After paging through the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ (FFL) Guide to Plant Selection and Landscape Design, I identified 14 native plants that are my favorites. The top five were hard to choose and are firebush, beach sunflower, climbing aster, coontie and blanket flower. Ornamental grasses are not included because I recently published an article about muhly and fakahatchee.

Our ecosystem contains many native plants which provide shelter and food for birds, butterflies, bees and other animals. Your site conditions, sun, shade, mature size (height and spread), soil pH, soil moisture and texture should be considered when making plant selections.

Firebush, Hamelia patens, a fast-growing, large shrub, can reach a height of 5-20 feet and a spread of 5-8 feet. It can survive in full sun or partial sun/shade and has low to no salt tolerance. The orange-red flowers attract birds, bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Some people prefer the darker green foliage in the shade; others prefer the orange/red/yellow leaves in full sun. This shrub dies back if there is a freeze, but shoots appear when the temperature warms and post-pruning.

Beach sunflower, Helianthus debilis, a fast-growing perennial, can reach a height of 1-4 feet and a spread of 2-4 feet. It has high drought and salt tolerance and prefers full sun. This plant attracts butterflies and birds, sports year-round flowers and is a great ground cover. We have it around our two-level pond in the Bette S. Walker Discovery Garden at our office courtyard.

Climbing aster, Aster carolinianus, can reach a height of 1-12 feet and a spread of 2-4 feet. It prefers full sun and does well in partial sun/shade. Its lavender fall flowers attract birds and butterflies. This plant is in the mint family.

Coontie, Zamia floridana, is a fast-growing, native, palm-like plant. It can reach a height of 1-5 feet and a spread of 3-5 feet. Coontie is highly drought tolerant, easy to propagate from seed, attracts birds and butterflies and is the sole larval food source for the Atala hairstreak butterfly.

Blanket flower, Gaillardia pulchella, a fast-growing, native perennial, can reach a height of 1-2 feet and a spread of 2-3 feet. It has high drought tolerance, prefers full sun and produces yellow/orange/red summer flowers that attract butterflies. It is easy to propagate from seed.

Once established, irrigation may not be needed. For more in-depth information on these and other Florida-friendly native plants, using your browser, go to ‘Ask IFAS’ followed by the name of the plant.

You can order a free copy of the FFL Plant Selection Guide from the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Look under ‘Free Publications’, then Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ at

For assistance with horticultural questions, call us at 813-744-5519 or visit us at the UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County, located at 5339 County Rd. 579 in Seffner.

Lynn Barber is the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ agent for UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County. Contact her at

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