The purpose of the Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS) is to promote the preservation, conservation, and restoration of the native plants and native plant communities of Florida. This blog presents ideas and information to further the cause of Florida's native plants and ecosystems.
Many people enjoy planting “odd” things in their yards. In the world of native plant landscaping, this has often meant planting things that seem unusual … and what this has often meant is planting species that may be “native” based on occurring naturally somewhere in the state or in some landscape other than the one we’re working on. I’ve been there. Sometimes, I still can’t resist the beautiful plant in a pot that is being sold at the latest native plant sale. But, over time, I’ve had the opportunity to rethink this.
I began landscaping with native about 30 years ago. At that time, I owned a home in southern Michigan. All lawn and old field weeds – about two acres of them. I went on the warpath against mowing by converting much of the lawn to old field and then began planting trees which I gathered locally, often from uncleared parts of the property. Many years later, after I’d been in Florida for about 10 years, I got a call from a woman who had bought the property and tracked me down – she’d bought it largely because those trees had grown and were far more healthy than the standard nursery stock which neighbors had attempted to grow.
I learned again in Florida. I live in the central part of the state, and friends give me “special” plants from elsewhere in Florida. Sometimes they live, but occasional freezes take a toll on the plants that belonged further south. Plants that prefer more moisture than my yard provides almost always die (I don’t opt to water them once established). Some grow slowly.
Eventually, I developed a philosophy of gardening that focuses on planting the things that belong here. I had an advantage in that my land mostly has natural soils, soils that developed here on the site and which were not brought in as fill.
1. I looked at the physical location: soil (very sandy, very well drained), east facing steep slope, a small wetland area along the lake. I looked at residual vegetation on my site and my neighbors sites (live and sand live oaks, pignut hickory, red bay, laurel oak, sabal palm as trees; occasional beautyberry, Cherokee bean, and laurel cherry as shrubs; some St. Augustine grass and basketgrass in shady places, some wild petunia). Otherwise, thickets of non-native, non-nice weedy species. I tried to build a picture of what must have been here before the hilltop was converted to orange grove and the area closer to the lake was partially cleared.
2. I then used what I saw to estimate what was most likely here back before it was farmed: likely sandhill in the old grove, mixed hardwood forest on the hill, and a narrow cypress fringe along the lake.
3. I then assessed what could be here. Putting sandhill back could be impracticable – it is a longleaf pine dominated forest with a grassy understory that depends heavily on fire. I doubt my neighbors would be appreciative. I decided that scrub and xeric hammock would likely do well without requiring the fire. The mixed hardwood forest has more potential, sand live oak, hickories, red bays, southern magnolia, red bud, and many other species can grow here without requiring unacceptable management practices. A large number of flowering shrubs and small trees are also appropriate. I try to stick with those native close by, though I do admit to occasional plants from further north. Coonties and saw palmettos are favorites. I grow annuals and short-lived perennials tolerant of dry conditions – I can’t provide the deep shade that would once have been present. I avoid species that need acidic soils or lots of water.
4. Within this setting, I try to plant a palate of plants that is visually appealing, that attracts wildlife especially birds and butterflies, and is diverse.
5. I plant few non-natives (I just can’t throw away that Easter lily, and I do want my parsley and basil herbs!), and I never plant invasives.
6. Once plants are established, I don’t supply supplemental water.
7. I try to be a good neighbor – I try to keep my landscape looking somewhat civilized even though my personal taste runs to wild.
Clearly, these are personal preferences. But they demonstrate one of our Florida Native Plant Society mantras – plant “the right plant in the right place.” I like to think that I’m bringing back some of the character of the landscape that may once have been here. I am rewarded with butterflies, humming birds, low water use, and flowers much of the year.
Other Names: Dwarf Mulberry, Beautybush, Filigree, French Mulberry, Beautyberry
Introduction: Purple berries clinging around stems with bright green foliage make Callicarpa americana stand out from late summer to winter. It is easy to see how beautyberry got its common name. Don’t let its looks fool you though; Callicarpa is more than just eye candy. Callicarpa americana is useful medicinally and as food for wildlife and people. American Beautyberry is not fussy about location, soil or light requirements. This tough plant is an American Beauty in every sense of the word. Its name comes from Greek: Kalli, means beautiful; Karpos means fruit.
Historic Medicinal Uses:
Native Americans had many uses for beautberry, both internally and externally. According to Taylor (1940), Native Americans used beautyberry externally as a steam and topical application. All parts of the pla…
Australian pines seem to be everywhere in the coastal regions in the bottom half of Florida. Their name is deceiving because, while they are native to Australia, they aren't pines or even conifers. They are flowering trees with separate male and female flowers, and what look like needles are really green twiglets with close-set circles of tiny leaves that drop at the first sign of a drought. In the photo to the right, the light-colored lines are where leaves where once attached. Most of the photosynthesis takes place in the twiglets.
There are three species of Australian pine (Casuarina spp) that have been imported into Florida for various purposes. They were widely planted to soak up the "swamps" in Florida, stabilize canals, and hold beaches. Unfortunately for Florida's ecosystems, the "pines" accomplished all this and more--like seeding prolifically, growing five feet or more per year, producing dense shade, and emitting an herbicide that kills most a…
These perky natives have numerous and endearing charms. Authors and growers disagree about the proper Latin name, but they are in complete agreement that more people should use more coonties in their landscapes.
What's to like?
Coonties are spritely and graceful in their form, tough as the dickens, bright green all year, and host plant for the beautiful blue atala
hairstreak butterfly. In fact, coonties are the only larval food for atalas. You can use them as specimen or accent plants, mass them together for ground cover, or use them in a line as a border. And to top that off, they have an interesting sex life. A subject we hardly ever get to talk about around here. More on that later. See more in Roger Hammer's 1995 Palmetto article, The Coontie and the Atala Hairstreak.
Slow growers, coonties are more expensive to buy than some other natives by relative size, but don't let that put you off. They are well worth the investment. They can be planted in full sun or fairly …