“Finally, the shriveled mangrove plant represents the demise of the Confederacy…”

In 2005, I was asked to create the 2006 Florida Heritage Month poster.  I was charged with depicting the 5 flags that flew over my home state since Europeans made contact.  Every fourth-grade classroom was to receive the poster.  Instead of painting a Confederate flag, I chose to depict the demise of the Confederacy.

Below is the statement that I wrote then.  It was printed on the back side of every poster.

Xavier Cortada, “Five Flags / Florida,” 61.5″ x 96″, acrylic on canvas, 2005 “Five Flags/Florida” (Cortada’s “Five Flags / Florida” is In the collection of the Florida Department of State, commissioned for the 2006 Florida Heritage Month Commemorative Poster.)


“Five Flags/Florida” (2006)

Miami artist Xavier Cortada utilized the Florida coastline to depict its heritage: each wave represents a new wave of immigrants who set roots and established communities. The mangrove roots metaphorically depict our interconnectedness as people who share a rich and diverse cultural history.

The mangrove root on the left symbolizes Florida’s indigenous people. The two clusters of clouds above mark their first encounter with Europeans: Juan Ponce de Leon’s landing in 1513.

Each of the mangrove plants rising above the horizon represent the five flags that have since flown over the peninsula:

The first plant has two sets of leaves representing Spain’s two periods of control: 1513-1763 and 1784-1821. The leaves on the second plant resemble the fleur-de-lis on the French flag when it was flown over Florida during 1564-65. Great Britain’s reign over Florida, 1763-1784, is shown as a mangrove plant with sliced leaves as it divided the territory into East Florida and West Florida. As the war for American independence ended, all of the territory was returned to the Spanish.

In 1821, the United States bought Florida from Spain for $5 million. The fourth plant represents the American flag. Back then the American flag had 24 stars. That number grew by three when Florida became the 27th state in 1845. The plant is bifurcated because Florida split from the Union in 1861 to join the Confederacy. After the Confederacy was defeated, Florida returned to the Union at the end of the Civil War in 1865. Finally, the shriveled mangrove plant represents the demise of the Confederacy.

The mangrove root on the right honors those whose search for freedom (e.g.: Seminoles, slaves using the Underground Railroad, Holocaust survivors, Cuban exiles, and Haitian refugees among others) brought them to Florida’s shores.

The painting, “Five Flags/Florida,” was created by Mr. Cortada for Florida Heritage Month 2006.


KaBOOM-iPlay Play Everywhere Challenge: Mangrove Hop

On December 3rd, 2016, HANDS ON MIAMI volunteers will join Xavier Cortada in meeting the City of Miami “KaBOOM-iPlay Play Everywhere Challenge by painting “Mangrove Hop” directly on street asphalt.  Using paintbrushes, 60 volunteers will transform a street that dead-ends into I-95 and Coral Way into a creative playground featuring interwoven mangrove roots.  Children will use the art to imagine and develop interactive games.

Cortada chose to depict mangroves as part of the Play Everywhere Challenge to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Reclamation Project, a participatory eco-art project Cortada developed in 2006 to engage hundreds of volunteers in reforesting the Biscayne Bay and inspire thousands to imagine what our community looked like before all the concrete was poured..

Hands on Miami has worked with Cortada in the past.  Indeed in 2004, volunteers painted the Miami Mangrove Forest, metaphorically reforesting the I-95 underpasses in downtown Miami, Little Havana and Allapattah neighborhoods.  The public art was the precursor to The Reclamation Project.  A decade later, the Hands on Miami volunteers are painting roots as a nod to those who set their roots in Miami and help build community.  Here is a quote from his artist statement from 2004:

“The mangrove roots symbolize the residents who have set roots in their neighborhood and built community,” said Cortada. “[B]y reaching out to others, we build a stronger community, much like the walking feet of mangrove roots do to build formidable structures and nurture new life.”




Reclaiming Mangroves


Xavier Cortada's Miami Mangrove Forest (2004)


Miami Mangrove Forest

Xavier Cortada’s 2004 MIami Mangrove Forest was an important effort because it not only transformed a very public space with paint (in pre-Wynwood Walls Miami), but the public art was the precursor for The Reclamation Project, an eco-art project that engaged hundreds of volunteers in reforesting the Biscayne Bay and inspired thousands to imagine what our community looked like before all the concrete was poured.  More than painting walls than painting on concrete walls, the eco-art  served as the basis for all of the work our local science museum does to engage local residents in habitat restoration and environmental stewardship.


2004 & 2005

In 2004, Miami artist Xavier Cortada worked with Hands on Miami volunteers to metaphorically reforest the I-95 underpasses in downtown Miami, Little Havana and Allapattah neighborhoods.  Cortada’s pencil drawings of mangrove seedlings were used by volunteers to paint dozens of columns beneath I-95 and create the Miami Mangrove Forest.

The drawings were initially exhibited at Miami Art Fairs: OMNIART I in December 2004.  The originals drawings are on loan to Florida International University and are currently on display in University’s Executive Offices on the 5th floor of the Primera Casa building.



The Reclamation Project is a participatory eco-art project launched by Miami artist Xavier Cortada in 2006.  It explores our ability to coexist with the natural world.  Since 2007, the coastal reforestation component of the Reclamation Project has been based at the Miami Science Museum, where an installation of 1,100 mangrove seedlings is on permanent exhibit.Annually, volunteers collect mangrove propagules in coastal areas. The propagules are then exhibited in clear, water-filled cups (see: Gallery of Installations) where they are nurtured into seedlings and eventually planted along coastal areas.  This coastal reforestation creates new habitats above and below the water line.