Recommended Shade-Loving Native Shrubs for South Florida
About 25 percent of the plant species native to North America are at risk of extinction. You can help reverse this trend by planting great native plants in your garden.
Florida is divided into four main ecological regions: the East Gulf Coastal Plain, the South Atlantic Coastal Plain, Florida Peninsula, and Tropical Florida. Unique in topography, soil depth, pH, elevation, light, and hydrology, each region provides a rich variety of ecological habitats, supporting many native plant species.
Florida supports the fourth highest biodiversity in the United States and ranks third in the number of species listed as threatened or endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Noted for its mild climate, with temperatures typically ranging between 47-90ºF and relatively high rainfall, averaging 60 inches per year, Tropical Florida or South Florida is located in USDA zones 10a, 10b, and 11a.
Surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico to its west, the Atlantic Ocean to its east, and the Florida Straits to its south, South Florida is a landscape of great contrasts between upland terrestrial ecological communities and vast expanses of herbaceous wetlands.
Before men began extensive modifications, the South Florida ecosystem used to include freshwater and terrestrial systems such as ponds and sloughs, sawgrass marshes, wet prairies, hammock forests, bay heads, cypress forests, pine forests, mixed swamp forests, and dry prairies. It also included coastal systems such as bays, coral reefs, mangroves, saline marshes, and beaches and dunes.
Today, a large part of the vast wilderness has been cleared and converted to agricultural land or urban areas. 99% of the tropical hardwood-dominated forests (hammocks) are estimated to have been lost. It is estimated that greater than 98% of the Pine Rockland community, including (sub)populations of its highly endemic flora, have been destroyed.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, Invasive species have contributed to the decline of 42% of U.S. endangered and threatened species, and 18% of U.S. endangered or threatened species. Invasive species compete directly with native species for moisture, sunlight, nutrients, and space. They displace and alter native plant communities, degrade wildlife habitat and water quality, and potentially lead to increased soil erosion.
The federal government has estimated that nearly 25 percent of the 20,000 plant species native to North America are at risk of extinction, many of these through habitat loss. You can help reverse this trend by planting great native plants in your garden.
A plant is considered native if it has occurred naturally in a particular region or ecosystem without human introduction. There are many benefits to growing native plants.
- First, these plants are better adapted to soils, moisture, and weather than exotic plants that evolved in other parts of the world. They need fewer fertilizers, and pesticides or use less water.
- Second, they are unlikely to escape and become invasive, destroying natural habitats.
- Third, they support wildlife, providing shelter and food for native birds and insects, while exotic plants do not.
Here is a list of native shrubs that are well-suited for plantings in shady gardens of South Florida.
- Never collect native plants from the wild as it will deplete natural ecosystems.
- When possible, plant species grown straight from local seed sources. These native originals are the best choice, as they co-evolved with specific wildlife, which supports migration, breeding, and other seasonal interdependencies.
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Melissa McMasters, Flickr
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.
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