The Pepper Ranch Preserve in Immokalee is bathed in glorious yellow in the early weeks of fall with the spectacular blooms of the native Southeastern Sunflowers (Helianthus agrestis). This species is rare, growing up to six feet tall with as many as 15 sunflower heads per stem. They are also known as “prairie sunflower” and grow best in the hydric (wet) pinelands and flooded grasslands throughout Florida and Georgia.
Helianthus agrestis bloom only over a three-week time period each year. A recent sunflower walking tour was organized by the Audubon of the Western Everglades. Knowledgeable guides took the visitors on a walking hike next to a sea of hundreds of acres of spectacular native sunflower pasture at their peak.
Pepper Ranch Preserve was open for two special weekends for sunflower viewing.
The sunflowers at Pepper Ranch Preserve are wild and naturally occurring and their blooms can vary in intensity and timing from year to year due to such variables like rain, water levels, mowing and grazing.
A Rich History
Pepper Ranch also provides a rich historical glimpse into the lifestyle of a Florida ranching family in the early parts of the twentieth century. Before the ranch was managed by Collier County, Frank Pepper acquired the land in 1926 and his family farmed corn, peppers and melons, ran cattle, and even operated a well-known fish camp on Lake Trafford for many decades.
There are about 600 acres of pasture at the Preserve and is still a working ranch. If you were to remove the cattle, a lot of invasive exotic plants would come back. There is also an oil drilling operation on the Preserve with two active oil wells, which produces about 200 barrels of oil per day. Their presence helps with security issues, and they also maintain the roads.
What is Conservation Collier? Conservation Collier was created in 2002 out of a stakeholder-driven campaign by the Conservancy, other environmental groups and concerned citizens, and identified a need for more urban and other greenspace throughout Collier County. In 2002, voters approved a ballot referendum and again in 2006 to tax themselves .25 mil in ad valorem collections for funding the acquisition and management of conservation lands. Conservation Collier has acquired 4,090 acres of environmentally sensitive land. In 2009 it acquired the 2,512 acres at Pepper Ranch Preserve near Immokalee and Lake Trafford.
Through the winter and spring months (November to June) during the weekends, visitors can enjoy free access to the hiking, mountain biking trails, horse riding trails and wildlife viewing and photography.
Please visit the website for more information at colliercountyfl.gov/your-government/divisions-a-e/conservation-collier.