The Coastal Star

Secret Gardens: Auction of native plants can help you create harmonious habitats

Joewood is a slow-growing shrub with inedible green fruit.

BELOW: Jacquemontia is a native vine with stunning blue blooms.

Both plants are salt-tolerant, making them ideal for our neighborhoods.

Photos by Jerry Lower and Susan Lerner

By Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley

    If you want to attract wildlife while doing less maintenance in your yard, perhaps it’s time to go native. Now is the perfect time to get started by attending the 12th annual Rare and Unique Native Plant Auction.
    The event, which includes both live and silent auctions, will be May 16 and hosted by the Palm Beach County chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society at Mounts Botanical Garden.
    Last year the auction brought in $3,000 the group used to educate the public about the importance of using native plants in the landscape.
    “Planting natives is a big deal,” says chapter President Susan Lerner.
    The FNPS defines Florida native plants as those that would be found within the state before Europeans arrived. “They are the plants that were here before we raped and pillaged the land,” Lerner says.
    Today she and the about 200 members of the local FNPS urge residents to utilize the plants that filled the Florida peninsula before exotic or nonnative species arrived. For example, instead of planting bougainvillea that originated in Africa and South America, think about adding color to your yard with a native orange geiger.  
    Because native plants have developed over millennia, they are well-suited to the area. That means they thrive on the nutrients found naturally in the soil, they need only what rain falls and they shine in the tropical sun.
    And this means there’s little need for spraying, fertilizing or watering, which is good for the gardener and the garden.
    By doing this, you can help create habitats where native insects provide food for native birds, and native butterflies thrive on their requisite host and nectar plants.
    Whether you’re just starting to plant natives or looking for some plants to add to your collection, register to bid on the many lots of native plants that will be available in the live auction, called “Going Native — Harmonious Habitats.”
    This auction will be divided into six sections, including Piney Woods, Scrub-a-Dub and Hammock Time, with each based upon a specific Florida habitat (pineland, scrub and hammock).
    In the Going Coastal section, you can bid on native plants that do well along our beaches, including the joewood, a small tree or shrub the state has deemed “threatened.” It sports tiny white to yellow flowers that grow in small clusters and have an aroma similar to jasmine.
    The plants will be offered in 1-gallon to 15-gallon pots.  Small trees will be auctioned in single lots; smaller items may be grouped.  
    Rufino Osorio, the nationally acclaimed author of A Gardener’s Guide to Florida’s Native Plants, will describe each plant brought up for bid and its growing requirements. And members of the local FNPS chapter will be available to answer questions.
    Meanwhile, the silent auction is a little more “catch-as-catch-can,” Lerner says. “All kinds of interesting things show up, and we often don’t know what will be auctioned until it walks through the door.”
    Lerner urges folks to attend this event to learn more about natives, be introduced to some hard-to-find specimens and enjoy the evening. And no matter how many plants you already cultivate, you may find something you can’t resist.
    “There’s always room for one more in a garden,” she says.

Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley is a certified master gardener who can be reached at

Auction tip
“Before you attend the auction, think about the place in your garden you’d like to fill and how you want to fill it. Do you want to add a little color? Attract butterflies?
“Then think about how much sun and water the area gets. Is it irrigated and damp all the time? Is it on the west side of the house where it gets afternoon sun or the east side where it gets morning sun? Then you’ll know what to look for when you bid on a plant.”  
 — Susan Lerner, president of the Palm Beach County chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society

If You Go
The 12th annual Rare and Unique Native Plant Auction
When: 7-9:30 p.m. May 16; arrive when the doors open and you’ll have time to bid on the silent auction and view the lots for the live auction that begins at 7:30.
Where: The auditorium at Mounts Botanical Garden, 531 N. Military Trail, West Palm Beach
Admission: Free. Refreshments available. Only cash and checks will be accepted as payment for auction items.
For more information: 247-3677. Learn about the Palm Beach County chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society by visiting

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