FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions
What is a native plant?
IRC uses the phrase "native plant" to indicate a plant that occurs or occurred naturally within a specific geographical area in specific habitats or plant communities. Some native species have rather broad ranges, while the ranges of other species are very restricted. For example, live oak (Quercus virginiana) grows nearly throughout Florida north to the state of Virginia, while Florida Keys wedge sandmat (Chamaesyce deltoidea subsp. serpyllum) is confined to Big Pine Key in the lower Florida Keys. Live oak is found in a large number of plant communities, from rockland hammock to mesic hammock to maritime hammock, while Florida Keys wedge sandmat is confined solely to pine rockland. The phrase "native plant" is somewhat controversial. For an interesting review of definitions, see Toward a Working Definition of "Florida Native Plant" on the Florida Native Plant Society website.
What is an "exotic" plant? What are "exotic invasive" species?
These species are important to know about because they may pop up in your yard or project site, or may already have naturalized into your yard, unbeknownst to you. Exotic species are species that are not considered native to South Florida; they have arrived here through human intervention. "Invasive exotic" refers to certain plants that can naturalize (meaning they can reproduce and colonize areas and are able to sustain themselves outside of cultivation) and are a threat to native plant communities because they are known to disrupt the ecology of native ecosystems. Often, these plants take over such communities,wipe out the native plants and significantly harm wildlife habitat. Because these "invasive exotic" plants are not native to South Florida, they usually have no natural predators to limit their populations; thus may easily invade and destroy natural areas. Government agencies have many programs designed to eradicate invasive plants from protected areas. It is a good idea to eradicate them when possible from your yard or project site as well. Some of the most common invasive exotics in South Florida are Brazilian Pepper or Florida Holly (Schinus terebinthifolius), which is not native to Florida and is not a member of the holly family), Australian Pine (Casuarina equisetifolia), and Melaleuca (Melaleuca quinquinerva). These species are easily identifiable. See the links below for more information.
Why plant native plants and use them in landscaping? What difference does it make if I plant a native tree?
There are many benefits of planting with natives, especially those that are native to your neighborhood. Native plant species have already adapted to South Florida's climate and soils. They typically require little or no fertilizer, pesticides, irrigation, or other time-consuming and expensive maintenance that most nonnative landscaping plants usually require. Native plant landscaping and gardening is a great way for you to:
- Contribute to the preservation and restoration of our natural heritage
- Enjoy viewing the wildlife, especially birds and butterflies, that will visit your native garden
- Save time and money by reducing fertilizer, pesticide, and water usage, and other maintenance needs
- Reduce your energy costs by creating a landscape to help cool your home
- Obtain a deeper understanding of South Florida’s natural heritage while restoring our backyards, offices, and schoolyards as natural places
In addition, your native landscape can benefit our South Florida environment by:
- Providing food and shelter for birds, butterflies, and other native wildlife
- Providing stop-over habitat for migrating wildlife
- Reducing consumption of energy and toxic chemicals
- Reducing landscape maintenance needs and water consumption
- Creating larger, more connected plant populations, thus helping to ensure the future of native plant species by increasing their ability to migrate and expand their ranges in response to changes in climate and sea-level
For more information on the benefits of native plants, check out these links:
National Wildlife Federation’s native plant page
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s factsheet on native plants
How do I use this website for my native planting project?
This website is designed to give you a list of native plants most appropriate for the area in which your project will be located. The information is arranged as general information by county and specific information by ZIP code. The ZIP code lists are usually the most helpful, because they typically include more species, but the county lists are useful if more general and large-scale plantings are planned. Check below to see which list may be helpful to you:
The county lists are useful for:
- Street, highway, and other roadside plantings
- Parking lot plantings
- General native plant projects requiring only common native species
- Large-scale countywide plantings
The ZIP code plant lists are useful for:
- Home, school and office plantings
- Native plant community restoration and habitat restoration
- Planting projects in and near conservation areas and parks
After you have chosen which list to use, access it by entering either your ZIP code or county name on the Natives for Your Neighborhood home page. You can then click on a plant name to learn more horticultural information about a plant, as well as see photos of it. On the ZIP code page (enter a ZIP code at left), you can learn about the native habitats in your neighborhood and obtain a plant list that will help you restore a backyard habitat - large or small. The website is updated often, with new habitat photos coming soon, so check back regularly for the latest additions!
Where can I get native plants?
Many nurseries cultivate native plants, and many more are beginning to grow these great plants. Unfortunately, exotic species are the most commonly sold plants in nurseries and garden centers. Yet there are nurseries that specialize in native plants, and many other nurseries grow some of the more common native species. You just need to know where to look!
The Florida Native Plant Society is a great resource for finding native plants and learning about them. There are chapters throughout South Florida. Many of these have monthly meetings, newsletters, and even plant raffles- another way of obtaining native plants.
This program is geared to help you recreate native habitats for your specific area. If you are interested in a specific plant, it is best to use the search box at the bottom of the plant page on the Natives for Your Neighborhood website to determine if that plant is found in your area. Or you can enter your ZIP code and obtain a list of all the plants that are/were native to that IP code. You will have many plants to choose from! If the plant you are interested in is not listed, it is probable that the plant was not historically found in your area. If so, it is recommended that you plant something that IS native to your area! (For more information on why it is important to plant natives suitable for your specific area, see About Natives For Your Neighborhood.)
*It is illegal to obtain plants from parks or any natural areas!! Poaching of plants (illegal collecting, taking, or picking of plants) is a leading cause in the degradation of native landscapes and has caused many plants to become rare or extirpated in South Florida. The entire purpose behind this website is to conserve and restore native plants and habitats, so it is asked that no one ever take any plant materials from any park, or other natural area: this is clearly an illegal activity as well as being an ecologically harmful one!!
Where can I find information on how to install and care for a native plant landscape in my home, school, or office?
Here! You are in the right place. There is a great deal of information - including books, websites, and free materials available from various organizations - on native plantings and native plant landscapes. All of these resources can help you learn more about native plants. However, what makes Natives for Your Neighborhood different is that it provides you much more specific information on which native species are appropriate for YOUR area. For example, you could look in a book to learn that Sea Grape (Coccoloba uvifera) is native to Florida. But you may not learn that this beautiful native tree is found primarily in association with coastal or near-coastal areas (its native habitat). Through Natives For Your Neighborhood, IRC has taken the guesswork out of deciding which plants are best suited to your area by providing you with appropriate plant lists specifically designed for each ZIP code and county in South Florida. So picking the right plants to put in your neighborhood is just a click away! Furthermore, Natives For Your Neighborhood provides plant lists for native habitats in your area (again, according to ZIP code), which makes it possible for you to try your hand at native habitat recreation and restoration.
How can I recreate or restore a native habitat in my yard?
Natives For Your Neighborhood is designed to help you do this! First and most importantly, it is critical to become familiar with the general background information on native plants and native habitats that is available on this website and other resources. Then, you should have a good idea of the location of your native habitat project: what sun and water levels it will receive and what structures it should not disturb (powerlines, roofs, septic tanks, natural gas lines, etc).
Once you know where the project will be located, you can enter the ZIP code of the project area into the Natives For Your Neighborhood website home page. This will take you to a page specifically designed for your project area. (IRC has based its recommendations for each ZIP code on thorough scientific research that has been conducted through the Floristic Inventory of South Florida [FISF] project. ) On the ZIP code page you can scroll down and read the Native Habitats section, which will contain only habitats that are recommended by IRC for your area. Then, you can click on a habitat to learn more about it, and decide whether this is a good choice for you according to your own needs, goals, and ideas about the habitat you’d like to recreate or restore.
Once you have chosen a habitat to restore, click on that habitat's plant list (from your ZIP code's page). You may want to print the list of plants. You can click on a specific plant to learn more about it, view pictures of it, and more. It may be helpful to take notes or check off the plants you intend to use from your list. Next, you can click on "How to restore this habitat" to view a pdf file (a free downloadable Adobe Acrobat file), if available, that will guide you step-by-step through the process of habitat restoration - for beginners! The pdf document will provide detailed information on how to create your own native landscape, from the installation of plants to their maintenance, as well as many other useful tips.
What are some challenges that I might encounter with my native planting project?
Perhaps the most challenging part of any planting project involves working outside in South Florida's hot sun! Fortunately, planting native plants will ensure that your plants will be able to survive and thrive in South Florida's climate and soils. A native landscape, when properly installed, is much easier to maintain and less costly than traditional manicured lawns or nonnative plantings. You will conserve water and energy resources, and encourage birds and butterflies to visit your yard! (Click here to learn more about the benefits of landscaping with natives.)
Some of the challenges you may face with your native planting project include:
- Eradicating your existing lawn or other exotic plants to make room for your project area may be a challenge, but there are tried and true ways of doing so.
- Finding native plants at nurseries can sometimes be challenging, but the Florida Native Plant Society is a great resource for finding native plants and learning about them. There are chapters throughout South Florida. Many of these have monthly meetings, newsletters, and even plant raffles (another way of obtaining native plants).
How can I become more involved with native plants and environmental conservation?
For starters, plant natives!
Visit our Major Sponsors and Resources Links sections of the IRC website for information on organizations and sources of information.
Consider becoming a member of The Florida Native Plant Society FNPS. You can attend meetings in your area and participate in local field trips and educational activities.
You may also want to consider donating to or volunteering with The Institute for Regional Conservation, in order to help support IRC's restoration and conservation activities. IRC is a grass-roots organization that relies upon your support!