AVON PARK - If you don't know your Big Flag pawpaw from your Yucca, or the difference between a Scrub St. Johnswort and a prickly pear, this festivity will help get you firmly rooted in Florida fauna.
South Florida State College is holding the "2014 Pygmy Fring Tree Wildflower Festival" March 13, 14 and 15 around Highlands County, celebrating and highlighting the Lake Wales Ridge native wildflowers and animals.
In addition, the "2014 Pygmy Fringe Tree Wildflower Student Art Context and Exhibition" will be held March 5 to May 2 in the South Florida State College Museum of Florida Art and Culture. Artwork from the college art department and Highlands County high schools will be displayed and judged.
Sponsored by the college, The Nature Conservancy, Bok Tower Gardens, the Archbold Biological Station and the Champions for Children Foundation, there will be wildflower walks and activities at the college from 1 to 4 p.m., March 13, 600 W. College Drive; at Bok Tower Gardens, 1151 Tower Drive,Lake Wales, from 10 a.m. to noon, March 14; the Archbold Biological Station, 23 Main Drive, Venus, from 10 a.m. to noon; and at the Tiger Creek - Saddle Blanket Scrub, 674 Pfundstein Road, Babson Park, from 9 to 11 a.m.
The South Florida Community College walk includes a native plant sale, museum exhibition and student art contest.
Mollie Doctrow, museum curator, said this is the first wildflower festival the college is hosting and stemmed from a collaborative effort between Archbold, an environmental research facility in Venus, and the college museum.
She said it's also being held to bring attention to the plants on the college's Wildflower Wayside Shrine Trail Florida, part of the Lake Wales Ridge.
The ridge is part of distinct natural region in central Florida and is a one- to three-million-year old ancient beach and sand dune system.
It is estimated only about 15 percent of the natural wildlife and ecosystems remain on the ridge, formed from rising and receding seas that exposed and covered much of the Florida peninsula. Isolated from relatives, plants and animals on the ridge evolved unique characteristics.
"The purpose is to give people an awareness of what we have here. We're not talking about redwood forests and waterfalls or misty mountains; we're talking about scrub bushes and sand. It has its own beauty and once you get out, the beauty becomes more apparent," said Doctrow, in her ninth year at South Florida State College teaching design and computer graphics.
Doctrow said the idea for the festival originally started with discussing a way to honor the pygmy fringe tree, a large shrub that was found primarily in scrub as well as high pineland, dry hammocks and transitional habitats in central
Much of this species' habitat has been lost because of land clearing for citrus production and residential development and they were listed as endangered in 1987.
Tricia Martin, development director for the Archbold Biological Station and former central Florida conservation director for The Nature Conservancy, said the "neat" aspect of the festival is it gives visitors the chance to see and experience ancient scrub sites not usually open to the public. She said there isn't much of the topographical feature left.
"It's another place to explore the world-famous Lake Wales Ridge where there are plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth," she said.
Besides the walks, the festival features the student art show, featuring about 50 artwork entries from the college art department and about 80 from Sebring and Avon Park high schools and Avon Park Elementary School.
The theme of the exhibition is native wildflowers from the Lake Wales Ridge and is being held in the South Florida Museum of Florida Art and Culture. It will be juried by Sebring artist Joey Sacco and includes drawing, painting, photography, graphics and two-dimensional mixed-media, and awards will be announced at the March 13 event.
South Florida sophomore Chloe Cash is entering a colored pencil work of a tropical flower.
The art history major said she's learning how to use drawing pencils and pastels and the event gives students, many not from the area, an awareness of the plants and ecosystems around them.
"It allows us to focus on the nature in the area and learn more about it," she said.
For information, see www.mofac.org. or call (863) 784-7240.