Florida Anise: An Underused Native Shrub
(This article originally appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat on June 14, 2019)
So often when we are planting our landscape, we look at what our neighbors and friends have planted. This is not a bad way to go as we can see plants that we like. However, this often limits us to plants we traditionally see – azaleas, camellias, ligustrums, loropetalums, and boxwoods. Why not branch out and consider some less common evergreen shrubs that will add diversity to your landscape and will stand out from the others?
The Florida anise (Illicium floridanum) is a good choice. This underused evergreen shrub is native to the Northwest Florida Panhandle, extending along the coastal plain toward Louisiana. As a native, it is well adapted to our area and rarely has any disease or pest problems. Not only that, it is a very attractive shrub that offers small red blooms in the springtime.
Florida anise performs best in shade to part sun locations. In the wild, you will find this plant along shady ravines, so it is tolerant of wet conditions. In deep shade it will have a more open form. It works especially well in a woodland type garden.
The dense foliage, dark green leaves, and maximum height of 12 to 15 feet, make this anise a great choice for an informal hedge. So, if you have a wooded area in the back of your property and need some additional screening, this is your plant. It also works well in a mixed border with other shrubs, such as camellias and azaleas.
If you crush the leaves of a Florida anise you will notice a licorice like aroma. Be aware that this is not the species that gives us the edible culinary anise. Do not use Florida anise as a spice – it is toxic. Because the foliage is poisonous, Florida anise is resistant to feeding insects and deer. That is a real bonus for those with deer browsing issues.
If you are interested in other varieties of anise for North Florida, please consider the following. They are available in local garden centers.
Ocala Anise (Illicium parviflorum). This is native to Central Florida. Its upright, pyramidal form will grow to a height of 10 feet with an eight-foot spread. It is very versatile as it tolerates wet or dry, and thrives in sun or shade, although it has a more open form in shade. I have seen it used a lot in commercial landscapes, but it works well in the home landscape as a screen. I planted a hedge in a sunny area that frequently floods, and it has done fine.
‘Florida Sunshine’ (Illicium parviflorum). This is a cultivar developed from the Ocala anise and is gaining in popularity. It has stunning yellow to yellow-green foliage when sited in shade. This plant will light up a dark corner of any shade garden. In full sun it tends to bleach, becoming a very pale yellow, almost white. Its upright, pyramidal shape should grow six to eight feet in height, with a spread of four to six feet. This one is worth a try.
‘BananAppeal’ (Illicium parviflorum PIIIP-I). This is another cultivar from the Ocala anise. It was introduced in 2016 and is similar to ‘Florida Sunshine’. ‘BananAppeal’ is a lower grower, about three to four feet tall and wide. The stems of young shoots are orange-red, contrasting nicely with the brilliant yellow leaves.
‘Orion Anise’ (Illicium hybrid ‘NC1H2′). This is a new anise that has a compact growth habit and white, star-shaped blooms in the spring. It should grow to three feet high with a spread of four feet. Like the other anises, it tolerates wet to average soils, and does best in part sun to full shade. I have not tried this one, but it sounds interesting. Plant it and tell me how it works out.
Mike Fagan is a Master Gardener volunteer with UF/IFAS Extension Leon County, an Equal Opportunity Institution. For gardening questions, email the extension office at AskAMasterGardener@ifas.ufl.edu.