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Five Hundred Years of Florida Flora Firsts: How Plants have shaped Florida’s History

January 16, 2013

On New Year’s Eve 2012 a large illuminated orange descending on the side of Miami’s Hotel  InterContinenal marked the beginning of the State of Florida’s observance of the 500-year anniversary of the landing of Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon on Florida’s east coast. The New Year’s celebration was dubbed  “La Gran Naranja,” or the “Big Orange” drop.

“La Gran Naranja,” dropped on New Year's Eve 2012 in Miami, ushers in 2013 anniversary observance of landing of Ponce de Leon on Florida's east coast.

“La Gran Naranja,” dropped on New Year’s Eve 2012 in Miami, ushers in 2013 anniversary observance of landing of Ponce de Leon on Florida’s east coast.

The word naranja comes from the sweet Valencia orange the Spanish introduced to America. The orange, now emblematic of the Sunshine State and our official state fruit, was one of the early non-native plants introduced into Florida.

In the five centuries since Ponce’s storied landing, non-native plant species, perhaps numbering in the thousands, have found their way into Florida. Some, like the orange, were cultivated for food production, others for ornamental, industrial or pharmaceutical purposes. Still other species entered as contaminants in agricultural seeds, in ships’ ballast or in or on vehicles. Researchers introduced others, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.

The vast majority of these plant species pose no threat to Florida’s natural systems. Farmers, growers and gardeners establish and tend to them ­ – but they are not invasive. They do not spread into areas where they are not wanted, nor do they displace native species. Invasive plants are those that must be controlled or eradicated.

As a regulatory agency of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Division of Plant Industry has as its mission to detect, intercept and control plant and honey bee pests that threaten Florida’s native plant and agricultural resources. Our roots in state government go back more than a century.

Over the course of 2013, this blog will review some of the plants that, for better or worse, have helped form the history of our state. We will be drawing on expertise of our DPI scientists and we invite everyone to participate. There are fascinating stories to be told, and we will welcome your questions and comments.

Coming Next: Meet Florida’s First Farmers

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