Natives make good sense - and cents

Published: Saturday, April 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 31, 2006 at 9:41 p.m.
The city of Gainesville is doing it. The University of Florida is doing it. Many public schools are doing it. You should be, too.
Go native, that is. More and more native plants are being utilized in mainstream landscapes because they just make sense: They are suited to our climate, are naturally resistant to many of the destructive pests, take less care - watering, fertilizing - than non-natives (if they are planted in appropriate habitats) and provide food and shelter to our native wildlife species.
And because they require so little help once they're growing, they save you money, too.
Don't think of a "native" landscape as being scruffy and weed-strewn. They can be as casual or refined as you wish. Likewise, don't think just because you planted a "native" you can plop it down in a haphazardly prepared hole and be done with it.
Native plants take just as much care and planning as any other addition to your landscape. You still have to consider sun or shade, well-drained or moist, rich soil or sparse. But once the plants are happily established, they will continue to be so for their entire lives (and probably yours, too).
So it is important, when choosing native plants, to have as much information about the site and the plants' needs as possible.
For example, I tried my darndest to grow Florida anise (Illicium floridanum). Three times.
This is a remarkably beautiful shrub - large, pointed oval, dark green evergreen leaves with a lighter underside. In good locations, it can grow up to 10 feet. The showy flowers, which are usually hidden among the branches, are about 2 inches wide with reddish-maroon petals in two overlapping star patterns.
Florida anise is native of the ravines of the Panhandle westward to Louisiana, zones 7 to 10. I thought I could recreate what they wanted with the cool semi-shaded section of my back yard. But it was not to be.
What I found instead as a suitable substitute was the firebush (Hamelia patens).
While it only grows about 6-8 feet tall (admittedly, a whole lot taller than the dying Florida anise in my yard did) this also has wonderful reddish-orange flowers which have the added bonus of attracting hummingbirds. While it doesn't flower until summer, when most hummers have fled up North, it attracts all sorts of butterflies to its flowers' nectar, and the birds love the seeds.
Some cold winters, the firebush will die down to the roots, but regrowth is rapid. (It will not survive floods or having the roots covered with 3 feet of water for three months, though. Trust me on that.)
So before spending money on a truck-full of natives, assess what you have to offer them, and inform the seller what you have. They can suggest the best plant, the one most suitable to your site, and you will then also be sold on native plants.
Many nurseries now offer native plants. A good opportunity to shop what is available is the spring native plant sale April 7 and 8 at Morningside Nature Center, 3540 E. University Ave.
Friday hours are 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. for Florida Native Plant Society and Friends of Nature Parks members only; you can join when you get there. Saturday hours for the public are 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Area native plant nurseries - retail and wholesale - will sell wildflowers, shrubs, trees, groundcovers. There will also be books, birdhouses, botanical art and information booths. Naturalists will lead a wildflower walk at 1 p.m.
When you purchase plants at each station, volunteers will mark them and take them to a central pickup spot, so you don't have to carry the pots around with you.
Purchases are by check or cash only; no credit or ATM cards.
Proceeds are used for nature parks projects and educational programs.
Another plant sale is held in the fall. Marina Blomberg can be reached at 374-5025 or

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