Florida gardeners who build their home landscapes around the Sunshine State's native plants have several advantages over those who don't. Florida's native plants are proven performers in the regions where they grow wild. In South Florida, for example, they've adapted to infertile, high-pH soils, say Jody Haynes, John McLaughlin and Laura Vasquez of the Miami-Dade County University of Florida Extension. Throughout Florida, local native plants are attractive, low-maintenance and eco-friendly landscape additions.
A semi-evergreen shrub that retains its foliage to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, wax myrtle (Morella cerifera) grows throughout Florida. It typically stands between 6 and 12 feet tall. Attractive gray bark--approaching white in some instances--covers its numerous trunks and branches, while its olive green foliage emits a spicy fragrance. In March and April, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, wax myrtle shrubs have small green flowers.
On pollinated female plants, the unassuming blooms give way to waxy, aromatic blue berries. Hungry birds flock to the fruit. Boiling the fruit will remove its waxy coating for use as a candle fragrance. Tolerant of heat and drought, wax myrtle grows in sun to partial shade. It likes locations with moist, deep and pH-neutral-to-acidic clay, loam or sand.
A horse chestnut family shrub or tree, scarlet buckeye (Aesculus pavia) thrives across the Panhandle and into North Central Florida, according to the Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants. Growing from 10- to 40-feet high, this buckeye has glossy, compound leaves with deep green surfaces and white undersides. Its foliage typically becomes yellow before dropping in late summer. From March to May, the plant bears showy, 6- to 10-inch clusters of bell-shaped, 1- to 1 1/2-inch red blooms. Hummingbirds feed on their nectar. The plants like well-drained locations with deep, acidic sandy soil and shelter from afternoon sun. Note that ingesting their new shoots or seeds is toxic.(References 3 and 5)
Growing wild across the Florida Panhandle, American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens) is a woody vine. Climbing up to 30 feet, it cloaks arbors, trellises and fences in glossy deep green leaves. During May and June, however, American wisteria peaks with 6- to 9-inch hanging clusters of dense, fragrant lavender-blue blooms. Brown seedpods follow the flowers and remain on the vines into winter. A perennial, this wisteria is happiest with southern or southwestern exposure, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. It likes loamy, pH-neutral to slightly acidic soil and protection from cold wind. It grows in sun or shade.