of habitat loss for Milkweeds, the primary native plant for their caterpillars to feed upon. His presentation made us understand so much better why we need to protect Milkweed plants on our roadsides, as well as learning more about their propagation.

After lunch the program included talks about

How to work with rural electric companies when you find wildflower stands within the power line rights of way, presented by Chad Locke, Vegetation Manager for Talquin Electric Company;

How to work with state parks, presented by Scott Sweeney, Special Ranger for Falling Waters State Park;

How to establish wildflower planting by seed, presented by Dr. Jeff Norcini, who is also the State Horticulturist for FDOT; and

How to work with county commissions to request state and county wildflower roads, presented by Eleanor Dietrich

The program was brouht together many people from different areas, but all concerned about more wildflowers for pollinators. The information provided in the program was very educational and will allow more wildflowers to be conserved in Florida.