Pygmy Fringe Tree FACEBOOK POST

South Florida State College’s Museum of Florida Art and Culture (MOFAC) will play host to the Pygmy Fringe Tree Wildflower Festival, a celebration of the region’s native wildflowers, on Thursday, March 10, 11 a.m. – noon, at SFSC’s Highlands Campus.

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 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 endangered in 1987.

“Our Wayside Shrine Trail is one of the few venues where the public can readily encounter this rare and extraordinary shrub,” said Mollie Doctrow, MOFAC’s curator. “Early March is the ideal time for the pygmy fringe tree to flower, giving the public a singular instance in which to view this beautiful plant.”

Doctrow, noted for her award-winning woodcuts of natural habitats, conceived the trail based on her own exploration of nature and from indigenous shrine boxes she encountered while studying Indian culture. The trail opened in 2011.

Doctrow said 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 singing by Florida Seminole songwriter Rita Youngman and storytelling by Florida folklorist Carol Mahler.

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

Pygmy fringe tree flowering.

Pygmy fringe tree flowering.

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. The art club will also sell picnic snacks to visitors.

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 off from the MOFAC’s entrance adjacent to the Wildstein Center for the Performing Arts at 11 a.m.  The trail is open to the public during regular college hours. Visitors should look for Entrance 5 along College Drive.

For more information on the festival, contact Doctrow at 863-784-7240 or doctrowm@southflorida.edu.