These natives bring color to your yard and attract wildlife.
Story and photos by Donna Bollenbach
Florida Native Plant Society
Summer in Florida can take a toll on us — and our gardens. As the temperatures rise so does our desire to go outside and tend our plants. How can you beat the heat in your garden? Start by planting these five droughttolerant, easy-to-grow natives:
When in full bloom, which is most of the year, this large shrub lights up the garden with its bright red to orange tubular flowers, thus its name. While it will tolerate some shade, plant it in full sun for the best show of flowers. Once established it needs very little water or care.
A Florida favorite, firebush can reach a height of up to 12 feet. It is a fast grower but tolerant of pruning. After flowering, it produces round purple fleshy fruit that may be eaten by mockingbirds.
While the delicate pink flowers of this shrub are pretty and attract bees and butterflies, it is the large clusters of bright purple berries clinging to the stems that give this plant the name beautyberry. It’s Latin name, Callicarpa, also means beautiful fruit.
This native shrub is hardy. It will grow in most soils with good drainage and needs minimal care once it is established. It is even salt tolerant. It may reach a height of 4 to 8 feet in full sun to partial shade. The long-lived berries provide food to birds and other wildlife well into the winter.
There is something about the contrast of the delicate three-petal flower and the thick tangle of long, leggy leaves that is attractive to me. Perhaps it reminds me of my life at times: a spot of beauty in a jumble of disorder.
But despite the metaphor, spiderwort, so named because it resembles a nest of spiders, is one flower I can depend on surviving and spreading in my garden.
The flowers of this resilient perennial range from rose to blue to purple and are attractive to native bees. They reach a height of about 3 feet, and while each flower only lasts one day, they bloom profusely from early spring to as late as July or August. It tolerates full sun to partial shade and will grow in most soil types.
If you want butterflies in your garden, plant the native scarlet sage. Scarlet sage attracts butterflies, bees and hummingbirds like no other. Referring to the deep red of the original plant, it is also known as blood sage, red salvia and scarlet salvia, but native nurseries also offer pink and white varieties.
It is easy to grow — some say too easy. Once established it will quickly spread and form thick spikes of colorful flowers about 2 to 4 feet high. They will thrive in full sun, partial shade or full shade in most soil types. As the seeds spread, the flowers may pop up in other places in your landscape. I love this about them, but if you don’t, the new plants are easy to pull up.
This native is affectionately called powderpuff because the pink bulbous flowers resemble little pink powderpuffs. Its Latin name, Mimosa, refers to a more interesting feature of this plant: Mimosa means mimus, or mime, because the lacy, fern-like leaves will close when touched, mimicking the sensitivity of an animal.
Powderpuffs are fast growers and only reach a height of only 2 to 3 inches, making it a great ground cover. They can be used to fill a bare spot in your garden or replace an entire lawn. It blooms most heavily in spring and summer, but may continue to flower throughout the year in mild climates. While it needs lots of water to get started, it will tolerate dry soil once established.
The Suncoast Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society invites the public to join it for its monthly meetings and trips. The chapter meets every third Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m. at the Hillsborough County Extension Services Office, 5339 County Road 579. Trips are usually held the Saturday following the meeting but may vary. For additional information visit SunCoastNPS.org.