Florida is a botanical wonderland and a gardener’s delight. From brightly colored flowers to wind-resistant shrubs and unusual trees, the Sunshine State has plenty of native plant diversity.
Florida is also a huge state — ask anyone who has driven from Key West to Pensacola — and a plant native to Miami may not thrive in Tallahassee. So before you start planning out your Tampa Bay garden, here are some of the native plants that will take root and bloom in your yard.
Tampa Native Flowers
Butterfly weed’s name gives it away: It will attract butterflies. This native plant produces clusters of brilliant orange blossoms, which are striking in any yard. It grows 1-2 feet high and produces its signature flowers from May until September. Butterfly weed is easy to grow from seed and thrives in Hillsborough County.
This Florida native (pictured at the top of the page) produces a more delicate-looking flower, with slender petals compared to its California or Hawaii cousins. These spectacular flowers are scarlet red, and each bloom is as big as a foot across. The flowers last only a day or so, so the plant produces a lot of them — enough flowers to last about a month. The scarlet hibiscus loves the wet soil of Tampa’s creeks and marshes, and you should easily find them at local garden stores and nurseries.
Spiked Blazing Flower
This native plant goes by a number of names, including spiked blazing star, dense blazing star, and dense gayfeather. This plant produces spikes of lilac-colored flowers, as high as two feet tall, in areas with moist soil. The color is a beautiful addition to the landscape in late summer or fall, and it brings hungry butterflies and hummingbirds to your yard. You can find the seeds and the plants at nurseries that specialize in Florida native plants.
Tampa Native Shrubs
Beautyberry is an eye-catching Florida native shrub that produces clusters of bright purple berries among its lush green leaves. It can get anywhere from 3-6 feet high, and blooms in the late spring and early summer. Its white and pink flowers soon turn to magenta berries by the fall and early winter, creating a show of color across seasons. The beautyberry is also known as the French mulberry, and is loved by many bird species.
The firebush is another Florida native shrub that puts on a show of color — this time, red and green. It is a tropical shrub, that does particularly well in south Florida, but the Florida Native Plant Society notes that the firebush appears to be naturalizing into north Florida too, and so it will likely have no trouble in a Tampa area garden. Keep in mind, the firebush can get up to 10 feet high, which makes it a pretty big shrub, but it is not only valued for its brightly colored flowers — it’s also valued for its hurricane wind resistance too.
The wild lantana loves coastal dunes and thrives in Hillsborough County, although that’s about as far north as this plant grows natively. It’s a dark green shrub with clusters of white flowers that turn to purple fruit. It’s an eye-catching plant that can serve as a border and is valued for its hurricane wind resistance, too.
Tampa Native Trees
Maples are not just for Northerners! The red maple, or Acer rubrum in Latin, is one of the two maple species that loves Florida’s hot, wet climate, and will give you a splash of autumn color. The red maple loves wet soil, but don’t confuse it with the Japanese maple, which is also known to put on a scarlet show in the fall. Like most of the maple family, the Japanese maple doesn’t do well in Tampa’s climate. Stick to the red maple, or even the Florida maple, if you are looking for a native tree from this family.
It’s a funny name for a tree, but this native is beautifully adapted to the highs and lows of Florida’s weather. Tampa Bay is about as far north as this tree likes to grow, but gardeners like it, not just for its twisted branches and copper bark, but for its wind resistance. The peely bark gives the tree its other common name: the tourist tree. Gumbo-limbos can stand up to hurricane-force winds, which is a consideration along any part of the Gulf Coast. The gumbo-limbo is also a commanding presence in any landscape, reaching up to 60 feet high
A strangler fig is part tree canopy, part parasite. This tropical and subtropical native gives many of the swamps and wetlands in Central and South Florida a haunted look, as the fig takes hold of, surrounds and eventually strangles the host tree. It starts out as tendrils that wrap around the host tree, eventually forming the roots of the fig. Gardeners have to be very careful of where a strangler fig is placed — away from buildings or prized trees — but on large properties, it can lend a tropical appeal. Some nurseries that specialize in native plants will carry strangler figs. As with the gumbo-limbo, Tampa Bay is about as far north as the strangler fig will grow on its own.
The Tampa Bay area is home to so many species of native plants because of its hot, humid summers and mild winters. The growing season is long, and the list of native species is even longer. You can find many of the species more popular with landscapers and gardeners at nurseries that specialize in Florida native plants, the same place where you can get questions about what to plant answered, too.
Do you have questions about planting and maintaining a lawn in Tampa? Check out our Tampa, FL lawn care page.