August 7, 2015
By: Kathy Kinsey
Florida azalea. Photo by Kathy Kinsey.
Florida – the Sunshine State – our home – and home to several plants that are known as “Natives” – otherwise known as the indigenous ones – those that have been here before us and can handle all the living conditions Florida has to offer. But it is not just plants for several birds call this state home, too. The cormorant, osprey, brown pelican, great blue heron, great white egret (which is the symbol of the National Audubon Society) and the roseate spoonbill – all of which can live between 20 to 35 years, providing their habitats are protected. For this article though, I am interested in the Native Plants that inhabit this great state.
Florida Native Plants – with so many available, some of them should have a place in your Florida landscape. There are trees, ferns, ground covers, vines, grasses to wildflowers, some full sun, some shade, and I have found – once established – they require very little care from me. And the flowers – well you just can’t beat the colors. Mother Nature knew what she was doing when she created all these wonderful plants for us.
The State’s Native Wildflower is the genus of Coreopsis, belonging to the family of Asteraceae. You may know them by their common name – tickseed. Ranging in colors from golden yellow to pink, several species are native to North America with others coming from Central and South America. Nothing says “Sunshine State” like a yellow flower! These have been planted along the roadsides as they help prevent erosion and they look good while performing this task.
Florida’s Native Plants were present when the first European explorers arrived some five hundred years ago. With one of the largest assortment of florals occurring in North America, many of them can be found growing right here in Florida as more than 4,100 kinds of plants have been identified and catalogued within our boundaries, from the inland areas to the coastal regions. The battle in controlling and eradicating the non-natives/invasives consumes a large amount of state and local taxes. Some of these include the Brazilian pepper, skunk vine, and the Japanese climbing vine.
When planting natives, make sure you read the plant tag – you want to make sure your new plant(s) will grow within your landscape. The site needs to be cultivated and may benefit from enrichment with humus which will give the plant what it needs. Right Plant – Right Place! If not, you might be setting the stage for a maintenance nightmare, stress to the plant and eventually, the loss of the plant. This really applies to any plant you purchase for your landscape. Plants are raised to grow in a certain environment and planting it anywhere other than this may cause the plant to wither along with your dreams of gardening. But by growing Native Plants, you will be conserving water and providing a much needed habitat for the birds and butterflies that visit your yard. You will also be providing a home for some of the ones that are considered rare and you will eliminate the need for all those chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer.
To name a few native plants for you…..I have included their Botanical Name to ensure you get the right one from the local nurseries – which by the way – have these available to you.
Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus); purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea); firebush (Hamelia patens); cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis); oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia); passionflower (Passiflora spp.); our very own Florida azalea (Rhododendrum austrinum) and the ever graceful rain lily (Zephyranthes atamasco), my favorite. Mind you – this is just a few – there are just way too many to list. The IFAS website can certainly help you with the Natives as can our local nurseries.
The Florida Natives – who knew there were so many of them? And though I have a lot of them growing in my garden, I have plans to add a few more, even if I have to dig up some grass! So – grow some natives – or add to the ones you already have. After all, they were growing here long before we were born, and by doing so, you will be keeping their heritage growing strong. There is a subtle beauty in growing a natural system – one that can only come from harmony. With planning and some forethought, it is a beauty that be replicated in your very own backyard.
Kathy Kinsey is a Master Gardener volunteer with the UF/Leon County Cooperative Extension Office. You may also email us at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov with any gardening questions you may have