Rooted in Resilience: How to Improve your Property with Native Plants

Native species are integral to the health of local ecosystems, and Florida is no exception. In this mini blog post series, we are going to cover the importance of native species and their significance in mitigating the impacts of climate change, such as chronic flooding, increasing heat, and loss of biodiversity. Native plants are defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as plants found in a region of the country before European settlement, which have developed over hundreds of years. Native species are innately better suited to face the environmental conditions of their original environment. To foster a healthy relationship with our ecosystem, the reintroduction of native plants and other natural processes can significantly improve soil health, management of natural resources and pest mitigation, all while addressing extreme heat, pollution and the removal of invasive species.

In this first post, we will be introducing the concept of native plants and providing an understanding of why incorporating native species when landscaping your home or business is beneficial for advancing resilience.

Boost biodiversity beyond aesthetics

Aesthetics is a primary consideration when determining what kind of vegetation should be added to your property. Having a colorful and diverse set of plants on your property is a staple for creating a beautiful environment. Native plants are notorious for promoting biodiversity (essential for a variety of life to thrive in an ecosystem) by supporting crucial habitats for other local species such as birds, butterflies, pollinators, and other wildlife. Some examples of wildlife that could be attracted to your property (and help control pests) include hummingbirds, bees, and buckeye butterflies. Local flora can work cohesively with the rest of your surroundings, giving any property a biophilic (love for and connection to the natural world) feel not often present in many suburban areas.

Biomimicry is the practice of mimicking nature in design. If we harness this idea when creating natural environments, we can create a flow and rekindling of connection between ourselves and our environments in their purest form. Built and natural environments are separately essential for the viability of a community. Finding a way to incorporate the beauty of our natural world into our everyday lives has been proven to promote happiness, boost mental health, improve mood, reduce stress, and enhance cognitive skills.

Protect our ecosystem

As mentioned earlier, there is a very specific definition when classifying a native plant. With Florida cataloging over 2800 native species, there are abundant choices when thinking of giving your front yard or backyard a new look. The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ (FFL) is a program defined (by the 2009 Florida Statutes 373.185) as, “quality landscapes that conserve water, protect the environment, are adaptable to local conditions, and are drought tolerant.” The program suggests nine principles to consider your landscape officially “Florida-Friendly.” The purpose is to plan out your design and selection of plans to “minimize the need for supplemental water, fertilizer, and pesticides.”

The nine listed principles include:
1. Right Place, Right Plant
2. Water Efficiently
3. Fertilize Appropriately
4. Mulch
5. Attract Wildlife
6. Manage Yard Pests Responsibly
7. Recycle
8. Reduce Stormwater Runoff
9. Protect the Waterfront
(Learn more about the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Program here: https://ffl.ifas.ufl.edu/about-ffl/9-principles)

Second, all natives plants are considered Florida-Friendly, even many non-invasive naturalized plants are Florida-Friendly! A neutralized plant is an introduced, exotic plant that has become a part of the local flora of a region and does not need human help to reproduce or spread. It is important to know the difference between which plants are non-native naturalized and invasive-naturalized. Invasive plants are species that are introduced to an environment and cause environmental, economic, and human health harm. Exotic plants are non-native plants, if they are found to be toxic they are called invasive.

Although it may be hard to find nurseries with significant native plant selections, there are special native nurseries that do their part in keeping increasingly rare plants available for distribution. It is always a good idea to do your research beforehand, coming up with a list of plants you would like on your property, and being sure to double check that your plants are indeed native (if that is your goal) before checkout. Although it is always a good idea to check which species of plants are native to your specific region and zone, some examples of rather beautiful Florida-Friendly plants include:

Inkberry (native) Clusia (native)
Geiger tree (naturalized) Sea grape (native)
Gumbo limbo tree (native) Staghorn Fern (naturalized)
Live Oak tree (native) Spanish moss (native)
Carolina Jasmine (native) Florida Strap airplant (native)
Dwarf Fakahatchee grass or Florida GamaGrass (native) Cardinal airplant (native)
Pink Muhly grass (native) Yuccas and Agave (native)
Minimize fertilizer, pesticides, and water usage

There are plenty of benefits revolving around the use of Florida native plants. Because these native plants have adapted to and evolved with our climate over time, they are in tune with the weather patterns of the region. This means native plants require little to no watering, outside of the dry season, and little fertilizing. While often farmland and agriculture are promoted as the major polluters of our environment, suburban lawns can see ten-times more fertilizer than our farmland (Why native Plants Matter 2017). It is not an either-or, but all of the above conversation.

Pests are less likely to overtake vegetation when native plants are introduced, due to the vegetation’s innate evolution to adapt to seasonal changes and pests. Although ”Superbugs” are pests that often become immune to harmful conditions and take advantage of weakening native species, adding a diversity of plants or pairing them with other ones known to repel their companion’s pests is strongly recommended.

Pesticides have also been proven to be harmful to our groundwater supply, therefore, minimizing the potential of pests infestation, equates to less pesticide usage. Native plants are known to use less water, pesticides, and fertilizers, promoting a healthy environment, and catalyzing cost-savings in the long-term since their maintenance, water intake, and fertilizer and pesticide intake is reduced.

In terms of resilience, many of native plants grow long and strong roots that are tolerant to both the dry and wet seasons in Florida. These root systems help prevent erosion during storm events and actually help protect soil health year around. Native plants that can both withstand Florida’s heat conditions and provide ground cover, also help the soil retain nutrients and moisture, and can provide shade to your home helping lower energy costs on insulation/AC. Native plants are largely resilient to high winds that Floridians frequently experience during the hurricane season. This means that these plants will endure less damage during large storms and help hold their ecosystems together while providing shelter and refuge for other wildlife. As a rule of thumb when considering renovation, first look towards native plants to give you an attractive, yet hardy, landscape for all walks of life to enjoy.

A Few Native Nurseries in South Florida We Found:

Works Cited
– UF/IFAS Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Program. (n.d.). Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Program. Florida Friendly Landscaping. https://ffl.ifas.ufl.edu/about-ffl/9-principles/.
Why native Plants Matter. Audubon. (2017, May 18). https://www.audubon.org/content/why-native-plants-matter.