FYN Publications: Native Landscape Plants for South Florida

Introduction

Jody Haynes, John McLaughlin & Laura Vasquez

Native plants were once thought of by many Florida gardeners, nurserymen, and landscapers as being appropriate only for informal gardens or in highly specific and often difficult garden situations, such as boggy or coastal areas (Osorio, 2001). Because of this negative (mis)perception, native plants have often received a ‘bad rap’ in Florida. In recent years, however, the attributes of native plants have been increasingly recognized and appreciated—especially in central and north Florida.

The Florida Yards & Neighborhoods (FYN) program has been encouraging the use of ‘Florida-friendly’ landscaping principles here in south Florida since February 2000. FYN does not restrict its recommendations to native plants, but rather recommends putting the right plant in the right place. South Florida natives, by their very nature, are generally well adapted to the nutrient-poor, alkaline, and sand- or limestone-based soils of south Florida. They also have relatively low fertilizer requirements, few pest and disease problems, and typically do not require frequent maintenance— such as regular watering, pruning, or spraying—to remain healthy and maintain an acceptable aesthetic quality. It is also important to note here that not all native plants have the same requirements, and any plant put in the wrong place may either present problems or may require more maintenance.

A previous publication, ENH 854, listed over 350 native and non-native plant species for south Florida. This new publication was developed as a supplement to ENH 854, but it is also a good stand-alone reference for people wishing to add native plants to their private yards or public landscapes, or to simply learn more about them.

Benefits of Native Plants

While south Florida’s native plants may not offer the striking floral displays of some tropical exotics, many do possess attractive foliage, colorful fruits, or add a pleasing form or texture to the landscape. South Florida has a wide variety of native plants that are both attractive and useful as landscape plants. The species listed herein grow well in urban landscape settings in part or all of south Florida without much fuss—assuming they are planted in the right place in the landscape. In addition to being interesting additions to urban yards and landscapes, native plants also increase the diversity of natural insect predators, and many are also attractive to other types of sought after wildlife species (i.e., birds and butterflies).

Finding and Using Native Plants in South Florida

Although it is not difficult to find native plants in local garden centers, the range of species is usually extremely limited, particularly compared to the great number of exotic species available. With many local ordinances requiring an increasing percentage of native plants in new landscapes, it is becoming increasingly important that more native species be made available to the public. We have created a list of retail and wholesale nurseries in south Florida that sell native plants. If you are interested in this list, you can either download (260KB PDF) it from our web site or call or e-mail us and we will send you a free copy.

County-Specific Soil Conditions

Much of south Florida is similar with respect to climate and other growing conditions. Therefore, most of the plants on this list should be widely applicable throughout the region. However, once you pass from the sandy soils of Palm Beach, Broward, and northern Miami-Dade County into the alkaline rockland type soils of central and southern Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, the landscape environment changes dramatically, and this can affect the ability to grow certain species. Add to that the appearance of pockets of marl soil and the varying types of fill soils that can be found in urban areas, and the issue of soil compatibility becomes increasingly important. For example, buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus) will not grow well in marl soil, but excels in limestone soils. Conversely, butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) will not grow well in the alkaline limestone of south Miami-Dade home landscapes, but performs quite well in the sandy areas in north Miami-Dade and further north. When applicable, we will include notes on soil preference for particular species.

Native Plant Categories

The 135 native plant species listed in this publication are grouped according to their functions in the landscape. Separate pages are provided for the following categories:

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Online Resources
Offline Resources
  • Austin, D.F. Pine Rockland Plant Guide. Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resource Management, Miami, FL.
  • Bell, C.R. & B.J. Taylor. 1982. Florida Wildflowers and Roadside Plants. Laurel Hill Press, Chapel Hill, NC.
  • Florida Water Management Districts. 2001. Water Wise Florida Landscapes: Landscaping to Promote Water Conservation Using the Principles of XeriscapeTM.
  • Haehle, R.G. & J. Brookwell. 1999. Native Florida Plants. Gulf Publishing Co., Houston, TX.
  • Miami-Dade County. 2001. Dade County Landscaping Manual. Miami-Dade County, FL.
  • Osorio, R. 2001. A Gardener’s Guide to Florida’s Native Plants. University of Florida Press, Gainesville.
  • Taylor, W.K. 1998. Florida Wildflowers in their Natural Communities. University of Florida Press, Gainesville, FL.