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Unsung beauties of the native plant community

By Staff | Sep 18, 2019

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(Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of articles by members of the city of Sanibel’s Vegetation Committee dealing with vegetative matters of concern to island residents. For the other articles in the series, visit “http://www.mysanibel.com/Departments/Natural-Resources”>www.mysanibel.com/Departments/Natural-Resources.)

Are you looking for that wow factor in your yard? Do you hope neighbors will stop to ask, “What is that tree or shrub?” Here is a list of native plants that can really jazz up your yard with color and (wild)life.

A blooming Locustberry (Byrsonima lucida) with crisp green leaves and masses of white and pink flowers from April to June is a great choice. Following the flowers are round green berries that eventually turn light brown, which birds love to eat. Locustberry is a host plant for the Florida Duskywing butterfly larvae and nectar plant for a variety of other butterflies. This plant grows to about 15ft in sun or part shade.

A small shrubby tree, both salt and drought tolerant, the Cinnamon Bark (Canella winterana) is a “plus.” The terminal flowers range in color from orange-red, white, or purple and the foliage is fragrant. It can bloom year-round and tolerates sun or shade. The leaves are semi-glossy, dark green above and pale green below. Berries are dark red and eaten by birds.

Another smaller specimen tree is the Seven Year Apple (Casasia clusiifolia). Revolute, shiny green leaves are clustered at the ends of the branches. The fragrant white, five-petaled blossoms are followed by apples (skip the pie, and they don’t take seven years to mature) eaten by birds and raccoons. This plant tolerates salt spray and dry sandy soil.

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An elegant specimen plant is the Sea Lavender (Heliotropium gnaphalodes). The leaves are silver, fuzzy, and densely clustered on the branch with spikey, small white flowers, growing from five to six feet in the sun. This plant is both rare and tolerant of the saline soils and salt spray in the beach zone. Sea Lavender also has the ability to trap sand, which helps promote dune stabilization.

In the shade or part sun, growing up to ten to twelve feet, is the Pearlberry (Vallesia antillana), which is listed as an endangered species in the state of Florida. The small white flowers can be present at any time, followed by the iridescent, white “pearl” berries. This plant can be found in both tropical hammock and beach dune ecosystems.

The Strongbark (Bourreria succulenta) and the Little Strongbark (Bourreria cassinifolia) are both endangered. Both flowers and fruit appear at the same time all year long. They grow well in full to part shade, and are tolerant of sandy and wet soils. The Strongbark (B. succulenta) grows five to seven feet taller than the Little Strongbark (B. cassinifolia) and has an arching form to the branches. These trees are visited by butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees.

A spectacular addition to the native garden is Walters Viburnum (Viburnum obovatum). When flowering, spring through summer, this specimen plant is covered with tiny white flowers amidst dense, dark green foliage. The flowers are followed by red to black berries. Depending on the pruning, this plant can be a shrub or small tree, growing up to twelve feet or more. This plant is very adaptable, growing in shade or full sun. This plant is also tolerant of moist soils.

A final addition to this collection is Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). This is a twining ornamental vine is a sun lover. Coral Honeysuckle flowers spring through the summer, with two inch pink to red or scarlet tubular flowers that are irresistible to hummingbirds. The flowers are followed by red berries that attract other birds. The foliage is glossy green above with a pale green underside. Let it twine through a shrubby tree or over the ground! But remember, you must prune to control this plant.

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So go ahead, add these stunning native beauties to your yard. Choosing to go native helps to preserve the sanctuary characteristics of Sanibel by providing habitat and forage for the island’s unique wildlife.

Where can I learn more about native plants on Sanibel? The Vegetation Committee hosts free plant walks from November to April at City Hall to view and discuss the use of native plants. Everyone and their questions are welcome.

For more information, visit www.mysanibel.com/Departments/Natural-Resources or contact the Natural Resources Department at 239-472-3700. Photos of the invasive exotic plants “Worst of the Worst” and the city’s “The Alien Invasion” brochure can also be found on the website.

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