One of the great joys of fall in Central Florida is the explosion of swamp sunflowers – primarily Helianthus angustifolius – that appear along the edges of Lake Jesup, Puzzle Lake, Lake Harney and certain other slow-moving segments of the St. Johns River to the northeast of Orlando.
Motorists notice them in abundance as they cross over Lake Jesup on SR 417 headed from Oviedo towards Sanford. What they don’t know, because it’s not obvious from the highway, is that you can hike to these sunflower fields.
Puzzle Lake, Seminole Ranch
We’ve also seen showy sunflowers from our car along Puzzle Lake in Seminole Ranch Conservation Area, mainly while driving along SR 46.
They concentrate between the Kilbee Trailhead and the bridge over the St. Johns adjoining the Jolly Gator Fish Camp. In our reconnaissance of the Kilbee trails, we could not find any that led to the sunflowers.
Paddlers putting in by the bridge can explore the shoreline where the flowers concentrate near where the Econlockhatchee River flows into the St. Johns. They look most vibrant along the river to the south.