When you start thinking about fall and winter in Florida you don’t typically think about evergreens. You imagine palms and sunny beaches. If you hail from the north you may find yourself a little nostalgic for the days when you strung lights on that old pine tree in your front yard. But Florida isn’t all palm trees and tropical ornamentals. There are a number of evergreen natives that can make it feel more “holiday-ish.”
Florida has a variety of pines trees or conifers that grow in all planting zones. One of the best known is Slash Pine growing from the panhandle to the Florida Keys. These trees are fast growing, self pruning, and can reach heights of 75-100 feet tall. In Dade County these trees were very popular as a building material and homes made of ‘Dade County Pine’ are some of the sturdiest buildings. Today you can still find real estate listings adding this as an attribute.
Sand Pines just sound like they should be here! They grow in Sandy areas and are rarely seen with straight trunks. If you were looking for a typical Christmas type pine here this would be your choice. It can be pruned to a conical shape and grows slowly. Their short 2-3” needles and spiny cones have the holiday tree appearance, making it one of the most popular natives to be grown and offered for fresh cutting by many Florida’s Christmas tree farms.
Loblolly pines are native to North America and seem to love our sandy soil. And, Loblolly is just fun to say! These beautiful pines are fast growing with 6-9” needles and paired cones that can reach 6” long. The bark is thick which helps keep this tree safer during fires in the wild. They can reach up to 80-150’ in height, so plant where you have plenty of space. Fun fact: Loblolly pine seeds were taken to space aboard Apollo 14 and later planted at the White House.
In preparing this article I found that I should mention a few more natives that have a pine-like appearance. The cypress tree has feathery leaves that look similar to needles and they produce cones. In the fall the leaves will turn a beautiful copper color before they drop adding to their holiday appeal. Cypress trees grow in wet conditions but can also be used in your home landscape. The two varieties that are found in our area are Bald Cypress and Pond Cypress. If you’re old enough to remember Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven, Florida you will know the Bald Cypress that grew there and created the iconic cypress knees.
On the subject of pines in Florida, it’s worth mentioning this well-known species that, despite its name, is not a pine. Australian pines are non-native deciduous trees that were introduced from Australia to Florida in the 1890s and are considered invasive. Because they are resistant to salt spray and can grow close to the sea, they have invaded thousands of acres of our coastal areas. They pose a hazard during storm season due to their shallow root system. They also threaten native species and the wildlife that depends on those natives because of the dense leaf litter they produce. They should never be planted and possession of Australian pine with the intent to sell or plant is illegal in Florida without a special permit.
We now know more about natives that fit the typical fall and winter picture, and can make this time of year feel more festive. Look around and see if you can spot these beauties!