Native Florida plants and why to plant them

bee gaillardia pollinator

Native plants are easy to grow, and very much needed to support our local species of wildlife.

Why Native Florida Plants?

Native plants have adapted to their environment over hundreds (if not thousands) of years. So, not only are they easier to grow, but much of our local wildlife and pollinators only eat certain native Florida plant varieties.

Native Florida plants are much better suited to withstand our crazy environment here. There are varieties that thrive in sandy soil or marshland, they withstand being attacked by our swarms of bugs and pests, they can handle the extreme temperatures and erratic rainfall.

So combat the challenges of Florida and plant native Florida plants in and around your garden.

Support Wildlife

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

Humans have a tendency to think bugs should be killed, but they are here for a reason – to pollinate plants and to serve as food to birds (eat 700 caterpillars a day), amphibians and reptiles. The animals are crucial to our ecosystem.

Monarch caterpillars only eat Milkweed. Spicebush swallowtail caterpillars only eat spicebush. Without these native plants, these butterflies won’t survive. Oak trees support over 550 species of insects and Dogwoods (Cornus florida) supports over 100 species of moths and butterflies!

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

Easy to grow native plants to protect non-native plants and improve the soil
When plants are planted outside of their preferred habitats, you will likely encounter some problems. By starting out with native plants you can use these established plants to serve as windbreaks, predator attractors, their fallen leaves will naturally decompose into a nutrient-rich mulch that will retain water, suppress weeds and fertilize, the roots encourage microbiology.

A wide diversity of plant varieties will minimize insect damage by encouraging prey insects


Native plants have root systems that reach 4+ feet deep.

Why Native Plants? Easy To Grow and they feed the Wildlife
First off, Native plants are easy to grow as they have spent thousands of years adapting to the soil type and climates in their natural environment. They generally is less water, and are less prone to disease and pest attack, which means you don’t need to spray chemicals to make them thrive. This is important in Florida where the harsh heat of summer and quick draining sandy soil only allows the strongest of plants to survive.

These native plants have also spent millennia forming beneficial relationships with the local wildlife. For example, butterflies and caterpillars are very picky eaters. For example, Monarch caterpillars will only eat Milkweed. Without this plant, the species will die. By choosing native species of plants, we encourage the growth of native populations of insects that need them to survive.

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 sale 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 which are said to be impossible for bees and butterflies to access the nectar and others have beautiful but sterile flowers, meaning they will never produce the seed that birds like to snack on.

Why we need wildlife: Butterflies, Bees, Birds and Bugs…
Butterflies play an important role in our environment.

Butterflies pollinate a wide range of flowering plants
Butterflies serve as food for other important organisms in the garden, such as mammals, birds, lizards, spiders, and other insects. (These critters also eat the pests you don’t want in your garden, so you need them around- natural pest control.
Butterflies are an indicator species, meaning they are one of the first organisms to show a negative reaction to environmental changes and pollutants. they alert us to problems in the local environment.
Native Florida Plants
Edge of Water Plants
The following water loving plants are native to Florida and can be planted in ponds, ditches, swamps, wetlands, water gardens and at the edges of waterways. Grow these water loving native Florida plants near the water’s edge 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.

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.

I have a 1-acre field on my zone 9b property that I need to fill in with plants (Read more about the Say No To Mow Project here.. Florida native plants.

Most of Florida is considered subtropical, but North Florida resembles Texas, Louisiana, and Georgia and the extreme South is tropical.

Florida Native plants on my zone 9b property –
Scorpion’s tail (Heliotropium angiospermum)

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