Plant of the Month
Every month we feature a plant that we think deserves a spotlight in Florida-friendly gardening.
Australian Tree Fern – Also known in its native country as the lacy tree fern because of its delicate fronds, the Australian tree fern is a tropical gian. The long, large leaves form a handsome canopy and give a tropical feel to the landscape. The Australian tree fern is ideal for shaded gardens in South and Central Florida or well-protected areas farther north.
Beach Sunflower – Beach sunflower is a butterfly-attracting Florida native that’s perfect for hot, dry sites, including coastal areas. Many gardeners like to use it as a colorful and drought-resistant groundcover. Beach sunflower can be grown throughout most of the state. Growing to a height and spread of 2 to 4 feet, this plant can quickly cover its growing area.
Evergreen Wisteria – Evergreen wisteria is not only a beautiful and fragrant perennial vine, it's also an excellent alternative to the more commonly seen Chinese wisteria, which is an exotic invasive plant. Sometimes called summer wisteria, this plant is native to southern China and Taiwan, but is not invasive. Neither is it truly a wisteria, although both plants are part of the legume family.
Coleus – This beautiful landscape plant is prized for its colorful foliage, which comes in shades of green, yellow, pink, red, orange, and maroon. Coleus is a heat-tolerant, durable annual that has very few disease or insect problems. These plants, which are native to Malaysia and parts of Asia, can really thrive in your Florida landscape during the summer while providing you with interesting foliage.
Fakahatchee Grass – Also called Eastern gamagrass, this attractive plant can add a touch of native Florida to your landscape as an accent or planted as a border. As a bonus, Fakahatchee grass is the larval food plant for the Byssus Skipper butterfly. It's frequently found growing along river banks and other wet sites throughout most of Florida. Easy to grow and easy to propagate, Fakahatchee grass makes a wonderful addition to any garden.
Maples for Florida – Maples are often thought of as a northern tree, loved for their spectacular displays of changing leaves in the fall. But did you know that there are two species of maple trees that will actually grow well here in Florida? The native red maple and Florida maple can be grown in the Sunshine State.
Flatwoods Plum – Native to North and Central Florida, this tree flowers in the early spring before leaves appear. It has an advantage over its cousin the Chickasaw plum in that it forms very few root suckers. The flatwoods plum produces edible fruit, small purple plums that range from very tart to very sweet. As an added bonus this plant is the host plant for the red spotted purple butterfly. (Photo by James H. Miller and Ted Bodner, Southern Weed Science Society, Bugwood.org)
Christmas Palm – This relatively small palm can add fall and winter color to the South Florida landscape with glossy red fruits. Attractive and easy to care for, this palm can be started in large containers and brought inside if grown in Central Florida, where frost would damage it.
(Photo by Scott Zona.)
Carrots – Cultivated for centuries, the tasty and nutritious carrot is fun to grow and comes in more colors than you'd think. This cool-season root vegetable requires some careful planting and plenty of water, but can be grown throughout the state in the fall.
Jatropha – An evergreen shrub with stunning flowers nearly year-round, jatropha will bring butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden. There are two species that grow quite well in South Florida, Jatropha integerrima and Jatropha multifidi.
Avocados – Already well known as a delicious and healthy fruit, avocados are seeing a surge in popularity lately. The varieties best for growing in South Florida are commonly called Florida avocados or green-skin avocados. Florida avocados are bright green and have lower fat and calories than their California counterparts.
Ixora – This flowering shrub is an old-time favorite in South Florida. With little maintenance and year-round blossoms, it's a gardener's dream. The flowers are often a reddish orange, but new varieties come in yellow, pink, and even white. Plant in Central and South Florida in full sun with acidic conditions, and then sit back and watch the flowers bloom.
Landscape Begonias – Begonias are a commonly used bedding plant that can provide striking color in the landscape throughout the year. Begonias that do best in the landscape generally fall into three groups: wax begonias, cane or angel-wing begonias, and rhizomatous begonias. Breeders are producing wonderful new cultivars, which tend to be very vigorous with larger leaves and bigger blooms.
Century Plant – With bold, succulent leaves that can be up to 6 feet long and a towering flower spike that can reach 20 feet, the century plant is certainly a show-stopping landscape addition. "Century plant" is a misleading name, though. This drought-tolerant plant doesn’t actually take 100 years to mature or flower; it’s more between 8 to 30 years.
Stokes' Aster – Stokes' aster is a lovely flowering native that requires almost no maintenance. For your lack of work tending this plant you'll find yourself rewarded with showy flowers and evergreen foliage. Who doesn't love a plant that looks fabulous with little effort?
Cherry Tomatoes – Growing tomatoes in Florida's brief spring planting season can be tough, but there's a small solution: cherry tomatoes. These miniature tomatoes thrive in Florida heat, producing into summer, and there's a wealth of varieties differing in growth habit, fruit shape, and even color.
Queen's Wreath – This stunning tropical vine resembles wisteria with its drooping lavender flowers. Florida gardeners in zones 9B and south live in the perfect climate for growing this plant. Queen's wreath looks lovely when allowed to grow over a gated entrance, along fences, in a large container, or even clambering up a selected tree.
Stawberries – February and March are the peak seasons for eating strawberries in Florida and many areas have strawberry festivals during these months. In many parts of the country, strawberries are a summer crop, but here in Florida they grow best during the cooler months of the year.
Mahonia – Actually the name for an entire genus of woody, everygreen shrubs, mahonia includes a few that work well in Florida. With yellow flowers that bloom in winter and berries that are wildly popular with birds, mahonias are ideal for a shady landscape in north and central Florida.