Native Florida plants and why to plant them

bee gaillardia pollinator

If you choose plants that have adapted to grow best in your yard – they will have a much higher success rate. Native Florida plants require less maintenance and they serve our local wildlife and pollinators.

Peacock butterfly feeding on Bidens alba

Why Native Florida Plants?

Plants have spent centuries adapting to the soil, weather and factors of their environment.

  • Low maintenance – no need for fertilizers or watering
  • Better suited to withstand our extreme temperatures, high humidity and abundance of insects.
  • Support wildlife

Low maintenance

Florida native plants generally need less water, Native plants have root systems that reach 4+ feet deep.

Accustomed to the heat, humidity and insects

less prone to disease and pest attack

Support Wildlife

These native plants have also spent millennia forming beneficial relationships with the local wildlife. For example, butterflies and caterpillars are very picky eaters. By choosing native species of plants, we encourage the growth of native populations of insects that need them to survive.

Native plants support more types of insects than non-native species. They serve as host plants (food) to native insects.

Monarch caterpillars only eat Milkweed. Spicebush swallowtail caterpillars only eat spicebush. Without these native plants, these butterflies won’t survive.

Butterfly Bush, sounds like a great gardening plant, but it’s from China and is a host to 0 insects, yet it is sold to encourage wildlife

Native Plants for the Florida Landscape

Oak trees support over 550 species of insects and Dogwoods (Cornus florida) supports over 100 species of moths and butterflies!

So, for my project, I am going to focus on native Florida butterflies and learn what they eat. Turning the field into a Native Florida Butterfly Garden will have an added benefit of attracting many other species of wildlife that will pollinate my garden and serve as food for other beneficial bugs and animals.

What are Nativars?

I ran into the term Nativar as well. They sound good, but they’re more of a sales tactic than a beneficial plant. These nativar plants are native plants that have been modified by plant breeders in order to give them a more striking appearance, rather than appealing to native wildlife. Some nativars are bred to have double flowers – said to be impossible for bees and butterflies to access the nectar. Other nativars have beautiful but sterile flowers, meaning they will never produce the seeds that birds and other local wildlife rely on for food.

Native Water Plants

Grow these water loving native Florida plants near ponds, in ditches, swamps, wetlands, water gardens and at the edges of waterways to add a pop of color, stabilize the bank and encourage pollinating insects.

Common Arrowhead Plant AKA Duck Potato. (Sagittaria latifolia). Zone 3-10. There are several varieties of Arrowheads. This large variety reaches 3 feet tall, Florida native aquatic plant that grows in shallow water or moist soil. Great for areas that tend to flood frequently. The arrowhead shaped leaves grow to be a foot long and 8″ across. The edible tubers can be boiled/baked, peeled and eaten like potatoes.

Lizard’s Tail: (Saururus cernuus). Zone 5-10. These attractive wetland plants grow in shallow water and spread quickly through underground roots and seeds. It has heart-shaped leaves and a flower that resembles a lizard’s tail. The dried leaves are used as a medicinal herb in Korea for a wealth of health benefits. Sold here on Amazon.

Pitcher Plants AKA Trumpets (Sarracenia flava): Zone 8-9. These fascinating carnivorous plants trap insects and digest them for additional nutrients. They propagate by seed and underground stolons. Don’t collect them from the wild as they have been picked to the point that they are now endangered.

Swamp Lily, String Lily (Crinum americanum): Zone 8-10. These tropical lilies thrive at the edges of fresh water swamps and wetlands. They are perennial herbs with 2-6 fragrant and beautiful flowers that bloom out of each bulb.

Florida Native Flowering Plants

The following flowering plants are native to Florida and excellent pollinating and nectar plants to attract butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and other beneficial insects.

native Florida Fleabane

False Foxglove, Gerardia (Agalinis): Zone 6-9. These plants grow to 3 feet tall and bloom in late summer with delicately colored flowers that attract Buckeye butterflies here in Florida.

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias Incarnata): Zone 3-9. There are many varieties of milkweed, which are essential to any butterfly garden, but this variety of Swamp Milkweed grows in damp areas, blooms most of the year and attracts monarch, queen and soldier butterfly. They are native to Northern Florida, but are suitable in hotter climates with a little more shade.

False Rosemary (Conradina canescens) : Native to Florida, this spreading evergreen plant is fragrant and a favorite for honey bees.

Bahama Cassia (Senna mexicana var. chapmanii): This evergreen plant is a host for the yellow sulfur caterpillar and butterfly

White Penstemon (Pensteon multiflorus): This hardy plant thrives in dry or wet environments, is frequently visited by bees

Blanket flower (Gaillardia pulchella): Zone 6-10. These super tough plants tolerate heat, drought and salt. The zinnia-like flowers are orange with yellow around the edges and are great to use as cut flowers. Remove the dead flowers to encourage new growth.

Florida Native Trees

Red Maple (Acer Rubrum): (Zone 8-10) There are two varieties of maple trees that grow in Florida. This native red maple, Acer rubrum and the Florida maple Acer saccharum. This fast growing red maple grows well in wet areas or with adequate irrigation. It is a host plant for several species of moths and home to a variety of birds and wildlife that consume the seeds that come from the tiny red flowers it produces in January.

Florida Native Invasive and Pesky Trees

Just because a plant is native, doesn’t mean it is good. The following unwelcome native plants are invasive, poisonous or aggressive plants that you may not want in your yard.

The Strangler Fig (Ficus Aurea): Located in the Southern half of Florida, this tree wraps itself around a host tree and eventually kills it. Growing over 50 feet tall, they provide great shade. If the seed starts inside a tree canopy, it will grow aerial roots to the ground that will envelop the host plant and kill it.

Poisonwood (Metopium toxiferum): More common in South Florida and the Keys, this beautiful tree has sap similar to poison ivy and leaves people with rashes and sinus irritation. Although it is irritating to humans, this tree is a member of the cashew family and develops an abundance of orange colored fruits that are a major source of food for many migratory birds.

The Spanish Bayonet aka Garden Dagger: (Zone 9-12) You can tell by the name why this plant could be a nuisance. These plants are a great accent in the landscape and their fragrant blossoms attract many pollinators, but the stiff leaves are extremely sharp and the leaf edges will leave your hand with a gash if grabbed tightly.

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