Native Plants for Indian River Yards
Daniel F. Culbert[1]


What Are Native Plants?  [adapted from FNPS]

  A commonly accepted definition of a native plant is one that was indigenous to the landscape before European settlers arrived in North America.   A narrower definition might restrict the term "native" to plants that occur naturally in an area with no assistance from any humans, including Native Americans.

  It is sometimes unclear whether a species is exactly native or not.  The point about whether a plant is native or not may seem to be simply a historical issue.  However, is highly relevant to ecology and biodiversity. Plants that have existed in an area for tens of thousands of years evolve complex interrelationships with the other organisms of that area, and are the basis for ecological balance and health of the environment.                                                                        

  Exotic plants, on the other hand, are ecological anomalies, because they haven't been associated with the community long enough to have evolved any kind of balanced interrelationships with the organisms around them.


  Why Grow Native Plants?

       Promote Biodiversity.  Of course, growing native plants will preserve and promote the species you grow in your yard.  But in addition, growing natives contributes to the local ecological balance that developed here over the millennia.  Natives perpetuate the relationships between our native plants and the many other organisms that depend upon them for their survival.          

       Save Time, Money, and Energy.  When the right plant is used in the right place, plants will require less maintenance, are less expensive, and save energy.   Properly selected native plants will often require less energy and effort to establish under local conditions because they will require minimal pruning, fertilization and irrigation. 

      Conserve Natural Resources.  Used properly, native plants require little to no extra water or fertilizer compared to most exotics.  Watering non-native plants that aren't adapted to Florida's climate wastes energy as well as water, costs you money, and contributes to the pollution of surface water.  Fertilizers and pesticides used in landscape and lawn maintenance often run off into streams and creeks, polluting these water bodies.

     Fewer Pesticides Needed.  Native plants have been exposed to Florida's pests as long as they have existed in Florida, and continue to display their resistance to insects and disease in our own yards.   Forty years ago Rachel Carson pointed out that pesticides are biocides their toxic effects are not confined to pests, but spill over to cause health problems for wildlife and people. 

       Watchable wildlife.  Native plants are the best choice for attracting and nourishing our native wildlife.  Native plants provide the food and shelter that our birds and butterflies need.  Native plants leaf-out, bloom, and grow fruit when native wildlife species need food. They provide the nutrients that our native animals require through millions of years of co-evolution.

  Arguments Against the Use of Native Plants


Claims made against the landscape use of native plants include:

$                    They are slow growing - slow growth rates can be improved with regulated nutritional levels during production. Cultivar selection and evaluation programs can also improve slow growth rates. In some situations, slow growth rates may be advantageous; for example, slower growing trees will require less  pruning to control size or prevent interference with power lines.

$                    They are unattractive.  Native plants include attractive trees like Satin leaf (Chrysophyllum oliviforme) and more homely species such as Wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera).  Both have a niche in Florida Yards.

$                    They harbor Awildlife@ - urbanites don=t like snakes, roaches, etc.  Try to increase your tolerance and readjust your levels of acceptable beauty rather than using traps and poisons; reinvent your own balance of nature

$                    Their propagation is difficult, therefore plants are expensive. Certain plants become widely available in the trade partly because they are easy to produce. This knowledge comes about through research, in both the private and public sectors. It is true that many choice native species are tricky to propagate successfully, but on the whole, this is due to the fact that few research efforts have been applied in that direction. This is now beginning to change.

$                    They are generally unavailable. Even with the limited amount of in depth knowledge on native plant propagation, there are currently over fifty nurseries within the state listed by the Association of Florida Native Nurseries, with a combined plant inventory of over 500 species. A substantial number of native species are already represented in the inventories of "traditional" nurseries.


Locally Adapted Native Plants

                        Ground Covers & Flowers.

Beach Sunflower                                   Helianthus debilis

Blanketflower,  Indian Blanket              Gaillardia pulchella

Cactus, Prickly pear                              Opuntia humifusa

Cordgrass, Sand                                    Spartina bakerii

Cordgrass, Saltmarsh                             Spartina patens

Gopher apple                                        Licania michauxii

Lantana, White                                     Lantana involucrata

Mimosa, sunshine                                  Mimosa strigulosa

Muhley Grass, Pink                              Muhlenbergia capillaris

Porterweed, Blue                                 Stachytarpheta  jamaicensis

Railroad vine                                        Ipomoea  pes‑caprae

Sage, Red or tropical                            Salvia coccinea

Sea Oats                                             Uniola paniculata

Sword fern, Boston Fern                       Nephrolepis exaltata



Beautyberry, American                   Callicarpa  americana

Blolly                                             Guapira discolor

Butterflyweed, Orange Milkweed   Asclepias tuberosa

Cocoplum                                     Chrysobalanus icaco

Coontie                                         Zamia  floridana

Coralbean, Cherokee bean             Erythrina  herbacea

Fetterbush                                    Lyonia lucida

Firebush                                      Hamelia  patens

Florida anise                                Illicium floridanum

Florida Privet, Wild Olive             Forestiera segregata

Gopher Apple                             Licania michauxii

Gallberry                                    Ilex glabra

Golden‑dewdrop                       Duranta repens

Hibiscus, Red or Scarlet             Hibiscus coccineus

Hibiscus, Swamp                      Hibiscus grandiflorus

Marlberry                                Ardisia escallonioides

Necklacepod, Silver bush           Sophora tomentosa

Rusty Lyonia                             Lyonia ferruginea

Stopper, Simpson=s or Twinberry Myrcianthes fragrans

Viburnum, Walter=s                    Viburnum  obovatum

Wax myrtle, Southern Bayberry Myrica cerifera

White indigo berry                     Randia aculeata   

Wild Coffee, Shiny‑leaved       Psychotria nervosa

Wild Coffee, Soft‑leaved         Psychotria sulzneri

Yaupon holly (Shellings Dwarf)  Ilex vomitoria

Yucca /  Spanish Bayonet          Yucca aloifolia



Bald Cypress                            Taxodium  distichum

Buttonwood, Green (silver)        Conocarpus erectus

Elm, Winged                             Ulmus alata

Fig, Strangler or Golden             Ficus aurea

Geiger tree                              Cordia sebestena

Gumbo limbo                           Bursera simaruba

Hercules Club, Toothache Tree  Zanthoxylumclava-hercules

Holly, Dahoon                           Ilex cassine

Holly, East Palatka                   Ilex attenuata

Holly, Yaupon                         Ilex vomitoria

Laurel, Cherry                        Prunus caroliniana

Loblolly bay                            Gordonia  lasianthus

Mangrove, Red                       Rhizophore mangle

Maple, Red                            Acer rubrum

Magnolia, Southern                  Magnolia grandiflora

Magnolia, Sweet bay or swamp  Magnolia virginiana

Oak, Laurel (Diamond leaf)       Quercus  laurifolia

Oak, Live                                 Quercus virginiana

Oak, Sand live                        Quercus germinata

Pine, Sand                                 Pinus clausa

Pine, Slash                                 Pinus elliottii

Red Bay, ABay oak@                   Persea borbonia

Sea grape                                  Coccoloba uvifera

Signature Tree, Pitch Apple       Clusia rosea

Southern red cedar                   Juniperus silicicola

Sumac, Winged or Shining        Rhus copallina

Sweet gum                              liquidambar styraciflua

Willow, Carolina                      Salix caroliniana



Coral or Southern  honeysuckle   Lonicera  sempervirens

Maypop or Purple Passion Vine  Passiflora incarnata

Snowberry                                 Chiococca alba

Serpent Fern, on Cabbage-palm  Polypodium aureum



Cabbage Palm                           Sabal palmetto

Needle Palm                            Rhapidophyllum hystrix

Paroutis or Everglades Palm      Acoelorrhaphe wrightii

Saw Palmetto                           Serenoa repens


Florida Native Plant Resources

$                   Florida Native Plant Society   Statewide publication (Palmetto), annual conference, book sales, annual awards program.  For membership information write to  P.O. Box 6116   Spring Hill, FL 34606, call  (727) 856-8202 or check their website

  $                    Eugenia Chapter, FPS:  This is the local FNPS chapter that serves members from Indian River County and Saint Lucie County.   The Chapter meets monthly on third Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. at the UF/Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory  200  9th Street SE (Oslo Road) Vero Beach.  Outstanding monthly speakers and a native plant auction highlight the meetings.  Local contact information:  PO Box 690278   Vero Beach, FL 32969-0278  772-562-1598.

  Native Plant References

$                    Ed Gilman & Bob Black Your Florida Guide to Shrubs Gainesville: UF IFAS Publications 1999

$                    Black & Gilman            Your Florida Guide to Bedding Plants    Gainesville: UF IFAS Publications  1997

$                    Haehle & Brookwell      Native Florida Plants   Houston: Gulf Publishing Co.      1999

$                    Gil Nelson                     The Trees of Florida.   Sarasota: Pineapple Press, 1994

$                    Gil Nelson                     The Shrubs and Woody Vines of Florida.        Sarasota: Pineapple Press, 1996

$                    Ed Gilman                     Betrocks= Florida Plant Guide Hollywood, FL: Betrock Info. Systems    1996

$                    Watkins & Sheehan       Florida Landscape Plants        Gainesville: U Florida Presses    1975

$                    Stresau             Florida, My Eden        Port Salerno: Florida Classics Library     1986

$                    Brochat & Meerow       Betrock=s Reference Guide to Florida Landscape Plants  Hollywood, FL: Betrock Info.             Systems 1991

$                    Dehgan             Landscape Plants for Subtropical Climates  Gainesville: U Florida Presses 1998


UF Extension Publications

Places to See Native Plants in the Landscape

$                    Environmental Learning Center  255 Live Oak Drive  Vero Beach, FL 32963   772-589-5050.  Located east of  Wabasso (from US 1 take C.R. 510,  west , turn right/south just before the tall bridge going over the Indian River Lagoon).  The ELC has the largest labeled collection of Florida native plants in Indian River County.  They also offer many educational programs, workshops, tours.

$                    Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area  - Indian River County Park, east Oslo Road, Vero Beach  This Indian River County park includes a FYN  Demonstration Landscape.  There is a small parking lot at entrance to the nature trail between the Publix Shopping Center and the UF Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory.   Again, native plants have been installed and a low maintenance approach was used in conjunction with recycled mulch.

$                    McKee Botanical Garden, South US 1, Vero Beach - now under restoration - will have a native section              

Regional Gardens & Arborea  with native plant expertise:

$                    Erna Nixon Park - Melbourne (off  US192)

$                    Turkey Creek Sanctuary  - Malabar

$                    Heathcote Botanical Gardens, 210  Savannah Road, Fort Pierce  772-464-4672

$                    Blowing Rocks Preserve, Hobe Sound  (561) 744-6668.

$                    Mounts Botanical Garden 531 North Military Trail, West Palm Beach 561-233-1757

$                    Bok Tower Gardens, Lake Wales (863) 676-1408

  Places to buy native Plants

$                    Maple Street  Natives  2395 Maple St,  West Melbourne 32904  321-729-6857, phone ahead

$                    The Natives, Inc.   2929 JB Carter Road, Davenport, FL 33837
PH (863) 422-6664 FAX (863) 421 6520
(near Haines City) 863-422-6664. 
Hundreds of native species of grasses,  wildflowers, shrubs, and trees for uplands and wetlands. email: 

$                    Green Images/Native  Landscape Plants  1333 Taylor Creek Rd., Christmas, FL 32709
Tel: 407/568-1333 Fax: 407/568-2061
(east of Orlando) 407-568-1333, . Wholesale plus retail, container stock (2",4",1g,3g,7g,15g),  landscaping services, contract growing, trees, shrubs, palms, vines, grasses, and wildflowers.


Other local nurseries  that have or can get native plants: 



           Busy Bee Lawn & Garden Center, 7445 North US Highway 1, Vero Beach


$                    Rock City Nursery, 9080 US 1  Wabasso. 772-589-5835


If you find or know of any other local AFlorida-friendly@ references or nurseries,  please let our office know so we may include them in future lists!

[1]  Daniel F. Culbert
Extension Agent III - Environmental Horticulture
UF/IFAS Okeechobee Extension Service

458 Hwy 98 North, Okeechobee, FL 34972-2303
(863) 763 6469

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