Florida on a Tankful: Caladium capital of the world

By Scott Fais, Feature Reporter
Last Updated: Wednesday, July 19, 2017, 11:29 PM EDT

The decoration on the mailbox outside Happiness Farms gives away what’s the pride of Highlands County.

"The fields do look like a quilt of color,” says caladium farmer Danielle Daum.

Welcome to the Caladium Capital of the World.  But, what’s a caladium?

"It's a heart-shaped foliage leaf that is grown from a bulb,” Danielle explained.

Lake Placid, Florida (no, not the town in New York that was home to the 1980 Winter Olympics) is known for its large murals and caladiums. Just don't call them a flower.

"They are a foliage plant. They are not a flower,” Danielle explained.

She said 99 percent of the world's caladiums used in landscaping and container gardens come from Lake Placid. Danielle's family farm, Happiness Farms, joins around a dozen caladium growers in Highlands County.

The third generation farmer says this area of the state is home to fertile soil along the Lake Wales ridge, a sandy “spine” running through the center of the state.

"The muck is old lake bottom from Lake Istokpoga,” Danielle says of the dirt that is literally the same color of an Oreo cookie. Here, more than 1,000 acres are suitable for growing vegetables in the winter months and caladiums in the summer.

The leaves are not valuable here, rather the bulbs that are dug up by machinery and sorted nearby.

It's a tradition started by Danielle's grandfather, Paul, a potato farmer from Wisconsin. During the winter months, Paul came to Florida to sell tractors. While in Florida, he met a group of caladium growers and realized potatoes and caladiums are not that different, while the weather in Florida was far superior.

Once-a-year bus tours roll next weekend at the annual Caladium Festival.

"On every bus tour, we have a grower,” said Eileen May with the Lake Placid Chamber of Commerce, adding the public is always welcome to ask questions of an expert while on tour.

"Summer time is the time to see the fields in their most vibrant, full color,” Danielle said.

Know Before You Go:
The 2017 Lake Placid Caladium Festival takes place July 28-30. Get more information here. Eileen May says bus tour tend to fill up fast. Get more info on bus reservations here.

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