In cities like Naples, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, large shade trees are a welcome addition to the landscape, especially in summer. The key is choosing and planting a tree that is relatively fast-growing but also resilient to the tropical storms that occur each June through November. Avoid invasive trees like many Asian figs or thin-canopy plants like pines or palms. Provide ample growing space for these trees so that in 20 or 40 years they aren't too large for your property.
West Indian mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni) is native to the very southern tip of Florida, becoming a massively trunked tree 40 to 60 feet tall. It casts dense shade thanks to the large leaves that densely line the spreading branches. Bigleaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) is more upright in its growth and taller at maturity, upwards of 70 feet. Do not plant these trees close to building foundations.
Black olive trees (Bucida buceras) have small leaves and a picturesque branching structure, making them a beautiful shade tree, although slow growing. Growing 40 to 50 feet tall and almost equally wide, this evergreen tree native to the Caribbean is drought tolerant. The small fruits that drop from the tree can stain patio stone and driveways as well as vehicle finishes. Many South Floridians simply call this tree "Shady Lady."
Tolerant of drought, salt-spray and hurricane winds, the gumbo limbo (Bursera simaruba) also has shiny gray to reddish brown bark that flakes away. It typically grows 20 to 30 feet tall, but very old specimens reach 50 to 60 feet tall. Its only inconvenience as a shade tree is that it briefly drops its foliage during the hot and dry month of May when shade is appreciated before it re-foliates during the rainy season's start.
Fast-growing, evergreen with lacy foliage and fragrant white blossoms, wild tamarind (Lysiloma latisiliqua) is a Florida native tree with strong wood that doesn't readily break in storm winds, according to "A Gardener's Guide to Florida's Native Plants." It is both drought and salt-spray tolerant and develops a very wide canopy to cast welcome shade. It matures 40 to 55 feet tall.
Glossy green leaves remain year round on the paradise tree (Simarouba glauca), which grows 40 to 50 feet tall. The shade is cast from a broadly rounded crown of foliage. If possible, plant a male-gendered tree to avoid the drop of fruits that may require sweeping or raking.
Also called golden fig, strangler fig (Ficus aurea) is a Florida native plant that is fast-growing but is not ecologically invasive like other large fig trees. It also tends to be more resilient to the common annual tropical storm winds. This evergreen tree grows 40 to 60 feet tall with an informal shape. Wild banyan or shortleaf fig (Ficus citrifolia) is another Florida native fig that attains a more formal tree habit and is much more tolerant of hot, dry, rocky soils.
The live oak (Quercus virginiana) is an evergreen oak tree that grows slowly into a wide-canopied, large specimen that is usually cloaked in romantic strands of Spanish moss. It is best planted only in spacious landscapes such as parks because of its massive mature size of 60 to 80 feet and up to 100 feet wide, which takes several decades to attain. In smaller residential gardens, consider using the similar quality but smaller growing sand live oak (Quercus geminata), which only reaches 20 to 35 feet tall and is tolerant of sandy soils across South Florida.