Every homeowner wants an HGTV-worthy yard full of fresh flowers and thriving plants. But selecting flora based solely on appearances isn’t the way to go if you want to help maintain the health of Florida’s natural habitats. It’s crucial to make sure those pretty new garden additions aren’t invasive species that may harm the natural environment.
“Too often, Florida’s natural ecosystems suffer the consequences of urbanization and stormwater runoff, which carries pesticides and fertilizers frequently used in non-native landscaping,” says Aimee Cooper, environmental regulations manager for the Environmental Resources Department (ERD) of St. Lucie County. “By both preserving and planting native vegetation in lieu of non-native species, there is less potential for nutrient- and pesticide-laden runoff to make its way to Florida’s cherished waterways like the Indian River Lagoon.”
The ERD not only recommends selecting native plants but also encourages locals to use Florida-friendly landscaping materials—like frog fruit, a native ground cover—and avoid lawns that requires substantial irrigation, pesticides, or herbicides. “Remove any invasive plants that might be growing on your property,” says Jennifer McGee, ERD’s senior strategic planning and restoration coordinator. “Invasive plants are not native to Florida. They prevent native species from thriving and provide no benefit to native wildlife.”
Planting native species is less work, too, since they are used to the local climate and thrive more easily. Cooper and McGee recommend selecting native flora based on the natural growing conditions of your yard. For example, barrier island residents should look for salt-tolerant species like sea grape, while those who live in a sandy scrub region should explore plants adapted to drier soils, such as gopher apple. An easy rule of thumb for all South Florida residents is to select drought-tolerant, slow-growing species like saw palmetto, which requires almost no maintenance once established.
“When we clear and alter the landscape for development, we remove the natural resources on which all our lives and lifestyles depend,” Cooper says. “There are 418 endangered plant species in Florida, and of these, 104 are endemic—meaning they occur nowhere else in the world. By planting native, we can maintain a real Florida look in our landscape and put back and preserve some of what is rapidly disappearing.”
5 native beauties to add to your yard this year
Wild Coffee: This shrub produces red berries in the summer and fall, with fruit that resembles coffee beans and clusters of small, white flowers that attract pollinators.
Carnivorous Plant Species: Florida is home to the most carnivorous plant species in the nation, including pitcher plants, sundews, butterworts, and bladderworts. These plants lure their prey with appealing scents and trap insects with their leaves and sticky fluids.
Sabal Palmetto: Although treelike in shape, the sabal palm is not a true tree and is more closely related to grass. It is Florida’s official state tree and was used in “swamp cabbage” recipes by Florida’s pioneers.
Coreopsis: Designated Florida’s state wildflower, coreopsis is drought-tolerant and often reseeds itself. Plant it once and you’ll enjoy cheerful blooms for years to come.
Beautyberry: In spring and summer, beauty- berry sprouts small, pale, lavender-pink flowers that blossom into jewel-like, purple fruits by September.