Florida translates to “Flowery Easter” and was christened such by Ponce de Leon in 1513. Yes, we were a “land of flowers!”
The wildflower I would like to remember in “all its glory” this Easter is the moonflower whose sweet fragrance used to fill Lake Okeechobee’s shores.
David Troxtell of the Marie Selby Botanical Garden in Sarasota writes:
“Not too long ago, Florida’s giant Lake Okeechobee would fill with rainwater and flood its southern banks every year during the wet season. The water’s slow journey through the Everglades’ 100-mile long “river of grass” and out to Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico would take months.
At the very beginning of this journey would have been a floodplain covered in a massive pond apple forest, completely blanketed in moonvine. Pond apple is a native tree which grows in regularly flooded areas, and is a preferred host for the moonvine. It has also become a rare sight in the state outside of the Everglades due to development, mostly agriculture.
The massive forest of moonvine and pond apples covering 32,000 acres along the southern edge of Lake Okeechobee was destroyed in less than a decade…” (http://selby.org/moonvine-morning-glory-family/)
What is exciting is that there is a resurgence of interest in reestablishing the pond apple also known as the custard apple which would inadvertently include the moonflower. The Art Marshall Foundation worked on such, but many were destroyed in the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005. Sarah Brown, a local South Florida photographer, has a show presently at the Lawrence E. Will Museum of the Glades. Many of her photographs feature the few remaining custard apple trees and moonvines. Zachariah Cosner, a student at University of Miami, is writing a book on the subject and I will be featuring his work more in the coming months.
So on this sacred Easter, remember, there is hope of recovering some of Florida’s wildflowers for which we are named. May we once again be Florida, “land of flowers.”