By Joanne Davis
With the advent of the fig whitefly outbreak, we now have a great excuse to stop being so boring in our landscapes, and to offer something we knew all along and somehow forgot: Plant the natives. These plants will take what nature dishes out and reward us with delight every time we see a painted bunting, a cardinal or a warbler working the trees and shrubs to find food for its journeys. Suddenly, our backyards can become, well, comfortable and fascinating.
Here are few native Florida hedge options:
Cocoplum — This plant grows to 12–14 feet, becomes dense, and is ornamental with lime green, pink or red new growth. It’s salt- and drought-tolerant, and will grow on its own with no additional water once established. It prunes extremely well and can be sculpted into nearly any hedge form. It is a wonderful bird plant, providing shelter and nesting opportunities. Foxes relish the fruits, which are edible to humans as well.
Crabwood — This is another nice native hedge plant. It is very well-behaved and will form a dense, 10- to 12-foot shrub that rarely needs pruning. Wind-, salt- and drought-resistant, it is less-known, but worth seeking out.
Florida Privet — The fruit is a food source for wildlife and migratory birds. These thin out a little in winter, but it prunes well and can be maintained in a formal hedge.
Marlberry — Has fragrant while flowers when in bloom. It’s rather slow-growing, but easy to contain. It will grow in shade.
Myrsine — Similar to marlberry, but does not have fragrant flowers. It, too, takes pruning and is drought-, salt- and wind-resistant. This, too, has a moderate growth rate, but can be pushed with fertilizer.
Saw Palmetto — This plant is not often thought of in traditional hedge terms, but nonetheless makes an exceptional barrier that will take all kinds of abuse. Drought, salt, wind, fire, flooding, cold — nothing bothers it. It sports a nifty green- or blue-to-silver patina and as its name implies, has saw teeth along the edges. It is emblematic of Florida, once found from coast to coast, from the front dune to the edges of deep swamps. It has been referred to as “Florida’s skin,” supporting multitudes of wildlife and holding onto soils. Once established, it is virtually indestructible and needs only periodic maintenance to remove dead fronds and keep it in check. It is excellent for color, privacy and protection. It is outstanding as an accent plant in a mixed run of other natives. Saw palmetto’s sweet, delicate, almost haunting fragrance signals Florida’s subtle springtime.
Seagrape — The seagrape is symbolic of coastal vegetation and does well on the dune front. It has large, round leaves and edible fruit. It’s not very wind-resistant unless it is kept well-pruned, but it is drought-tolerant. These thin in winter and are messy during leaf exchange in late winter/early spring. The leaves turn bright red in cold weather. It will grow as big as you let it.
Silver Buttonwood — Has a moderate growth rate, a showy coloring, and prunes well.
Simpson Stopper — This plant produces very dense growth that birds love for nesting. They also love the fruit. It has fragrant flowers in the spring, and is one of the best small-leaved shrubs for making hedges: It prunes well, is a moderate grower and is drought-, salt- and somewhat wind-resistant. It probably won’t reach 14 feet, but who really needs a 14-foot hedge anyway?
Spanish Stopper — Needs pruning to stay dense. Doesn’t have real flowers, but the fruit is attractive to birds. It has a mild skunky smell.
White Indigo Berry — A heavy, hard wood. It’s a very attractive shrub suitable for pruning into hedge form. It has a moderate growth rate, attractive and fragrant flowers, shiny leaves, and interesting fruits that birds love. It sports some thorny attributes that make it wonderful for nesting and sheltering, but these vary in their intensity. Some are very sharp, while others have no noticeable spines.
Every time we plant natives, our lives are enriched. We see things we never saw before, and it’s automatic: Plant it and they come. We can have the same amount of privacy with a mixed run of natives as exotics, yet natives provide habitat for our birds and other wildlife. In addition, we will see a beautiful palette of native Florida, with all its subtle color, texture, fragrance and charm, inviting us to watch the birds and butterflies up close.
Joanne Davis is the owner of Joanne Davis and Associates Design. Located in Lake Worth, she specializes in the installation of fine native landscapes, 582-8128.