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SMALLER Native Trees


In anticipation of hurricane season, many will begin their tree trimming practices to minimize potential hazards and tree failure due to structural defects on large canopy and street trees such as oaks, mahogany, gumbo limbo and others.  Sometimes, planners and landscaping companies forget that South Florida has a plethora of small to medium native trees that can be useful in many situations, provide a host of benefits and best of all, require less maintenance.

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of smaller native trees:

  • Turf and other plants can grow beneath and around them due to narrower canopies.  In many situations, where turf or flowering plants are desired or required, large trees can cause them to struggle due to their shade and competition.  Turf will be less stressed and healthier with more sunlight.

Orchids grow best on smaller trees

Orchids, such as this Oncidium, grow well on smaller trees because of more light, and smaller native trees provide branching at just the right height for viewing.

  • Many of the smaller trees will provide habitat and food for birds, butterflies and other beneficial insects, which help to mitigate and control the insects that cause problems.
  • Smaller trees are easer to prune and maintain to ANSI standards.
  • Smaller trees are less likely to cause damage during storms.
  • Many of these trees have colorful flowers and/or foliage.
  • Our native trees require less fertilizer and pesticide due to their acclimation to our climate, soil and rainfall conditions.
  • These smaller trees add much needed biodiversity and interest to a stagnant palette.

Why is the palette so limited?

Because landscape architects, city planners and others often get to make the decisions regarding the species of trees planted, our plant palettes become limited.  Many of these folks aren’t horticulturists or growers and don’t have the knowledge or familiarity of the vast plant palette available in South Florida.

A sampling of some great under-utilized native trees:

Here is a list of some worthy candidates where you may need a tree in a tighter space, parking lot, between homes, or in many situations where a large canopy tree is inappropriate and can become a liability.  Some may be difficult to source, but remember, if growers have more demand, they will grow more of them.  FANN or Florida Association of Native Nurseries, can help you to source them.

Bahama Strongbark –upright, umbrella like growth, fragrant white blooms/red fruit year-round, attract hummingbirds and butterflies H20 X W8

Blackbead – Round canopy, airy, white fragrant puffball blooms, Host for Giant yellow Sulphur butterfly H20 X W15

Jamaican Caper – Narrow, conical growth, fragrant showy white flowers followed by reddish seed capsules, host plant for Florida White butterfly, little maintenance required, tolerant of sun or shade H10 X W4

Crabwood – Vertical growth pattern, new leaves bright orange, tidy habit, needs little to no pruning, tolerant of dry soil, fragrant catkins in spring, attract pollinators H15 X W6

Lignum Vitae – Rounded small tree with bright blue blooms in spring followed by interesting seed capsules and red seeds. Can become specimen plants, highly sought after. Good investment H10 X W8

Marlberry – Narrow growth pattern, tolerates shade, gives privacy, very showy and fragrant white blooms followed by purple berries which attract songbirds. H15 X W6

Princewood – Elegant, rare, very narrow growing with fragrant white flowers; grows in dry areas, full sun. H15 x W4

Torchwood – Multi-trunked tree with very fragrant white flowers; blooms all year, Host plant for the endangered Schaus Swallowtail and the Giant Swallowtail. Fruits attract songbirds. H15 X W8

Biscayne Prickly Ash – Tidy, round, shrubby tree with very showy flowers; host plant for Giant Swallowtail. H10 X W8

Simpson’s Stopper – Narrow growing small tree with interesting, peeling bark, very fragrant white flowers and red berries. Attracts butterflies and songbirds. H20 X W 8

A smaller carbon footprint

Most importantly, using smaller, native trees will establish beauty and variety in our landscapes while also providing sustainability and preservation of our natural resources.  Smaller is often, better!

4 Comments on “SMALLER Native Trees

  1. Great information for landscape architects and city planners. Well done!

    • Thank you, Mike! I am glad that you found the information useful. We need to increase the diversity of our tree canopy for sure. We have such a wealth of tree species here in South Florida.

  2. Excellent article Donna! Our wildlife can benefit greatly from incorporating native plants into our urban landscapes.

    • Thank you so much, Rose! We have so many amazing trees to choose from and it’s disappointing how few folks know they exist. I am hoping that this article will encourage more of our professionals and homeowners to try them.

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