By Joe Kukura
Florida may be known for its beaches, but north-central Florida has a distinct ecosystem where wild and exotic flowers thrive. Neither a beach nor a swamp area, the region surrounding Gainesville provides a mild and lush habitat that’s home to countless species of native and exotic flowering plants—many of which won’t grow elsewhere in the United States. Anyone who visits Gainesville is in for a real treat, with the sights and smells of rare exotic flowers that can thrive year-round in the region’s unique ecological combination of sunshine, moisture and shade.
Most of the gorgeous, exotic flowers listed below can be found growing in the wild at various spots in north Florida. To make it easy, though, plan a visit to Kanapaha Botanical Gardens. Even though it’s just outside downtown Gainesville, Kanapaha feels like stepping into an exotic paradise with hummingbird gardens, bamboo gardens and water gardens that feature the world’s largest water lilies. Walkways, benches and gazebos are located throughout the gardens. The facility is ADA accessible, and is home to these and hundreds of other exotic flowers of Florida.
Birds of paradise
Flower lovers know that birds of paradise aren’t necessarily birds. Birds of paradise are also gorgeous perennials that so often catch your eye at flower shops, with petals that fan out like birds’ wings and colors that you’d see on exotic birds like parrots.
Ornamental vine flowers
Passion flowers, jasmines and honeysuckles all thrive in Florida, with its mild climate and abundant moisture. These conditions allow Florida to offer some manner of blooming vine flower every month of the year, both in decorative settings and in the wild.
Azaleas and camellias
In most of the US, azaleas, camellias, magnolias and other tea-garden flowers will typically only be seen blooming for a few weeks in the spring. But these varieties bring their brilliant colors out all year long in Florida, with March and April being their peak months.
At places like Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, you’ll often see giant fields of purple peeking up out of the ponds and lakes. Those fields of purple are actually pickerelweed, an aquatic flower that grows in shallow wetlands and often reaches 2 to 3 feet in height. The pretty purple pickerelweed remains in bloom all year long in Florida.
Fresh flowers at farmers’ markets
You cannot pick the exotic flowers growing at Florida’s nature parks and preserves. But you can have your pick of the exotic flowers on sale at Gainesville’s impressive array of weekly farmers’ markets! Fresh flowers are always available, along with locally grown organic produce, handcrafted goods and, of course, the finest fresh citrus you’ll ever taste. The Union Street Farmers Market is open every Wednesday afternoon, rain or shine, in downtown Gainesville. The High Springs Farmers Market operates every Thursday, and on the first Saturday of each month. The Alachua County Farmers’ Market and the Haile Farmers Market are both open every Saturday morning. A few miles up the road in Waldo, Waldo Farmers and Flea Market offers a massive 50 acres of outdoor market shopping every Saturday and Sunday.