Gardeners refer to non-native or invasive plants as weeds since they grow where they're not wanted. In Florida, hundreds of invasive plants have taken over critical native vegetation important to birds, wildlife and the environment. If you intentionally grow non-native plants in your Florida garden, make sure to keep them pruned and trimmed to remain in the space you want them. Otherwise, they may overcome your native plants and prevent them from thriving. If possible, avoid planting non-native plants that produce seeds as wind or birds may help disperse the seeds into areas where no one wants them to grow.
Japanese Climbing Fern
While ferns may look beautiful, most are invasive plants in Florida, including the Japanese climbing fern (Ophioglossum japonicum). Introduced to the area as an ornamental plant with fronds that grow to 90 feet long, it's easy to see how this fern quickly takes over underlying vegetation and native plants, including small trees. Like most other ferns, this one thrives in shady, damp areas along swamps, marshes, creeks and woods.
Oyster plant (Tradescantia spathacea Swartz) sports long, sharp-tipped leaves and small purple flowers, both growing from dense, spreading clumps. Also known as boat lily, this plant escaped into tropical hammocks in Florida where it prevents seedlings of native canopy tree species from growing.
Winged yam (D. atropurpurea) grows to more than 30 feet in length and features broad leaves and purplish tubers that seem to grow in the air. The tubers look native and are edible, but the winged yam was introduced to Florida in the 1500s by Spanish and Portuguese traders. Large stands of the yam have completely run over native vegetation and even overrun mature trees.
A favorite in gardens across America, heavenly bamboo (Nandina) grows in clumps reaching several feel high. The plant features lacy green leaves and red berries that are easily dispersed by birds and wildlife such as opossums and raccoons. Unfortunately, heavenly bamboo replaces native Florida vegetation such as the endangered red columbine and oak-leaf hydrangea, making it an undesirable plant where native plants need to thrive.
Delicate-looking, fragrant white flowers growing on long vines with small leaves make Japanese honeysuckle (Nintooa japonica) sound like a great addition to the garden. In reality, this invasive species competes for space with smaller tree species important to birds and wildlife. If you want to include honeysuckle in your garden, choose the native coral honeysuckle instead--hummingbirds flock to this honeysuckle, and you'll be doing the other native plants a huge favor.