Already adapted to the climate and soils, Florida's native plants make great additions to the state's home landscapes. These plants include trees, vines, ground covers, grasses and shrubs. With proper planning, they can provide maximum garden interest with a minimum of maintenance. Choose plants from native habitats with growing conditions similar to those in your area.
Belonging to the coco plum family of tropical trees, gopher apple (licania michauxii) is a nearly indestructible ground cover ideal for stabilizing loose, sandy soil. A single plant can spread to cover nearly 100 square feet, says Floridata.com. Added bonuses are its spring and summer flowers and fruit, a favorite food of the critically endangered gopher tortoise.
Gopher apple's oak-like leaves rise 12 inches above the ground, topped by 4-inch clusters of small, yellow flowers. The young 1-inch fruit is green, becoming whiter, softer and sweeter as it ripens. Wild plants thrive on sand dunes and in oak and pine forests. Gopher apple will tolerate the worst of Florida's growing conditions: salt spray, sand, drought, full sun and even frost.
Yellow Carolina Jessamine
An evergreen vine, yellow Carolina jessamine (gelsemium sempervirens) will climb all necessary obstacles in its search for the sun. Maintain its dense, bushy habit by planting it in your yard's brightest areas. Its shiny, deep green leaves and delightfully fragrant clusters of yellow trumpet flowers deserve the spotlight. Carolina jessamine blooms from late winter to spring.
Its rapidly growing, wiry stems make this vine ideal for trellises, porch columns, arbors and gazebos. Carolina jessamine looks wonderful trailing from window boxes and hanging baskets and as a ground cover on slopes. Hummingbirds and spicebush swallowtail butterflies love its nectar. The vine's drawbacks are that it drops its leaves during prolonged dry spells--recovering quickly with adequate moisture--and that its leaves, flowers and roots are toxic to livestock.
A brilliantly colored and performing shrub, evergreen firebush (hamelia patens) has no dormant season. Planting it in your garden will provide a yearlong display of scarlet flower clusters. Accompanying the flowers are clusters of berries that progress from green to yellow, red and black as they ripen. Firebush, growing up to 15 feet, makes an exceptional hedge or screening feature.
For the best effect, plant firebush in full sun and water it weekly for the first year. It's drought-tolerant but does better with regular water. As easy to grow as it is striking, firebush handles any well-drained soils, even salty ones. It works well in containers, especially when paired with white flowers, and will perform as a winter houseplant in a sunny window. Birds feast on its berries, bringing more interest to a garden.