Plant of the Month
Every month we feature a plant that we think deserves a spotlight in Florida-Friendly gardening.
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.
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.
- December – Dwarf Hollies
- November – European Fan Palm
- October – Farfugium
- September – Cilantro
- August – Saw Palmetto
- July – Australian Tree Fern
- June – Beach Sunflower
- May – Evergreen Wisteria
- April – Coleus
- March – Fakahatchee Grass
- February – Maples for Florida
- January – Flatwoods Plum