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Native Gardening with Carla McMahon

Birds, bees, and butterflies OH MY! Let’s talk about Florida Native Plants that help feed our wildlife and look great in the landscape. A few popular native plants that are routinely used are Beautyberry, Firebush, Wild Coffee, and Beach Sunflower. Read on for descriptions and the natives they attract.

Beautyberry is a great shrub that stays green year-round, can grow from 4’ to 8’ tall, and produces long branches that will arch toward the ground but can be pruned to be more compact. The bright purple berry starts as a beautiful light purple flower during summer and then forms a berry that the birds love. It’s a great shrub or can be used as a specimen plant due to its showy berries in the Fall.

Firebush is a beautiful shrub that can grow up to 15’ tall or can take being hedged down to a 5-6’ height. This perennial has long red-orange flowers that attract hummingbirds and butterflies (mostly zebra longwing). The fruit that the Firebush produces is loved by birds and helps this beauty spread around as they carry off the seeds.

Wild Coffee is an evergreen with wonderfully glossy dark green leaves, produces a small white cluster of flowers and its red seeds mature into a deep burgundy as it ripens. This plant likes shade or dappled light and will attract a variety of pollinators and birds. Unlike its relative, Coffea arabica, this native has no caffeine. It can be consumed with caution, as with any plant, extensive research should be done before ingesting.

Beach Sunflower is a fantastic bright ground cover for sandy soil and is salt tolerant. Year-round blooms make this a very attractive addition to your bed plantings. It will get to about 2’ tall and spread providing a bright and sunny yellow flower that will attract butterflies and birds.

If you add a few of these hardy plants to your landscape you will not be disappointed. Providing for our pollinators and feathery friends will make your landscape a more Florida Friendly Landscape. For more information on the FFL program, contact your local extension office.

Carla is a local with a passion for gardening. She volunteers at McKee Botanical Gardens, is a member of the Florida Native Plant Society, holds an AS in Horticulture from IRSC, and has a Master Gardener Certification with the Indian River County Extension Office. When she doesn’t have her hands in the sandy soil she can be found paddleboarding in local waters.


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