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Selecting native plants

By CATHY DUNN - Garden Club of Cape Coral | Jul 30, 2020

If you want to enjoy a garden that provides many benefits with minimal effort, then native plants are your best bet! Plants that are adapted to local climate and soil conditions where they naturally occur are classified as native plants. A “Florida Native Plant” refers to a species occurring within the state boundaries prior to European contact; most native plants were spread by wind, birds or other natural means. These beneficial plants produce nectar, pollen and seeds that provide food for native butterflies, insects, birds and other animals. In addition, native plants do not need fertilizers and generally require fewer pesticides than other plants. Native plants also require less water and are more apt to help prevent erosion.

Native plants encompass a wide range of species, from wildflowers to ferns, groundcovers to grasses, palms to vines, and trees and shrubs. You can easily incorporate native plants in your existing landscape, and for a truly Florida Friendly Yard you can convert your entire landscape to natives! One of the primary reasons to enjoy native plants is that they preserve the character of the Florida landscape. Familiar native plants include buccaneer, royal, Florida thatch and silver saw palmetto palms; Florida maple, gumbo limbo, live oak, mahogany and slash pine trees; Carolina jasmine and coral honeysuckle vines; Fakahatchee and mushily grasses; beautyberry, Clusia, cocoplum, coontie, firebush, sea grape and wax myrtle shrubs and beach sunflower, peperomia, sunshine mimosa groundcovers.

How do you go about identifying appropriate native plants for your landscape? There are several excellent Florida specific resources available to help you:

∫ Florida Friendly Landscaping (http://floridayards.org) provides resources to help you plan your garden with native plants. You can start with the Florida-friendly landscaping interactive tutorial and quiz, and download the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods handbook for more detailed information. The site also includes an excellent photo gallery of Florida-friendly yard examples and links to resources offered through your local UF/IFAS County Extension office.

∫ The Florida Native Plant Society (www.fnps.org) is dedicated to promoting the preservation, conservation and restoration of the native plants and native plant communities of Florida. Their web site provides maps of native gardens and native plant “Hotspots” throughout Florida as well as resources including books and downloadable documents. A comprehensive list of native plants by county also allows you to select plants that are appropriate for your area. You can also browse the database by viewing all plants, find specific plants, find plants for a specific county, site conditions or purpose, or plants that are helpful in attracting butterflies or wildlife.

∫ The University of Florida/IFAS Gardening Solutions site (gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu) provides many general publications on native plants as well as a comprehensive list of native plants with specific information on purchasing, planting, and maintaining the plants.

∫ Plant Real Florida (plantrealflorida.org) is dedicated to helping you add native plants to your landscape and bring home the beauty of real Florida. Their website includes a large database of Florida native plants, numerous publications about native plants, and a listing of professional native plant landscapers and native nurseries for the entire state.

Incorporating Florida native plants into your landscape will provide rewards for you, your neighbors and our native birds, butterflies and wildlife. Who wouldn’t support plants that mean less work for you, more compliments from your friends, and the added benefit of sustaining our native wildlife? I hope you will be inspired to explore our many native plants and give your garden the true Florida touch!

Cathy Dunn is a Florida Master Gardener and Garden Club of Cape Coral member.