Growing a healthy, lush landscape in South Florida means contending with blistering summer heat, pests, and soil that is more sand than dirt. Native plants accustomed to Florida conditions provide not only a hardy choice for your yard but are environmentally sensitive as well.
Defined as “species occurring within the state boundaries prior to European contact,” native plants have existed in Florida for thousands of years and have naturally adapted to our area’s unique conditions. Since they are used to thriving naturally, they require less irrigation, thus reducing water usage. They also require less fertilizer and pest control, eliminating the need to introduce chemicals into the environment. Conversely, invasive species often disrupt the natural balance of our environment. Also known as “exotics,” invasive plants are defined as “species that are non-native to the ecosystem and whose introduction is likely to cause economic or environmental harm.”
“You should grow plants with the biggest ability to host, then grow what you like,” says Amanda Pike, education chair and chapter representative of the Florida Native Plant Society’s Palm Beach County Chapter. At her home in Jupiter Farms, where she has created a permaculture “food forest” with native species supporting a variety of plants that not only thrive but also feed her family, Pike points out a large oak tree as an example of a host species. “Oaks are the number-one guardian plant to have,” she says. “They host 395 species of caterpillars. Caterpillars feed birds, and then birds do pest management.”
Many locals are familiar with native plants but may not be fully aware of their many uses. For example, fire bush is a popular addition to landscapes because of its pretty, bright red, tubular flowers. But it also has medicinal properties including anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and diuretic treatments. (In Mexico, the berries are made into wine.) Read on for a few native species to plant at your home.
3 native beauties to add to your landscape
Oak trees not only provide much needed shade, but they also support more moths and butterflies, which are vital to a healthy ecosystem, than any other native tree species.
This native wildflower has striking daisy-like blooms that attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. Also known as echinacea, the purple coneflower also has healing properties and can help ward off sickness.
The swamp sunflower has bright yellow flowers with brown centers. It is low-maintenance and tolerant of Florida’s heat, plus it attracts pollinators like bees and butterflies.
* Recommended by Amanda Pike of the Florida Native Plant Society