Plant of the Month
Every month we feature a plant that we think deserves a spotlight in Florida-friendly gardening.
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.
Longleaf Pine – The longleaf pine is one of our most majestic natives. The unique longleaf pine ecosystem is home to a rich variety of plants and animals, including Florida mice, gopher frogs, eastern diamond-back rattlesnakes, and the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. While longleaf pine is not usually planted in landscapes, they are often preserved on construction sites as specimen plantings.
Seminole Pumpkin – Gardeners in the Sunshine State sometimes struggle to find vegetables that will make it through our relentless summer heat. Seminole pumpkins just may be the answer to their search! Traditionally grown by the Calusa, Creek, and Miccosukee peoples, Seminole pumpkins remain one of the tastiest and most reliable pumpkins for Florida gardens.
Lovegrass – Two native species, Elliot's lovegrass and purple lovegrass, are excellent choices for a wildlife-friendly landscape. They need not be confined to wild spaces, however. Both species make excellent borders and accent plants and are very attractive in massed plantings. In USDA Hardiness Zone 8A and further south they are perennials, coming back year after year.
Tomatillo – Tomatillos belong to the same family as tomatoes and are grown in a similar manner. Native to Central America, tomatillos do well in home gardens throughout Florida, but planting times vary; they are sensitive to frost. Tomatillos are often used in stews, molés, and salsas.
Seagrape – Named for its coastal home and the clusters of grape-like fruits it produces, seagrape is a versatile landscape plant, but it is also protected. This native species covers the coastal areas of Central and South Florida in zones 10A-11. Seagrape tolerates drought, salt spray, and salty soils, making it a Florida-Friendly choice for beachfront homes.
Caladiums – Over 1,200 acres of Florida land are planted with caladiums for commercial production.These popular landscape plants are fast-growing and bring life to shady areas. They are easy to grow in Florida's warm, humid climate and will provide beautiful color throughout spring, summer, and fall.
Milkweed – This group of flowering plants serves as an important resource for butterflies and pollinators. In fact, milkweed is the only plant material monarch caterpillars can eat. Plant milkweed in full sun; these plants grow naturally in dry, sandy soil. Their thin stems and widely spaced leaves give a slightly weedy appearance, so most gardeners mix them with shorter plants.
Greens – If you're looking for an easy addition to your garden, look no further. Greens are generally considered cool-season vegetables. This includes spinach, collards, kale, mustard, and turnip greens. In Florida, the season to plant these is August through February. But there are a few, like Swiss chard and Malabar spinach, that tolerate warmer temperatures.
Agapanthus – This summer-flowering bulb is ideal for Southern gardens in USDA hardiness zones 9-11. Don't let its delicate flowers deceive you; it's a deceptively tough plant. Native to South Africa, agapanthus performs well in partial shade or full sun, drought, and even our sandy loam soil.
Sweet Acacia – This Florida-Friendly tree has it all: tolerance to drought, heat, and salt, show-stopping looks, and a scent that will perfume your entire neighborhood. Sweet acacia is also a Florida native and pollinator-friendly. Its spines make it a refuge for birds and other wildlife. It thrives in USDA hardiness zones 9a – 11.
Bougainvillea – This tropical, vining shrub comes in a pallet of bright pinks, purples, oranges, and yellows. It thrives in arid, sunny climates; the more sun, the better! It needs to be protected from frost and freeze. Bougainvillea can be trained into a stand-alone shrub or allowed to grow naturally as a vine.
Kohlrabi – A very productive cool-weather crop, kohlrabi is easy to grow and matures quickly. Because of this, gardeners can grow multiple crops in one season. The planting time and methods are very similar to those of cabbage. Popular varieties for Florida include 'White Vienna', 'Kolibri' (red), and 'Terek' (green).
Chastetree – Found in gardens across the country, chastetree, or vitex, (Vitex agnus-castus) is a large, deciduous flowering shrub or small tree that can be planted throughout the state. It puts on a show from late spring through fall with its beautiful bluish-purple flowers clustered along tall spikes.
Sweet Alyssum – Looking for a fall-to-winter bloomer that offers flowers and fragrance? Sweet alyssum checks both of those boxes. This annual can be planted in October and last through Florida's cooler seasons. Sweet alyssum attracts bees and butterflies with its honey-like fragrance.
Desert Rose – This succulent produces dozens of trumpet-shaped flowers in shades of pink, rose, or white. It's sensitive to temperatures below 40 degrees, so it's usually grown in containers that can be brought inside for winter, but South Florida gardeners can grow this as a small shrub. Like many succulents, desert rose needs conditions that are bright, warm, and dry.
Hurricane Lily – Southerners have other common names for these almost magical flowers, including surprise lily, red spider lily, and naked lady. Airy clusters of red flowers with whisker-like stamens on top of naked stems appear in late summer, usually after a heavy rain, hence the name "hurricane lily."
Wild Coffee – With shiny green leaves, small white flowers, and interesting red fruits, the native wild coffee shrub makes a Florida-Friendly addition to the landscape. This low-maintenance shrub grows best in partial to full shade and well-drained soil.
Ponytail Palm – In truth a tree-sized member of the agave family, the ponytail "palm" makes an excellent specimen plant for South Florida landscapes. It's quick to establish and once mature, drought tolerant.
Sanchezia – Gardeners are often on the lookout for plants that will shine in the shade, and sanchezia is one such plant. Not only does it have interesting foliage year-round, it even produces flowers.
Bird's Nest Fern – This plant makes a lush addition to shaded, protected areas of the landscape, where it can shine as a specimen or a container plant. Unlike many ferns, bird's nest makes a fairly reliable houseplant when provided indirect light. Native to tropical Asia, bird's nest fern thrives in Florida's humid climate in zones 9 to 11; plants in zone 9 will need freeze protection.
Spiral Gingers – Plants in the Costus genus are often referred to as spiral gingers; they are related, but are not true gingers. Costus members have spirally arranged, one-sided leaves and terminal, cone-shaped inflorescences with colorful, closely overlapping bracts. They're typically low-maintenance plants with attractive foliage and long-lasting, colorful blooms that make great cut flowers.
Crepe Jasmine – A gorgeous shrub worthy of more use, crepe jasmine has abundant flowers shaped much like a pinwheel, giving this plant another of its common names — pinwheel flower. For the gardener interested in creating a wow-worthy nighttime garden, crepe jasmine fits the bill with white flowers that shine in the moonlight year-round.
Parsley – This herb is nutritious, containing vitamins A, C, and K as well as several B vitamins, calcium, and iron. Here in Florida, the time to plant parsley is during the cooler months of fall and winter. Planted outside, pollinators will enjoys its flowers.
Mahogany – This tropical tree is well-known for its aromatic hardwood used in furniture making. Gardeners in much of South Florida—zones 10A to 11—are lucky enough to be able to grow this tree.
Dwarf Hollies – For smaller spaces and even containers, consider a dwarf holly. These smaller shrubs can also be used as hedges and foundation plantings, and there is a dwarf holly for all areas of Florida.
European Fan Palm – Looking for a cold-hardy palm? Maybe something multi-trunked and compact? Well look no further than European fan palm. Once established, this Florida-Friendly palm can survive temperatures to as low as 10 degrees.
Farfugium – When fall arrives, farfugium really begins to shine. It sends up clusters of yellow flowers that hover over its glossy foliage making for a very interesting combination of daisy-like blooms and tropical leaves. Farfugium is also called leopard plant, a name it gets from the spotted yellow or white patterns found on the leaves of some cultivars.
Cilantro – This flat, feathery-leafed herb has many culinary applications; it's often used in Latin American and Southeast Asian cooking. It can add a fresh flavor to many dishes, including salsa. In Florida, it's best to grow cilantro in fall and winter.
Saw Palmetto – Known scientifically as Serenoa repens, saw palmetto is native to the Southeast and can be found growing as far north as South Carolina and as far west as Texas. This Florida-Friendly plant tolerates a range of conditions and provides wonderful textural interest beneath new or established trees. And it's highly salt-tolerant, making it ideal for coastal 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)