The Coastal Star

Secret Gardens: Natives attract wildlife into yards

Soldierwood has blooms and fruit that attach on the main stem.

A recently hatched Atala butterfly shown larger than life.

The white bloom of the scorpion tail lives up to its name.

Jeff Nurge prefers to hand-water his plants to make them better transplant candidates.

Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

By Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley

    Jeff Nurge, co-owner of Native Choice Nursery in Boynton Beach, says he just loves to bring nature into yards.
    To do that, he specializes almost exclusively in selling native plants that will attract butterflies, birds and small mammals.
    In fact, the fun of growing natives is that each plant has its own purpose, he says.
    At this quarter-acre nursery, you’ll find about 150 species of native plants, plus a few trees from the Bahamas such as bay rum, lemon bay rum and allspice.
    Nurge fell in love with native plants after living in Florida for more than 40 years and using them to bring wildlife into his own back yard. So when he left his banking career, he decided to learn more about local flora and fauna by becoming a master gardener.
    In 2006, he started his own landscaping company. And by 2010, he and fellow master gardener Susan Casamento opened Native Choice.
    The partners lease their land from the owner of the nearby Tropical World Nursery. So, finding Nurge’s little spot within the larger 10-acre nursery is a challenge for first-time visitors.
    Once here, you’ll discover plant display tables of wire stretched over wooden frames that are set on upended cinderblocks.
The ground is either covered with weed cloth or sand paths that allow native plants to grow from seed under the display racks.
    Not only will you find reasonably priced natives, but also Nurge is happy to share invaluable information about them.
    For example, he points out the soldierwood tree that produces inconspicuous green flowers to attract small insects on which songbirds feast. You’ll find these throughout the Atlantic Flyway bird migration route that in South Florida lies close to the Everglades.
    “Migrating birds need protein for their long flight to South and Central America and this tree is where they get it,” he says.
 He sells me on a scorpion’s tail, which now graces my backyard garden with its tiny white flowers that grow along one side of a curved 1-inch stem. The result is a flower that resembles, yes, a scorpion’s tail.
    Nurge tells me it’s important to plant natives with white flowers because they attract male butterflies and the flower’s nectar has a substance that “helps males with their reproductive purposes.”
    Of course, Nurge carries the common natives, including wild coffee, Simpson’s stopper and lantana.
    But he also has some you may not have encountered, including the rough leaf velvet seed. Its leaves feel like sandpaper and its seeds are covered with a dark red to black fiber that feels like velvet.
    While we are talking, Jeremy Blasbalg, from Boynton Beach, comes to the nursery with his friend Jessica Rothschild of Miami. On this, their second visit, Blasbalg is looking for something his condo association might use to create a butterfly garden.
    “This place is great because it has a little of every native you could want, and seeing them growing, you can get a lot of good ideas,” he says.
    Rothschild wants to attract more butterflies to her garden, where she already has monarchs, gulf fritillaries and zebra longwings.
    “Not a lot of places have native plants,” she says. “What you get at the big home stores is very limited and it’s all like root-bound, forced plants.
     “There’s not the same amount of care or variety that you can get here,” Rothschild adds.

Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley is a certified master gardener. Reach her at debhartz@att.net.

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