January 23, 2013
By Thomas Andrew Gustafson
Florida is turning 500 years old, and one Miami-based artist is giving the state a floral facelift as a birthday gift.
Five-hundred years ago, Juan Ponce de Leon was searching for the Fountain of Youth when he arrived in Florida. He named it la Florida (translation: Flowery Land) because of its beautiful flora. Today, Florida International University Artist-in-Residence Xavier Cortada is inviting all Floridians to help bring back some of the natural beauty Ponce de Leon saw.
“And I wanted to do this because I wanted folks to understand that they were actors in the party,” he said. “They themselves could contribute by planting a garden in their homes, in their school, at a library, and in so doing help our biodiversity.”
Cortada calls FLOR500 an eco-art project. Anyone in the state with a plot of land and a shovel can join. He said, it’s not about creating something new, it’s about showing the beauty that already exists; where the goal isn’t painting a landscape, but changing a landscape. Cortada compiled a list of 500 native plants and 500 influential people from Florida’s history on the project’s website. Cortada wants each garden planted to be dedicated to one of Florida’s influencers.
Fire Ecologist Kevin Robertson, with Tall Timbers, a nature research station in Leon County, said, using native plants helps open up a habitat for endangered animals like the red-cockaded woodpecker and the gopher tortoise.
“We’ve planted long leaf pine and wire grass. Parts of the reason is to provide the right fuel structure so we can burn easily and keep the area nice and open,” he said.
It’s this layering of environmental, aesthetic, and historical meanings that Cortada has in mind for FLOR500.
But what will happen for Florida’s 501st birthday? Cortada hopes Floridians use FLOR500 as inspiration for new eco-art projects. And maybe in replenishing the state’s native plants, Floridians can be Florida’s own Fountain of Youth, showing the beauty Ponce de Leon saw 500 years ago.
To get involved in the FLOR500 project, visit Cortada’s website.