Plant of the Month
Every month we feature a plant that we think deserves a spotlight in Florida-Friendly gardening.
Rosemary – Native to the Mediterranean region, rosemary is a member of the mint family. This herb is often recommended to budding gardeners since it is easy to grow, drought tolerant, and relatively resistant to pests and diseases. This Florida-Friendly plant will thrive year-round, although it may need to be protected from freezes in colder areas of the state.
Pecan – Native to North America, Carya illinoensis is massive in stature and can be an outstanding shade tree. Pecan trees are recommended for zones 5B through 9A in landscapes that are large enough to accommodate their size. Although pecan is not a low-maintenance tree, the reward of delicious nuts is enough to convince many gardeners to add it to their landscape.
Coral Bean – A native plant that can add interest to the landscape from spring through fall, coral bean has vibrant red flowers that attract hummingbirds. The flowers are followed by black seed pods that crack open to reveal striking crimson seeds. Plant in zones 8 through 11, but take care with site choice; the seeds are poisonous.
Yaupon Holly – Add wildlife interest and winter color to your yard with yaupon holly, one of the most durable and adaptable of the small-leaved evergreen hollies for Florida landscapes. Best suited for zones 7A through 9B, yaupon hollies should be planted in a spot where they'll receive full or partial sun. They are both drought and salt tolerant, meaning this plant can find a home in a variety of landscapes.
Live Oak – An iconic Southern tree, Quercus virginiana is a massive oak that can live for centuries when grown under the right conditions. Live oaks are an excellent choice for homeowners who are searching for sturdy, wind-resistant trees. If you've got the room, live oaks can be planted in zones 7B through 10B.
Bird of Paradise – Bird of paradise is a striking evergreen plant with blue-green foliage and showy orange and blue blooms that resemble a bird in flight. Its drought tolerance and pest resistance make it a favorite low-maintenance tropical plant. Strelitzia reginae thrives in USDA Hardiness Zones 10 through 11, although it can survive further north with frost protection.
Lychee – Originally from southern China, Litchi chinensis is a subtropical fruit tree. This attractive tree produces fruit that turn bright red when ripe and reveal translucent white flesh with a delicate flavor. New leaves emerge bronze red and eventually turn a glossy green. Best suited for zones 10A-11, lychee thrives in well-drained acidic soil.
Blueberries – A favorite summer treat, blueberries are an important commercial crop in Florida. Luckily, they thrive in home gardens too. Our winters aren't cold enough for northern blueberry varieties, so UF/IFAS developed low-chill cultivars that can grow here. Rabbiteye blueberries are typically grown in North and Central Florida, while southern highbush is best suited to locations in Central Florida (zone 9a).
Pickerel Weed – This aquatic native plant is found throughout Florida. A flowering perennial usually found in shallow wetland areas or around the edges of lakes and ponds, pickerel weed has spikes of purple-blue flowers that appear in spring and continue through the summer into fall. A water garden winner, pickerel weed serves as food and habit for a variety of wildlife.
Fringetree – Also commonly called Grancy Greybeard and old man's beard, fringetree is a small deciduous tree that bursts into bloom in the spring. The flowers are composed of narrow, ribbon-like petals that are snowy white. In fact, the fringetree's botanical name means "snow flower." This small tree grows well in North and Central Florida.
Golden Dewdrop – This evergreen shrub or small tree makes an attractive backdrop or privacy barrier. Its common name references the showy yellow fruits that cascade from the plant in the summer, but it offers flowers as well. Golden dewdrop grows to a maximum height of eight to 15 feet and is hardy in USDA zones 9B through 11.
Sugarcane – With foodscapes increasing in popularity, one way you can add an attractive edible to your landscape is by planting sugarcane. This perennial grass from the genus Saccharum ranges in color from green to red to purple. There are different varieties for various intended uses; some are bred for chewing, while others are grown for crystalizing, or for making syrup.
Red Cedar – Red cedar is a Florida native evergreen that adds year-round color and texture to your landscape. This tree is highly tolerant of both drought and salt spray, making it an excellent choice for a variety of landscapes. Its pleasing form makes red cedar also popular as a cut or living Christmas tree.
Greens – Rich in vitamins A, C, E, and K, greens are easy to grow and very nutritious. They're also a good source of calcium, potassium, folate, and iron. This group of plants includes spinach, collards, kale, mustard, and turnip greens. Generally considered cool-season vegetables, the time to plant these in Florida is August through February.
Bat Flower – With ghostly bracts that look like wings, the bat flower is a unique addition to any home gardener's collection. With a little extra care, this conversation starter can grow very well in Florida.
Carrots – A healthy vegetable that's easy to grow and doesn’t require a lot of room, carrots are fun to grow, especially with children. The most important thing about planting root vegetables is the soil; it should be loose and free of rocks or roots. Carrots can be planted August to March in North and Central Florida and from September to March in South Florida.
Crinums – Crinum lilies are a hallmark of the Southern landscape and have been cherished and cultivated by Florida gardeners for years. Several species of Crinum and dozens of varieties allow you to find the right look for your landscape, with plants ranging in height from 13 inches to 6 feet tall depending on the species.
Papaya – Papaya is a tropical tree-like plant native to Central America. The ripe fruit is soft, juicy, and sweet, like a mango or melon. Commercially, papaya are usually grown in South Florida. With care, however, gardeners throughout Florida can enjoy papayas in their home landscape, too.
Necklace Pod – A charming choice for pollinator-friendly landscapes, this native shrub features graceful foliage and bright yellow blooms that attract butterflies all year long. Necklace pod is also a perfect coastal plant — highly salt and drought tolerant. It's well suited for USDA Hardiness Zones 9b-11.
Chayote – A heat-loving, tropical vegetable, chayote is perfect for Florida's steamy summers. It is closely related to melons and squashes. Chayote vines climb and require support, such as a trellis or an arbor. The fruit have a texture similar to mature zucchini. Chayote can be planted throughout the state.
Florida Butterfly Orchid – One of the showiest native species, the Florida butterfly orchid has small flowers colored yellow, copper, green, orange, or bronze. A cluster of these blooms looks like a flutter of tiny, colorful butterflies. It grows as an epiphyte in almost every county in the state. Notably, the orchids can withstand a freeze, making them popular on the northern edge of their range.
Coral Honeysuckle – Our native coral honeysuckle features scarlet flowers that bloom for months. And Florida's wildlife love it, too! The flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies and then mature into berries that feed songbirds. This low-maintenance vine is a Florida-Friendly alternative to invasive Japanese honeysuckle. Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) grows all over Florida and further north, USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 10.
Edible Ginger – The leafy, grassy foliage of edible ginger adds a tropical backdrop for more colorful plants, but is best known for its underground stems, or rhizomes. This is the part of the plant that produces the "ginger" spice we love. It grows well throughout the state, too, as long as the soil is amended with organic matter. And for gardeners with tree-covered landscapes, ginger is one of the few crops that loves some shade.
Chickasaw Plum – One of the first to flower each year and an excellent pollinator resource, this native tree grows quickly and will perform best in full sun, though it can also be planted in dappled shade. Each spring, the trees are covered with clusters of tiny, fragrant, white flowers. Then the small fruits appear, turning from red to yellow as they ripen. The tart plums can be eaten fresh or turned into tasty jelly, and they're also enjoyed by wildlife.
Red Maple – Every fall, the leaves of these trees erupt into a blaze of yellow, orange, and red, putting on a show that lasts several weeks. As a native plant, an abundant seed-source, and a winter-blooming tree, red maple is also a favorite of birds and other native wildlife. Red maple is usually found in zones 4A through 9B, but has been found growing wild further south.
Roselle – A relative of hibiscus and okra, this plant was once a very popular edible. Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) is native to Central and West Africa and is grown around the world. It does best in well-drained soil and full sun, and appreciates watering when rainfall is inadequate. A truly tropical plant, roselle is only cold hardy in zones 9-10.
Elderberry – Elderberry flowers and fruit have been prized around the world since prehistoric times. And of course the local wildlife have always enjoyed this abundant food resource. Elderberry plants do contain toxins, and special care should be taken when consuming the fruit. Native to the eastern coast of the US, elderberry prefer moist, fertile soils and full sun.
Elliot's Aster – This Florida native aster has a sprawling shape that quickly fills gaps in pollinator gardens and is very attractive to bees. Its light purple, delicate blooms emerge in late summer and early fall. It grows best in USDA Hardiness Zones 8B – 10B in full sun and tolerates a range of soils.
Thryallis – Also commonly known as "rain-of-gold," Galphimia gracilis is a flowering, evergreen shrub. Although native to Mexico and Central America, thryallis is well-adapted to Florida's climate and not considered invasive. It thrives in Central and South Florida, USDA Hardiness Zones 9-11. Further north than zone 9 it may experience freeze damage and some die back. Still, with proper cold protection thryallis will grow back from the roots year after year, even in North Florida.
Sweetsop – Home-grown tropical fruits are one of the joys unique to Florida gardening. If you're looking for another fruit tree for your landscape, we have a couple suggestions for you! Two unusual but delicious tropical fruits are sugar apple (sweetsop) and its relative, soursop. Cross-pollinating sweetsop and the closely-related cherimoya produces another tasty fruit: the hybrid, atemoya.
Mangroves – A keystone species providing essential services, mangroves act as the base for the entire estuarine community. Occasionally referred to as the "kidneys of the coast," mangroves are magnificent filters and maintain necessary water clarity for offshore corals and near shore seagrasses. The 1996 Mangrove Trimming and Preservation Act prohibits trimming or alteration of mangroves on publicly owned lands and sets specific limits for trimming or removal of mangroves on private property.
Horsemint – Horsemint is popular with pollinators and appealing to gardeners as well. The fragrance of the leaves and flowers add a new dimension to a landscape. Also known as bee balm, horsemint is native herb worth adding to your garden. Horsemint's mounding shape is well suited for an informal garden or to a mass planting. Gardeners interested in hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies will be delighted by the variety this plant attracts.
Sparkleberry – Native to Florida, sparkleberry is a close relative of blueberry, huckleberry, lingonberry, and cranberry. Delicate flowers, glossy foliage, shiny berries, and interesting bark give it year-round interest. Sparkleberry is wildlife friendly, drought tolerant, wind resistant, and well adapted to Florida's sandy soils. It can be trained as a small tree with pruning and grows from USDA Hardiness Zones 6 down to 9b.
Rice – Ornamental grasses are enjoying a landscaping renaissance, and rice shouldn't be overlooked! The green blades add fresh color to planters, even in our summer heat. Gardeners hoping to support wildlife will enjoy how attractive the grain is to birds. Florida also has a native species of wild rice, Zizania aquatica.
Eastern Redbud – This small native tree erupts with pink or white flowers on its bare branches in the spring. Redbud's rapid growth and small size make it a popular choice in home landscapes. It grows across the eastern half of the United States, from USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 9A.
Plumbago – Plumbago is a low-maintenance shrub that brings interest to many Florida landscapes. Its clusters of cool blue or white flowers are unmatched and make it a favorite among traditional garden selections. Most are familiar with the blue variety, but there is a white-flowering native species as well. Plumbago generally looks its best when planted in full sun and well-drained soil.
- December – Longleaf Pine
- November – Seminole Pumpkin
- October – Lovegrass
- September – Tomatillo
- August – Seagrape
- July – Caladiums
- June – Milkweed
- May – Greens
- April – Agapanthus
- March –Sweet Acacia
- February – Bougainvillea
- January – Kohlrabi