Here on Amelia Island, with restaurants, bars, the library, the beaches and many other aspects of our normal life closed due to COVID-19, many of us have taken to walking the many pedestrian paths and trails near our homes. And it’s spring! The flowers are in bloom! It’s a perk to the spirit on these otherwise anxious days.
Now that the Amelia Island River-to-Sea Trail is open on Simmons Road, near my home, my walking options couldn’t be better. Along the path, I’ve been happily admiring wildflowers. When I walk toward to beach (but not ON the beach, of course), I always stop to admire the trumpet vines with their bright orange flowers lining one area of fencing. Further along, it’s the orange and yellow gaillardias close to the ground that captivate me. Both of these native plants can be purchased in local nurseries and make fine additions to our yards. The trumpet vine has the additional benefit of attracting hummingbirds, and what could be better than that?
Walking in the other direction, toward the river, I find many other flowers to admire. If I am lucky, I can spot a red scarlet sage flower at the edge of one of the few remaining patches of forest. In meadow-like areas on and near Crane Island, a plethora of flowers are in bloom: bluish-purple spiderworts, white clover, purple lyre-leaf sage – all are putting on their spring show right now. Here and there are some other dainty purple flowers that my gardening friend Annie Dworetzky identified for me – oxalis. It was great fun when I was writing this column to message Annie with flower photos and to get her immediate response.
Along the edges of our dunes there are other flowers to admire if you are out walking. The galliardias are in full bloom now, and here and there a giant thistle flower springs up from a circular clump of thorny leaves. Although some people consider these plants to be a problem, they fill a valuable natural niche in our dune communities. The dune plant that is a problem, however, is the invasive non-native kalanchoe that I covered in detail in a recent column. (And here I would like to thank those of you who have helped by removing these from your yards!)
My own backyard has wildflowers to admire now, too. Years ago, when I was more ambitious, I spent some time digging up wildflowers from drainage ditches, trying to get a few before the eager workers killed them to allow the ditches to flow freely as they were designed to do. But some of these now have found permanent places in my yard. I am especially fond of the zephyr lilies (sometimes called rain lilies) that flourished in wet areas along the highway outside Callahan until the road expanded and the flowers disappeared. But at least a few of them have a permanent home at the edge of my pond, where they reappear every year.
I also encourage the spiderwort plants that crop up all around my yard. These brilliant blue flowers open up in the morning and only live for a day, but every day more open up for weeks on end. And it turns out that Native Americans had many used for these plants. The seeds can be roasted and eaten, but that’s somewhat of a bother. But, hey, the flowers can be tossed on a salad and eaten as-is.
Although many consider this plant to be a weed, I also keep some Spanish needle plants in my yard, but try to keep them from taking over. When they produce their small white flowers with a yellow center a bit later in the summer they attract butterflies, so it’s worth it to me, even if the plants often do get straggly and unattractive unless carefully tended.
The days are beautiful outdoors right now, before the heat of the summer makes walking a challenge. If you look around on your usual walking paths, I’m sure you will see some of the wildflowers I have mentioned and many others. Now, with many other activities halted, it is a great time to really appreciate the nature around us.
Pat Foster-Turley is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations.