The climate of south Florida is subtropical. The region stretches from the northern section of Lake Okeechobee southward, encompassing the Florida Keys. Subtropical regions rarely experience freezing temperatures or those over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The area houses a vast diversity of plant life, including many shade-lovers. Gardeners that need plants for a garden situated in the shade have a wealth of choices.
Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior)
The cast iron plant is a perennial that tolerates deep shade to partial shade. Grown primarily for its rich, green foliage, the cast iron plant works well in flower arrangements. Brown insignificant flowers bloom year-round. Slow growing, this plant grows up to 3 feet in height with the same spread at maturity. It prefers well-draining soil with regular watering. The cast iron has a medium drought tolerance and a low tolerance to salt spray. It also does well as an indoor plant.
Fire Bush (Hamelia patens)
Fire bush, also called scarlet bush, is an attractive medium-sized shrub. It grows well in shade and tolerates the subtropical Florida sun. Plants produce more flowers growing in the sun, but the foliage looks better when grown in the shade. It is a native perennial producing orange/red, tubular flowers throughout summer. Blooms attract hummingbirds, butterflies and other birds, making it a good selection for butterfly and native gardens. Fire bush can grow anywhere from 5 to 20 feet tall and has a spreading habit of 5 to 8 feet. It grows relatively quickly. Fire bush prefers regular watering for best growth and has a medium drought tolerance. It has a moderate tolerance to salt.
There are various cultivars of philodendron well suited for growing throughout the subtropical areas of Florida. Plants work well growing inside as well as planted directly into the landscape. Philodendrons can tolerate shade to partial shade. The perennial has vine-like cultivars as well as ones that are shrub-like. The flowers are inconspicuous, varying in size and shape, depending on cultivar. Philodendrons grow anywhere from 2 feet to over 10 feet in height, depending on the cultivar, with the same spreading habit. They prefer growing in a soil medium kept moist by regular watering. Plants are moderately drought and salt tolerant.
Coontie (Zamia floridana)
Coontie holds the honor of being the only cycad that is native to Florida. It grows wild throughout the subtropical regions of the state. The perennial tolerates growing in both shady and sunny conditions. The atala butterfly uses only the coontie as its larval food, making it a good addition to native and butterfly gardens. Plants grow relatively slow, reaching heights of 1 to 5 feet, with a spreading habit of 3 to 5 feet. Coontie is suitable for coastal plantings in the subtropical area as it has a high salt and drought tolerance.