Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Guide to Miami's Native Plant Life

Miami is in the tropics. While this information isn't exactly shocking, it is important to understand that the plant life here is different than anywhere else in the US. We have tropical temps, high humidity and high levels of sunshine that some plants, such as many varieties of roses, just cannot handle outdoors.

Plants here are hardy and can stand up to the heat and sun and thrive on them. Some native species, and others which are "newcomers" but have flourished include those below.
Mangroves: The word refers to both individual trees and the forest of them (to non-scientists anyway). Mangroves like salty water, so they are plentiful along the shorelines and estuaries of Miami-Dade County. Their amazing networks of roots and branches offer safe harbor for many species of fish, birds and other animals. Everglades National Park has many acres of mangroves.

Mangos: Although mangos hail from India and surrounding areas, they have been in Florida so long they seem native! A mango tree with flowers is shown to the left. Besides being delicious and beautiful, mangoes have another characteristic: they go splat. A lot. "Mango poop" is so common in South Florida that homegrown humorist Dave Barry has written about it. (Not to worry; it comes off easily in a car wash.) Mangoes are nutritious and are seen in many foods in Florida including shakes and smoothies, salsa, BBQ sauce and salads.

Sawgrass: It's not really a grass, but the saw part is close! These plants grow any where from 3 to 9 feet tall and have little flowers on them, as well as sharp, sometimes serrated edges. Sawgrass is distantly related to papyrus, which was used in ancient Egypt to make paper. The Everglades is covered in sawgrass, hence its nickname, "the River of Grass."

Palm or Palmetto Trees: Yes, they are everywhere. Many varieties are not native but they adapt well to the soil and climate of South Florida. The Sabal Palm is the state tree of both Florida and South Carolina and it is native to the southeastern US, as well as to the Caribbean. They grow very well in sandy soil and photos of them make lovely postcards!

Gumbo-Limbo: It's not just fun to say! These small trees can grow to be quite tall but don't get very thick in the trunk. The Gumbo-limbo used to be called the "Tourist Tree" because the tree's bark is red and peeling, like the skin of sunburned tourists, who flock to the areas where it grows well. They also make great air fresheners.

Satin Leaf Tree: Native to South Florida, Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and a number of Carribean islands, the Satin Leaf tree has beautiful golden leaves, so although it produces edible fruit (called damson plums), it is usually used as just an ornamental plant.

Orchids: Orchids are the largest group of flowering plants, boasting more than 22,000 species. While some kinds, especially the ones that are more common in the US, can grow in pots and gardens, a lot of the more tropical varieties live on other plants and trees. An odd looking cluster of plastic rings attached to the side of a tree in South Florida generally means someone is cultivating orchids.

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