University of FloridaSolutions for Your Life

Download PDF
Publication #WEC339

Native Plants That Benefit Native Wildlife in the Florida Panhandle1

Holly K. Ober and Gary W. Knox2

Florida ranks very high (7th) among all 50 states in the United States in biodiversity when we consider just the number of species of vertebrates and plants. Nationwide, Florida ranks 4th in number of reptile species and 5th in number of bird species. Florida hosts nearly 400 species of birds, 90 species of reptiles, 90 species of mammals, and 60 species of amphibians. This biodiversity is not only enjoyable to observe, it is also valuable to the natural environment. Animals help maintain the health of our natural systems through the many important roles they play in our complex food webs, acting as herbivores (eating plants), carnivores (eating other animals), scavengers (eating dead plant and animal material), and assisting with essential natural processes such as pollination and seed dispersal.

The key to enhancing wildlife (and attracting it to your property) is to provide the resources wildlife need. This means supplying food, water, and cover within the space you own and manage. Because the needs of each wildlife species for food and cover vary from one season to the next, a mix of plant species is required to meet the needs of a species all year round. And because each species has different needs, attracting and maintaining a wide variety of wildlife year round requires a wide diversity of plants. A property owner interested in attracting wildlife should nurture a wide variety of native plants to ensure that there is a large assortment of food and cover options available all the time.

Advantages of Using Native Plants

"Native" in this document refers to wildlife and plant species with natural ranges in the Panhandle of Florida. Native plants and wildlife evolved together in communities, so they complement each other’s needs. Furthermore, native plants are suited to the local climate, which means that within the historical range of weather conditions, and when properly sited, they can survive without fertilization, irrigation, and cold protection. Non-native plants from other parts of the world may provide some of the resources needed by native wildlife. However, their benefits can come with a high cost.

Non-native plants become “naturalized” if they establish self-sustaining populations. Nearly one-third of the plants currently growing wild in Florida are not native! Some of these naturalized plants have become “invasive,” displacing native plants and animals in natural areas and disrupting natural patterns of water flow, fire, animal movement, and animal foraging. These invasive species cost millions of taxpayer dollars to control.

In years past, some highly palatable and prolifically fruiting exotic species were planted and promoted by wildlife enthusiasts before their negative effects on the natural world became apparent. Some examples of invasive plants we caution against include Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense), and coral ardisia (Ardisia crenata). Many of the benefits provided by these invasive species could instead be provided by native species we describe below.

By choosing to use native plants and removing non-native invasive plants, you can attract and enhance wildlife and prevent non-native invasive plants from disrupting natural areas. In this document we provide recommendations for plants native to the Florida Panhandle region that provide benefits to wildlife. Below, we describe which wildlife species benefit from each plant, what resources the plant provides to wildlife, what time of year those resources are available, and the growing conditions under which each plant species thrives (i.e., soil moisture, sun exposure). This list is not exhaustive. We have limited coverage to plant species generally available for purchase from local nurseries and to plant species with known benefits to birds, mammals, and/or reptiles (although we note when these plants provide benefits to some insects). Beware that some of the fruit-bearing plants recommended for wildlife can be messy if they are planted near a driveway, sidewalk, or patio!

Sources of additional information

Huegel, C. N. 2010. Native plant landscaping for Florida wildlife. University Press of Florida.

IFAS Invasive Plant Working Group. 2008. IFAS Assessment of Non-Native Plants in Florida's Natural Areas. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/assessment/.

Miller, J. H., and K. V. Miller. 1999. Forest plants of the southeast and their wildlife uses. University of Georgia Press.

Nelson, G. 1996. The shrubs and woody vines of Florida. Pineapple Press.

Stein, B. A., L. S. Kutner, and J. S. Adams. 2000. Precious heritage: the status of biodiversity in the United States. Oxford University Press.

USDA Forest Service. Fire Effects Information System. http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/index.html.

Tables

Table 1. 

Vines

Common name

(Latin name)

Benefits to wildlife

Growing conditions

Crossvine, trumpet flower

(Bignonia capreolata)

Nectar and pollen for hummingbirds; browse for deer

(red-yellow flowers spring–summer)

Full sun to full shade

Medium- to well-drained soil

Trumpet creeper

(Campsis radicans)

Nectar and pollen for butterflies, hummingbirds; browse for deer

(orange-red flowers spring–summer)

Full sun to full shade

Best in medium-drained soil, but tolerant of all soil types

Yellow jessamine

(Gelsemium sempervirens)

Nectar and pollen for butterflies, hummingbirds; browse for deer

(yellow flowers in spring)

Full sun to partial shade

Medium- to well-drained soil

Trumpet honeysuckle

(Lonicera sempervirens)

Nectar and pollen for butterflies, hummingbirds; berries for songbirds; browse for deer

(red flowers in summer; red fruits in fall)

Full sun to partial shade

Well-drained soil

Table 2. 

Annuals/Perennials

Common name

(Latin name)

Benefits to wildlife

Growing conditions

Tickseeds

(Coreopsis floridana, C. integrifolia, C. leavenworthii, C. lanceolata)

Nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies; forage for gopher tortoises, deer

(yellow flowers summer–fall)

Full sun to partial shade

Species vary in soil tolerance

Grows up to 4’ tall, 2' wide

Firewheel, blanket flower

(Gaillardia pulchella)

Nectar and pollen for butterflies; seeds for songbirds; forage for gopher tortoises

(yellow/orange/red flowers in summer; seeds in fall)

Full sun

Well-drained soil

Grows up to 2’ tall, 3’ wide

Cardinal flower

(Lobelia cardinalis)

Nectar and& pollen for butterflies, hummingbirds

(red flowers in summer)

Full sun to partial shade

Medium-drained to wet soil

Grows up to 3’ tall, 1' wide

Pinnate prairie coneflower

(Ratibida pinnata)

Nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies; seeds for songbirds

(yellow flowers in summer; seeds in fall)

Full sun to partial shade

Well-drained soil

Grows up to 5’ tall

Orange coneflower

(Rudbeckia fulgida)

Nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies; seeds for songbirds; forage for gopher tortoises

(yellow flowers in summer; seeds in fall)

Full sun to partial shade

Well-drained soil

Grows up to 3’ tall

Scarlet sage

(Salvia coccinea)

Nectar and pollen for butterflies, hummingbirds

(red flowers summer–fall)

Full sun

Well-drained soil

Grows up to 3’ tall

Table 3. 

Shrubs/Small Trees

Common name

(Latin name)

Benefits to wildlife

Growing conditions

Red buckeye, Florida buckeye

(Aesculus pavia)

Nectar and pollen for butterflies, hummingbirds

(red flowers in spring)

Full shade to partial shade

Well-drained to medium-drained soil

Grows 15–25' tall

American beautyberry

(Callicarpa americana)

Fruit for songbirds, quail, foxes, opossums, raccoons; browse for deer

(purple berries in late summer and fall)

Partial shade

Well-drained soil

Grows up to 5’ tall, 5’ wide

American hornbeam, ironwood

(Carpinus caroliniana)

Larval food plant for butterflies; nutlets for songbirds, turkeys, wood ducks, squirrels, deer

(inconspicuous orange-yellow flowers in spring; nutlets in fall)

Full sun to full shade

Well-drained to wet soil

Grows 20–30’ tall, 20–25’ wide

Buttonbush

(Cephalanthus occidentalis)

Nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies; seeds for waterfowl; cover and nesting for waterfowl, wading birds, songbirds

(white flowers in summer; seeds from nutlets in fall)

Full sun to partial shade

Medium-drained to wet soil

Grows 9–30’ tall, 6–8’ wide

Fringe tree

(Chionanthus virginicus)

Nectar and pollen for bees; berries for songbirds

(white flowers in spring; blue/black berries in summer)

Full sun to full shade

Well-drained to medium-drained soil

Grows 12–20’ tall, 10–15’ wide

Summer sweet, sweet pepperbush

(Clethra alnifolia)

Nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds

(white flowers in summer)

Full sun to full shade

Medium-drained to wet soil

Grows 4–9’ tall

Flowering dogwood

(Cornus florida)

Nectar and pollen for bees; fruit for songbirds, woodpeckers, turkeys, mice, chipmunks, foxes, squirrels, beavers, bears, deer; browse for rabbits, deer; cover for songbirds

(white flowers in spring; red berries in fall)

Partial to full shade

Well-drained soil

Grows 20–40’ tall

Hawthorn

(Crataegus aestivalis, C. flava, C. marshallii)

Fruit for songbirds, turkeys, gopher tortoises, squirrels, rabbits, foxes; browse for deer; cover for songbirds

(white flowers in spring; fruit in fall)

Full sun to partial shade

Well-drained to wet soil

Grows 20–30' tall and wide

Coralbean, Cherokee bean

(Erythrina herbacea)

Nectar and pollen for butterflies, hummingbirds

(red flowers in spring)

Full sun to partial shade

Well-drained to medium-drained soil

Grows 5–10’ tall, 8–12’ wide

Florida privet

(Forestiera segregata)

Nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies; berries for birds; nesting cover for birds

(inconspicuous yellow flowers in late winter and early spring; purple fruit in summer)

Full sun to partial shade

Well-drained to medium-drained soil

Grows 4–15’ tall

Dahoon holly

(Ilex cassine)

Nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies; berries for songbirds; browse for deer

(inconspicuous white flowers in spring, red fruits in fall)

Full sun to full shade

Medium-drained to wet soil

Grows 20–30’ high, 15–20’ wide

Possumhaw

(Ilex decidua)

Nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds

(inconspicuous white flowers in spring)

Full sun to full shade

Well-drained to wet soil

Grows 10–15’ tall, 10–15’ wide

Gallberry, inkberry

(Ilex glabra)

Nectar and pollen for bees; berries for songbirds, quail, turkeys, raccoons, coyotes, opossums; forage for gopher tortoises; browse for deer, rabbits

(inconspicuous white flowers in summer; green/black fruits in fall)

Full sun to partial shade

Medium-drained to wet soil

Grows 4–8’ tall

Yaupon holly (other than dwarf forms)

(Ilex vomitoria)

Nectar & pollen for bees, butterflies; berries for songbirds, turkeys, raccoons, squirrels; browse for deer; nesting cover for songbirds year-round

(inconspicuous white flowers in fall; red fruits in winter)

Full sun to partial shade

Well-drained to wet soil

Grows 15–30’ tall, 6–20’ wide

Wax myrtle, southern bayberry

(Myrica cerifera)

Nectar and pollen for butterflies; berries for birds; seeds for songbirds, turkeys, quail

(inconspicuous green flowers in spring; fruit and seeds fall–winter)

Full sun to partial shade

Well-drained to wet soil

Grows 10–40’ tall, 20–25’ wide

Chickasaw plum

(Prunus angustifolia)

Nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies; berries for songbirds, gopher tortoises; cover for songbirds, quail

(white flowers late winter–early spring; red-yellow fruit in summer)

Full sun to partial shade

Well-drained soil

Grows up to 20’ tall

Carolina cherry laurel

(Prunus caroliniana)

Nectar and pollen for bees; berries for songbirds; cover for songbirds.

Note: Can be toxic to humans and livestock

(showy clusters of inconspicuous white flowers in early spring; black berries late summer–fall)

Full sun to partial shade

Moist to well-drained soil

Grows up to 30’ tall

Flatwoods plum, hog plum

(Prunus umbellata)

Nectar and pollen for bees; fruit for gopher tortoises, foxes, opossums, raccoons, deer, bears; browse for deer

(white flowers in spring; red-purple fruit summer–fall)

Full sun to partial shade

Well-drained to wet soil

Grows 12–20’ tall and wide

Common elderberry

(Sambucus nigra)

Berries for songbirds; browse for deer

(white flowers in spring and summer; black fruits available in fall)

Full sun to partial shade

Well-drained to wet soil

Grows up to 12’ tall

Saw palmetto

(Serenoa repens)

Berries for gopher tortoises, mammals; cover for birds and mammals

(black berries in summer)

Full sun to partial shade

Well-drained soil

Grows up to 6’ tall

Sometimes poor survival after planting

Sparkleberry, tree huckleberry

(Vaccinium arboreum)

Nectar & pollen for bees, butterflies; berries for songbirds, quail, gopher tortoises, bears; browse for deer, rabbits; nesting cover for songbirds

(white flowers in spring; fruit in summer)

Partial sun to full shade

Medium- to well-drained soil

Grows up to 20’ tall

Highbush blueberry

(Vaccinium corymbosum)

Nectar and pollen for bees; berries for songbirds, quail, turkeys, gopher tortoises, rabbits, squirrels, bears, deer

(white flowers in Spring; blue fruits in summer)

Full sun to partial shade

Medium- to well-drained soil

Grows up to 12’ tall

Shiny blueberry

(Vaccinium myrsinities)

Nectar and pollen for bees; berries for songbirds, turkeys, quail, gopher tortoises; browse for deer

(blue/black berries in summer)

Full sun to partial shade

Well-drained soil

Grows up to 3’ tall

Deerberry, dangleberry

(Vaccinium stamineum)

Nectar and pollen for butterflies; berries for songbirds, gopher tortoises

(white flowers in spring; blue fruits in summer)

Full sun to partial shade

Well-drained soil

Grows up to 15’ tall but 3–6' is more common

Possumhaw

(Viburnum nudum)

Nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies; berries for songbirds

(white flowers in spring; blue/black fruits in summer)

Shade to partial shade

Medium-drained to wet soil

Grows up to 20’ tall

Walter’s viburnum

(Viburnum obovatum)

Nectar and pollen for bees; berries for songbirds; nesting cover for songbirds year-round

(white flowers winter–spring; red/black fruits in fall)

Full sun to partial shade

Well-drained soil

Grows 8–25’ tall, 6–10’ wide

Table 4. 

Trees

Common name

(Latin name)

Benefits to wildlife

Growing conditions

Hickory

(Carya aquatica, C. glabra, C. illinoinensis, C. tomentosa)

Nuts for turkeys, ducks, squirrels

Full sun to full shade

Well-drained soil

Grows 30–100’ tall

Persimmon

(Diospyros virginiana)

Fruit for opossums, raccoons, foxes, deer; browse for deer; cover for songbirds

(yellow-orange fruit in summer)

Full sun to full shade

Well-drained soil

Grows up to 50’ tall

American beech

(Fagus grandifolia)

Larval food for moths; nuts for songbirds, ducks, squirrels, chipmunks

(nuts in fall)

Full to partial shade

Medium-drained to wet soil

Grows up to 100’ tall

Tulip poplar, yellow poplar

(Liriodendron tulipifera)

Nectar for hummingbirds; fruit for songbirds, quail, rabbits, squirrels; cover for songbirds; browse for deer

(yellow-orange flowers in late spring; fruit in fall)

Full sun to partial shade

Well-drained soil

Grows up to 200’ tall

Southern magnolia

(Magnolia grandiflora)

Seeds for squirrels, opossums, quail, and turkeys; cover for songbirds

(white flowers spring–summer)

Full sun to partial shade

Medium-drained to wet soil

Grows up to 65’ tall, 30’ wide

Sweetbay

(Magnolia virginiana)

Larval food for butterflies; seeds for songbirds; browse for bears, deer; cover for songbirds

(white flowers spring–summer)

Full sun to partial shade

Medium-drained to wet soil

Grows 40–60’ tall

Red mulberry

(Morus rubra)

Nectar, pollen, and larval food source for butterflies; berries for songbirds, ducks, woodpeckers, opossums, raccoons, squirrels; browse for deer

(inconspicuous green flowers spring–summer; pinkish-black berries in fall)

Full sun to full shade

Well-drained to wet soil

Grows up to 60’ tall

Blackgum

(Nyssa sylvatica)

Fruit for songbirds, turkeys; browse for deer; cover for songbirds

(blue fruit in fall)

Full sun to partial shade

Well-drained to wet soil

Grows up to 120’ tall

White oak

(Quercus alba)

Acorns for ducks, quail, turkeys, squirrels, rabbits, bears, deer; browse for deer, rabbits; nesting cover for songbirds

(acorns in fall)

Full sun to partial shade

Well-drained soil

Grows 100’ tall

Laurel oak, diamond-leaf oak

(Quercus laurifolia)

Acorns for ducks, quail, turkeys, raccoons, squirrels, deer; nesting cover for songbirds

(acorns in winter)

Full sun to partial shade

Well-drained soil

Grows 70’ tall

Sabal palm

(Sabal palmetto)

Fruit for songbirds, gopher tortoises, raccoons, squirrels; cover for songbirds, bats, frogs, lizards

(black berries in summer)

Full sun to partial shade

Well-drained to wet soil

Grows up to 60’ tall, 15’ wide

Provides food for bees

Provides food for butterflies and/or moths

Provides food for hummingbirds

Provides food for ducks and/or waterfowl

Provides food or nesting cover for songbirds

Provides food for ground-nesting birds (northern bobwhite quail, wild turkey)

Provides food or cover for gopher tortoises and/or other reptiles and amphibians

Provides food for medium-sized mammals such as foxes, opossums, rabbits, chipmunks, and/or squirrels

Provides food for large mammals such as deer and/or bears

Footnotes

1.

This document is WEC339, one of a series of the Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date October 2013. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Holly K. Ober, associate professor/Extension specialist, Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation; and Gary W. Knox, professor/Extension specialist, Department of Environmental Horticulture. UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.