Photo Courtesy Gabriel Velasquez-Neira

J. Scott Angle: Making History and Telling the Story of the Green Industry

November 30, 2023

When UF made history with the inauguration of a new president on Nov. 2, it also told the story of the green industry. It was silently but beautifully communicated with sunshine ligustrum and magnolias. 

FNGLA came through big—again. This time, it was Jim Fleming of Tropic Traditions in Newberry and an active member of the Frontrunners chapter. Fleming not only donated the beautiful plants, but he donated his time, his truck and his crew to deliver and install them and truck them away after the ceremony. 

This is only the 13th time in a century and a half that we’ve installed a new president, so it’s a big deal. Months of planning go into the event to ensure every detail is covered. All eyes in the higher education community nationally were on UF’s University Auditorium that day. 

Anyone who attended or watched saw a stage adorned with the ligustrum and magnolias as well as lady palms and raphis palms. It was décor that met the high standards of the occasion, reminded attendees and viewers of UF’s land-grant identity and testified to the vibrant ornamental plant industry with which the university shares such a strong bond. 

It all started because when I needed help, I reached out to Tal. He recruited longtime FNGLA and Frontrunners member Ed Bravo, and Ed knows Fleming well. 

Fleming’s Tropic Traditions has been an FNGLA member since 1987. Over the intervening years, he’s built his company into the largest Southern Living plant grower in the region. Rebuilt really, because he started in Homestead, but his business was wiped out by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. 

After Andrew, Fleming’s wife at that time had the good fortune of being accepted to UF to study, so they moved their family to Gainesville. 

Whenever a student reaches out today, Fleming is always willing to help. He recently had a student ask for plants for a community service project, so Fleming donated the landscaping for Rawlings Elementary School in Alachua County near the UF campus—American beautyberry, sabals, Eastern gamagrass, coonties. 

Fleming has a great sense of service and history. The inauguration would have been a little less special without his contribution. But after decades in the business, Fleming is clearly interested in the industry’s future. 

He supports students like those in our environmental horticulture club and those who are engaged in community service projects. He can drop names like Earl Wells that old-timers will recognize yet speaks excitedly about the new blood Tal brings to FNGLA. 

My thanks go to Jim Fleming, Ed Bravo and FNGLA for helping make UF/IFAS a visible and beautiful part of the university’s moment of history and for looking out for the future of the industry through support of students and science. 

Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Interim Provost. Since 2020 he has served as UF’s Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).

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