Floridian Nature

Learn about Florida's beautiful and unique nature.

Florida Trees: Firebush-Groundsel Tree
South Florida native firebushFirebush (Hamelia patens)- Firebush...the name says it all! This tropical shrub is known for two attributes. First, the plant shows colors that would make any blaze proud. And second, it's the only plant that I know which actually performs better the closer it gets to spontaneous combustion! The firebush hails from the gulf states of Mexico, South Florida, the West Indies, and Central and South America. In its native habitat, Firebush is known more for its herbal properties than for its ornamental value. The small black fruit is considered acidic and edible, and a fermented drink is supposedly prepared from it. The leaves and stems have been used for tanning. The crushed leaves are sometimes applied to cuts and bruises, and the crushed leaves with vinegar are applied to eruptions of the skin. The plant is also used for washes and for lotions to relieve swelling of the legs and to deodorize them. A syrup from the fruit has reportedly been used in the West Indies as a remedy for dysentery.

Florida swamp privetFlorida Swamp Privet
(Forestiera segregata)- Swamp privets are large shrubs or small trees that are native to the state of Florida. They grow 15-25 feet tall and have diamond-shaped leaves that are green-yellowish above and paler below. The bark is dark brown, thin and smooth. The flowers are tiny and greenish-yellow in color. They form small clusters in early spring before leaves appear. Male and female flowers are on separate plants. The fruit is 3/8-5/8 inch long, narrowly oblong, and dark purplish to black in color. The Florida privet in this family is an evergreen. Both species are found in wet soils bordering streams, swamps, and lakes. The plants are used for erosion control and the fruit is consumed by wild ducks.

young geiger tree in the Florida keysGeiger Tree (Cordia sebestena)- Also known as the orange geiger tree, the geiger tree is a small shapely tree which grows up to be  25" tall and as wide. It is native to the northern coast of South America, Yucatan, the West Indies, and the Florida Keys.  Named after Captain John H. Geiger, who built his home on Whitehead Street in Key West, the name "Geiger tree" is likely of local origin inspired by Audubon's engraving of Captain Geiger's beautiful flowering Cordia tree with white-crowned pigeons sitting in a branch. Audubon's assistant, George Lehman painted the Geiger tree. The large, 7" long, stiff, dark green leaves are rough and hairy and feel somewhat like sandpaper. An ideal tree for difficult plant soils, the geiger tree is both high drought tolerant and high flood tolerant!

blooming gopher apple found native in FloridaGopher Apple  (Licania michauxii)- Technically a shrub, gopher apple looks more like a bunch of oak seedlings or some kind of weird leather-fern ground cover. It grows with an extensive maze of underground stems that send up slender woody shoots with evergreen oak-like leaves. The leaves are stiff, simple, alternate, elliptic, and about 2-4 inches long and 1 inch wide. The leaves rise only about a foot or so above ground, but a single clonal plant can easily spread its subterranean stems and branches over more than 100 square feet. The flowers don't look anything like oak catkins. They are small, yellowish, and clustered in 4 inch triangular shaped terminal cymes that stand a little above the leaves. The fruits are green at first, turning dirty white when ripe, and about an inch long. The Gopher apple grows wild in dry pinelands, sandy roadsides, and coastal dunes on the southeastern coastal plain from South Carolina to Florida and west to Louisiana.

gray nicker foridian native plantGray Nicker (Caesalpinia bonduc L) - Gray nicker is a native vine of Florida's central and southern coastal dunes. It blooms summer through fall. Plants are erect or spreading and vine-like.  If erect in habit, it may attain a height of  approximately 4 feet;  if reclining or spreading, and using other vegetation for support, its stems may grow as much as 18 - 20 feet in length.  Sharp spines cover the stems, which may grow to 2 or more inches in diameter.  Leaves are shiny, opposite and compound, with 4-5 pairs of bipinnate leaflets, each 2 - 2.5 inches in length.  Yellow, 5-petaled flowers occur year-round in clusters on leaf axils.  Flowers are typically 1 inch wide when in full bloom.  Fruits grow in spiny, flattened pods, 4 inches in length. Two or three smooth, hard seeds, 1 inch in length, are contained in each pod.  Seeds inside pods are olive green in color, but as the pods dry to a dark red-brown color, they open and release the seeds, which then bleach in the sun to a dull gray color. 

young groundsel tree, starting to bloom in FloridaGroundsel Tree  (Baccharis halimifolia L) -A common and widespread species in forest edges and in thickets, the groundsel tree can be aggressive when planted, spreading readily from seed, so caution is advisable. This Medium erect shrub or rarely a small tree has a narrow, conical crown. The groundsel tree, often called saltbush, or sea-myrtle, has a short trunk that gets up to 5 inches in diameter. It's leaves are 1/2 to 3 inches long, and firm. The groundsel tree has dark brown bark with long shallow ridges. The groundsel tree's range is from  the Eastern and southeastern United States south to the Monroe County Keys, and down to the West Indies.
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