pygmy fringe tree

The pygmy fringe tree flowering.

South Florida State College’s Museum of Florida Art and Culture (MOFAC) plays host to the Pygmy Fringe Tree Wildflower Festival, a celebration of the region’s native wildflowers, on Thursday, March 9, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., on SFSC’s Highlands Campus, Avon Park.

The festival kicks off with guided walks through SFSC’s Wayside Shrine Trail, a footpath winding its way through pristine scrubland on the college’s campus. The tract, blanketed by fine white sand and overspread with shrubs, is home to native wildflowers that bloom in early March.

“The Wayside Shrine Trail on the SFSC Highlands Campus offers the public an easily accessible venue with which to view this rare and extraordinary shrub,” said Megan Stepe, MOFAC’s curator. “This beautiful plant flowers in early March, so now is the time take in this wonderful event.”

Leading the walking tours will be Dustin Angell, a conservation photographer and education coordinator from Archbold Biological Station. He will be joined by Claire Miller, an SFSC librarian, and Diana Cleghorn, a member of SFSC’s Information Technology Department.

The festival takes its name from the pygmy fringe tree (Chionanthus pygmaeus), a now rare flowering shrub that grows between three and six feet tall. The pygmy fringe tree once thrived throughout central Florida. But farming and development nearly swept it from the region, prompting the federal government to declare it an endangered species in 1987.

The trail was conceived by Mollie Doctrow, a former curator at MOFAC and an award-winning artist whose work revolves around capturing natural habitats. The trail opened in 2011.

The public can also glimpse other native plants flowering along the trail: the big flag pawpaw, sky-blue lupine, and another endangered species, the scrub St. Johns Wort.

This year’s festival includes storytelling by Florida Seminole songwriter Rita Youngman and storytelling and song by Florida folklorist Carol Mahler. Photography walks will be led by Karla Respress, an art instructor in SFSC’s Art Department.

Visitors to the trail can write their impressions in notebooks found in wooden shrine boxes along the path. The boxes, designed by Doctrow, contain information that showcases the shrubs and wildflowers.

Shrine Box

Each shrine box along the trail has information on the plant, a notebook for visitors to record their impressions, and a plant image in relief so that visitors can make a rubbing on paper as a memento of their visit.

One side of each box has a plant image in relief, allowing visitors to make a rubbing on paper as a memento of their visit. Rubbing kits will be available for purchase, with proceeds going to SFSC art club.

Members of the Audubon Society and the Ridge Rangers will be on hand to answer questions from the public. Visitors will find members from the Lake Placid Art League along the trail doing plein air, or open air painting of the shrubs.

Visitors can purchase lunch from local caterer Loafin’Around, who will set up a food tent at the site.

A walk through the trail gives visitors a chance to see the land, known as the Lake Wales Ridge, as it existed for centuries. The ridge, an ancient beach and sand dune system formed 1-3 million years ago, has been home to flora that has struggled to survive against development.

The guided walks start from the MOFAC’s entrance adjacent to the Wildstein Theater for the Performing Arts at 11 a.m. Take Entrance 3 from College Drive to reach MOFAC. SFSC’s Highlands Campus is located at 600 W. College Dr., Avon Park.

The trail is open to the public during regular college hours. To reach the trail, visitors should look for Entrance 5 along College Drive.

For more information on the festival, call Stepe at 863-784-7240 or follow the events link on MOFAC’s website: mofac.org.