LAKE PLACID – To the casual festival attendee, they’re all colorful caladiums with varying patterns and different sizes.
But to those in the know, they’re called “tapestries,” “red flashes,” “strawberry stars,” “cherry tops,” “royal flushes” and even “frogs.”
And they’re all up for looks and sale at the 24th annual Caladium Festival, which runs through 3 p.m. Sunday at Lake Placid’s DeVane Park.
Since 10 a.m. Friday, folks from around Highlands County and beyond have been meandering around Interlake Boulevard and west into the downtown park.
As singers and musicians played from a pavilion Friday morning, visitors walked about the over 110 vendors set up for the festival, offering a variety of cuisines,crafts and most importantly -- caladiums, a flowering plant commonly known as “elephant ears,” and originally from South America.
“See, I like this one; the green is unusual,” said Phyllis Hildreth, who drove down from Mount Dora in Lake County to the festival.
“Yeah, that’s nice. I like this one. It’s curly and has a green border,” said Hildreth’s friend, Marlena Becker, who made the 120-mile with her.
Both women said it was their first visit to the festival and first chance to mill about downtown Lake Placid, which is one of the main objectives of the event, said Eileen May, festival chair and Lake Placid Chamber of Commerce director.
This year, May said 24 restaurants and over 100 craft and 110 vendor booths are set up selling artwork and items such as home decorations, novelties and home and gardening tools.
In addition, the 18th annual car, truck and motorcycle show from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday will be the largest one in the history of the event, with over 100 classic cars registered.
But the main draw of course, said May, are the thousands of caladiums on display and for sale.
“We are the caladium capital of the world. This is a great community event and it brings so many people into downtown,” she said. “It helps our merchants and restaurants, too. It just boosts the image here.”
Throughout the day Friday, as a steady rotation of musicians crooned from the park, bus tours also toted visitors from Main Avenue around Lake Placid to see caladium plantings, fields and even personally meet growers.
Caladium grower Steven Phypers, co-owner of Happiness Farms Inc., Lake Placid, brought 5,000 paper bags containing 24 caladium bulbs, selling for $5 each. He said there were over 18 varieties of caladiums contained within the bags.
Phypers, whose grandfather started the business in the 1940s, said the festival is one of the best marketing tools for the plants in the area, Currently, there are about six caladium farms in operation in and around Lake Placid.
In addition to the benefit to growers, the festival is also a boon to local businesses on the day of the shows and throughout the year. Although May declined to say how much the festival brings in, she said whatever proceeds are generated are put back into financing the next festival.
Working Friday in her Ridge Florist shop, 201 Interlake Blvd., manager Pam Mooney said she thinks the caladium festival makes people more aware of the variety of shops located in downtown Lake Placid. She said she saw an increase in foot traffic at each festival over the past nine years.
“It gets them (visitors) downtown and, hopefully, they’ll come back to shop,” she said.
Besides the caladiums, the festival also offered wine tastings, a beer garden, art competition, a 5K road race and airboat show.
As they rested with lunch on a park bench, Chris Ross of Sebring visited the festival with her daughter, Jennifer Camacho, and her husband, Lamar, and Ross’ granddaughter, Karissa Hunter, 11,.
The family was visiting Lake Placid from Griffin, Ga. Jennifer Camacho said she enjoyed going to what could be considered festival for an unusual subject.
“My parents live close by so we came out. It’s great, there are plenty of caladiums, any kind you’d want. We’ve seen a lot of varieties and I’m sure we’re going to buy some bulbs to plant,” she said.
For information, see www.visitlakeplacidflorida.com.