Today, we discuss the name origin of “La Florida.” It may not be what you think. Plus, let’s hear from historians on the Fountain of Youth. Welcome to Florida Time, the weekly column about Florida History.

Readers: March 2013 marked the 500th anniversary of what’s arguably the most important event in the history of North America. And it happened right here in Florida.

Can you name it?

It is the moment when a European explorer claimed a land — eventually, an entire hemisphere — and set into motion a chain of events that makes Juan Ponce de León either a hero or a monster.

Florida is the first place the Spanish brought to the new continent and once described all of America that Spain knew existed.

What’s not in dispute is that on March 27, 1513, Ponce came across the place he would call La Florida. Few agree on much beyond that.

For starters, where? Most likely Cape Canaveral although some scholars have said it could have been as far north as present-day St. Augustine. As far south as Jupiter Inlet.

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As for the Fountain of Youth, “there is no historical evidence to suggest that Ponce was even aware of the fabled spring, let alone that he risked life and fortune on a quest to locate it,” J. Michael Francis, chairman of the University of North Florida history department, said in the fall 2011 edition of “Forum,” the magazine of the Florida Humanities Council.

He says such stories floated around medieval lore for centuries, but that it wasn’t until 1535, more than a decade after Ponce’s death in 1521, that the explorer was associated with the legend.

And in 1991, Florida Atlantic University professor John H. Winslow floated a possible solution to the mystery: Spanish mariners reported finding areas of the ocean where low tides exposed the sea bottom, revealing springs that spewed fresh water. To sailors, parched by weeks on the briny, the springs might as well have been a fountain of youth.

Then what was Ponce seeking? Already governor of Puerto Rico, he sought a new land to the north to conquer, riches to plunder and natives to enslave — and, as governor of a new land, a cut of everything.

Also: Ponce didn’t call this place La Florida because he saw flowers on the beach. At the time, it was the tradition of explorers to name a place for whatever festival was going on back in Spain. In this case, it was the Easter-related springtime “festival of the flowers.”

"Believing the land to be an island, they named it Florida, because it appeared very delightful, having many pleasant groves, and it was all level; and also because they discovered it at Easter, which as has been said, the Spaniards called Pasqua de Flores, or Florida,” Spanish court historian Antonio de Herrera wrote in the 17th century.

Spain would not come back to what’s now Florida for a half century. And only because another European country had the nerve to claim part of the place for themselves. But that’s for another column, next week!

Next week: St. Augustine, Matanzas and Two Floridas

Last week: The beauty of the Everglades to the ugly of the Civil Rights movement

From a reader: If Kleinberg hasn't read Peter Matthiessen's 19th century epic about Florida (Shadow Country), I suggest he give it a look. It is teeming with the kind of tales he is providing us. — Charles, University Park

Eliot Kleinberg is a staff writer for the past three decades at The Palm Beach Post in West Palm Beach, and the author of 10 books about Florida (www.ekfla.com). Florida Time is a product of GateHouse Media and publishes online in their 22 Florida markets. Submit your questions, comments or memories to FloridaTime@Gatehousemedia.com. Include your full name and hometown. Sorry; no personal replies.