Florida Wildflowers Special Report

Down on the farm, enthusiasm reigns as Joanna Booth explains the ins and outs of propagating the right plants at the right time
'We're losing diversity faster than we are paying attention.'
Conservation isn't working and we need to try something else,
says grower in Madison whose mission is to seed what's left

By Michael E. Abrams
Editor of Florida Wildflowers

Madison - A package of purple coneflower seeds, true-blooded and hardy for North Florida, can be part of the change that needs to come, and Joanna Booth is ringing the bell.  It's tolling for everyone.

"I think we're losing diversity faster than we are paying attention" says Booth, who knows the difference between hothouse plants and those that really thrive in Florida's climate and soil. She calls herself a small seed packet dealer, but the story is much bigger than that.

 She leads her group of visitors over the three acres of propogation colonies, part of the 400 acres she inherited from her father Chuck Salter, who bought it for his father, near this small North Florida town. She and her youngest daughter and her children maintain the family tradition with the property.

Everyone who grew native plants in the North Florida area knows of Chuck Salter's energetic efforts to promote native plants. It's not unusual to to see a native plant in a park and hear from residents "Chuck Salter planted that."

Columbines, red buckeye, tangerine beauty vine, fennel.  Coral honeysuckle, woodland phlox - they're bedded down and growing and ready to thrive.  Blackberries, the evening primrose -"Now the next friendly plant I want to show you - does everybody know the evening primrose? It's compatible with other plants and it grows head high."

'We're having a slide in biodiversity and no one is paying attention to it. It's the emperor's new clothes.'

She then points to sweet minty Conradina glabra, a little purple flowering plant or wild scrub mint some call 'rosemary.' "You're welcome to break off a tip and smell it."

It's a deep, minty scent that speaks of hot tea, of wooden pantries, of kitchen tables set for the holidays.

The seeds fall off and stay in the dust until the mother plant dies. "They won't come up and compete with the mother until she's gone. Then they compete with each other."

"You can get 50 cuttings per plant maybe twice a year and make them available for the marked or conservation or native garden collections, she says. "It's extremely limited, it's endangered, and we're in danger of losing this one."

"My philosophy is if conservation isn't working we should try something else."

And it's not, in her view. Efforts by state and federal agencies are falling short, and "we're still losing diversity rapidly. We're having a slide in biodiversity and and no one is paying attention to it. It's the emperor's new clothes."

Nearly always, she says, efforts to control invasive species, some of it with poisons, get more attention and more money from policymakers than stewardship of natural species.

"I cannot believe it's safe to poison one species in a plant community without harming others. Herbicidal treatments are plant poisons. I want us to back off and allow more diversity instead of trying to control it."

 She makes no apologies for selling these seeds in the marketplace. She says she doesn't want to simply protect, like agencies do – she wants to expand the native plant community.  She reaches down to a St. John's wort, with the small yellow flower that is known to have anti-depressive properties. "This is one of our natives. It's not commercially available in seed. I don't know if it's commercially available, period. It would be a very hardy landscape plant, and inner city plant."

She is familiar with the medicinal properties of plants. She makes a medicinal ointment out of yarrow, which she uses in her practice as a  massage therapist where she specializes in pain management.

Muley grass, excellent for xeriscaping, comes in both white and purple

Insects, plants depend on each other, Joanna Booth
pointed out to visitors.  Lose one, you lose the other.


Seeds are key to restoring natural diversity and beauty

Packaging seeds from blue curl mint is next project

She tugs out a clump of purple love grass, a native grass, "showy as any ornamental." She separates it into twelve small
plants and says "It isn't harmed, and it will come back. I'm
going to put them in water so someone can take it home
with them after the tour." 

The visitors listen raptly. She says, "Clara Jane, how many
times did you come out here and get plants from my dad?
If you want to go walk around, please do."

"I'd love to," responds the visitor, who has memories that
go back many years.

Savor the  "liatris elegans" known as "blazing star." "There's
something about blazing star that just makes my heart
go pitter patter," says Booth.

Mike Herrin, part of the group and Director of Horticulture for the historic Goodwood plantation in Tallahassee, says what Booth is saying  is "wonderful and important and she makes good points. There is a place for this in some degree in all of our gardens - a natural area or a wildflower area."

The Salter Tree and Herb Farm has a website and Joanna
Booth can be reached at 
and at 850 973-3575. Their address is Salter Tree and Herb
Farm, PO Box 20066, Tallahassee, FL. 32316-0066. They
sell more than 50 kinds of plant seeds and plants as well as
wildflower reclamation mixes.

'Love grass' can make a beautiful addition to a yard

Liatris elegans is a magnificent fall wildflower