Sunday, January 24, 2016

Establishing A Wildflower Garden in South Florida

A wildflower garden can be gratifying endeavor for gardeners that prefer an informal or "cottage garden" look, but growing one can be challenging in South Florida. Wildflowers commonly purchased at the big-box retailers act more like annuals here and often die out quickly in our hot and humid summers; that's usually because they're not suited for our area. The solution can be in selecting Florida native wildflowers that can withstand our local climate.
Coreopsis is the State Wildflower of Florida.


The Florida Wildflower Foundation defines “Florida native wildflower” as “any flowering herbaceous species that grew wild within the state’s natural ecosystems in the 1560s when Florida’s first botanical records were created.”

Wildflowers have long held great significance in Florida. When Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon sighted land in the new world in 1513, he dubbed it La Florida - “land of flowers”. Florida’s indigenous people and early settlers used wildflowers for food and medicinal purposes.

Wildflowers are critical to Florida crop production and agriculture as they serve as food and protection for pollinators like birds and bees as well as for native wildlife.

Native wildflowers are good for the environment as well. They have adapted to local conditions and are more resistant to pest problems, thereby reducing the need for harmful pesticides and helping to reduce harmful toxic runoff. Landscaping with native wildflowers can also eliminate the need for lawn equipment, thereby helping reduce emissions of air pollutants and helping to improve air quality. Most native wildflowers are drought tolerant and have little need for irrigation, reducing water usage as well.

Not all Florida native wildflowers will grow well here in South Florida. Your best option is to find a local nursery that specializes in native plants to find species that grow well in the southern part of the state. These are a just a few of the plants that have performed well at Flamingo Gardens in our Florida Wildflower Garden:

Rudbeckia hirta is commonly known as Black-eyed Susan or Coneflowers. It is found throughout Florida, but the variety Rudbeckia hirta var. floridan is endemic to Central and South Florida. It is a perennial that grows 12-24” tall with deep yellow ray flowers with dark brown spherical centers. It blooms spring through fall, and after flowering and seed maturation, the plants die. Black-eyed Susan is an important component in erosion control and offers protection and food to several song and game birds. It is an excellent source of nectar for butterflies and a larval host to some moths.
Rudbeckia hirta is commonly known as Black-eyed Susan.


Gaillardia pulchella, also known as Blanketflower, Firewheel, or Indian Blanket, occurs throughout Florida coastal areas. It is an annual or short-lived perennial that grows 12-18” tall in natural conditions. In a garden it may grow twice the size. It’s bright colored flowers, drought tolerance, and long blooming season make it a popular garden plant. Flowers can vary greatly, but are typically bi-colored with inner bands of red surrounded  by a yellow outer band. It’s grayish green leaves are linear or lance shaped and quite hairy. Blanketflowers are excellent nectar plants for butterflies and other pollinators. It is an aggressive re-seeder, especially in loamy soils, and its tough demeanor makes it an ideal plant for erosion control in sandy, sunny spots where little else grows.

Solidago sempervirens, Seaside Goldenrod, is the most commercially available of the four native Goldenrods of Florida. Its showy masses of golden-yellow tubular blooms are commonly found on dunes, brackish marshes and sandy soils along the coast. Its 4’-6’ tall stems bloom from spring through fall here in South Florida. Goldenrod is an excellent nectar plant for butterflies and other pollinators, and attracts birds in search of insects. 

Passiflora suberosa or Corky Stem Passion Flower
Passiflora suberosa, is a species of Passion Flower native in South Florida commonly known as Corky Stem Passion Flower because of the cork-like texture of older stems. It is a low climbing herbaceous vine that gets tiny greenish to whitish flowers. Corky Stem Passion Flower is one of the best larval food plants for several butterflies in South Florida. The state butterfly Zebra Heliconian (Zebra Longwing), Gulf Fritillary, and Julia Cryas butterflies lay eggs on the passion vine, which provides food for the caterpillar. Its purple-black berries are food for birds and small animals. 

Salvia coccinea, Scarlet Salvia, Red Salvia, or Tropical Sage, is the most commonly available of the three native Salvias found in Florida, and is found throughout the state with the exception of the Keys. Despite the common name of Red or Scarlet Salvia, cultivars also come pink, white, and bicolor. It is a short lived perennial that blooms throughout the year in South Florida and reaches 18 to 36 inches high. Salvia is a great nectar source and attractant for butterflies and hummingbirds, as well as other pollinators. 

Monarda punctacta, or Spotted Beebalm. Photo by Jack Scheper, Floradata.com
Monarda punctacta, better known as Spotted Beebalm or Spotted Horsemint, is a bushy perennial found in dry sandy soils along roadsides and in open pine flat woods. The flowers grow to 3’ and are creamy white to yellow with purple spots, with showy bracts of lavender to cream. Its lance-shaped leaves are scented like oregano or thyme.Beebalm is perhaps the best Florida wildflower for attracting a wide variety of pollinators. Its showy blooms attract a great many species of butterflies, many native bee species, as well as hummingbirds. 

Coreopsis, is the State Wildflower of Florida and refers to all eleven species native to Florida. Coreopsis leavenworthii, also known as Leavenworth’s Coreopsis, or Tickseed, is the most common species and is found throughout Florida, especially along roadsides, pine flatwoods, and prairies. It is an annual to short-lived perennial. Its daisy-like flowers are bright yellow with a dark brown center held upright upon tall, leafless stems. Coreopsis is a great nectar plant for butterflies and other pollinators.

Glandularia maritima, or Beach Verbena
Glandularia maritima, or Beach verbena, is extremely rare in nature and listed as a state
endangered species. For the most part, it occurs only on the east coast of Florida on beach dunes. This native verbena is well suited for along the coastal areas of Florida, but is now in danger of extinction in the wild. Beach verbena is an extremely tough plant. It is right at home in the salt spray, low-nutrient sands, and full blown sun of the coastal environment and can adapt to a variety of environments. Purple or lavender flowers borne in clusters stand out against the fine-textured foliage. Stems creep along the ground and root to bind the sand together helping prevent wind from blowing it back from the beach. Specimens produce a wonderful floral display and attract the attention of butterflies and other pollinators.  

Helianthus debilis, or Dune Sunflower, is a low-growing, native- a tender herbaceous perennial forb in southern Florida and a reseeding annual throughout central Florida. Sand dune stabilization, wind erosion protection, and beach beautification are the principle conservation uses of the beach sunflower.  Specimens produce a wonderful floral display and  attract the attention of butterflies and other pollinators, including bees. It is a nectar source for many of these insects.The plant’s tight canopy affords protection to a wide range of small wildlife: insects, lizards, and even small birds.The seed of the dune sunflower also provides food for wildlife.

To see these and other Florida native wildflowers, visit the Florida Wildflower Garden at Flamingo Gardens, 3750 S Flamingo Rd, in Davie FL. The Florida Wildflower Garden is sponsored by Flamingo Gardens and the State of Florida and the Florida Wildflower Foundation. More information may be found at www.FlamingoGardens.org.

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