10 Best Native Plants for Pensacola

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close- up of the fanned-out fronds of saw palmetto

Pensacola has a lot to offer nature lovers, from our infamous sugary-white beaches to miles of hiking trails on the University of West Florida campus to a variety of beautiful native plants. Invite a little piece of this abundant nature into your own backyard by filling your garden with some of those Pensacola native plants. 

Why should you choose native plants for your landscape? Here are a few of the benefits:

  • They’re easier to take care of than non-natives because they survive and thrive naturally in Pensacola’s climate. 
  • They attract beneficial wildlife such as pollinators and birds to your garden.
  • They use fewer pesticides and fertilizers than non-natives, reducing chemical pollutants that damage local ecosystems and potentially contaminate drinking water. 

Native plants are better for you and the environment! If you’re ready to transform your landscape into a low-maintenance native garden bursting with life, here are 10 native plants for Pensacola to help you get started. 

Note: Anyone who lives here knows the Northwest Panhandle is VERY different from South Florida. So, not all Florida native plants are good choices for Pensacola. Look for species native to the Escambia County area specifically (such as the plants on this list). 

10 native plants for your Pensacola yard

1. American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

American beautyberry is a decorative shrub with light green leaves on long, floppy branches. From late summer through early fall, when most flowers have finished blooming for the year, American beautyberry provides a bright pop of color with abundant clusters of purple berries on every branch. Those berries are good for more than just looks — they’re edible for humans and an important food source for local wildlife, such as birds and deer. 

Even if you don’t know it, you’ve probably seen American beautyberry on the Pensacola roadsides or even in your own yard! It’s one of the most common plants in Florida, both in nature and in landscapes. 

  • Growth habit: Shrub
  • Mature size: 3-8 feet tall and 4-8 feet wide
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Foliage: Deciduous in Pensacola (can be evergreen further south) 
  • Sunlight needs: Full sun or partial shade
  • Soil preferences: Can grow in nutrient-poor sandy soils but performs best in loam soil high in organic matter
  • Water needs: Needs about 1 inch of water per week including rainfall (may need weekly watering during dry spells)
  • Potential hazards: Non-toxic and no safety hazards 

2. Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

Black-eyed Susan is one of the most popular wildflowers for landscaping because it’s easy to maintain and reseeds itself (which means new flowers will grow to replace the original after it dies). Blooms feature bright yellow petals surrounding a brown or dark purple spot in the middle. 

These flowers can survive almost anything, including salty air and soil — perfect for homes in coastal areas like Pensacola Beach, Gulf Breeze, or Navarre. 

  • Growth habit: Flower
  • Mature size: 1-3 feet tall and 1-2 feet wide at the base
  • Duration: Biennial or short-lived perennial
  • Foliage: N/A
  • Sunlight needs: Full sun
  • Soil preferences: Grows well in most soil types
  • Water needs: Water about once per week including rainfall; never let the soil get completely dry 
  • Potential hazards: Low toxicity; sap can irritate the skin 

3. Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)

With support from a trellis, wall, or fence, coral honeysuckle grows as a clumping vine. Without support, it spreads along the ground as a ground cover. The plant produces showy, tubular flowers in bright reddish-orange from spring to fall. It produces more blooms when climbing up a structure as opposed to growing on the ground. 

However you grow it, coral honeysuckle’s flowers will attract hummingbirds to your yard. Spring azure and snowberry clearwing butterflies use the plant as a larval host, so expect to see a lot of them, too. 

  • Growth habit: Vine or ground cover
  • Mature size: Spreads 3-20 feet high or along the ground
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Foliage: Usually evergreen but may be deciduous in colder years
  • Sunlight needs: Full sun or partial shade
  • Soil preferences: Can grow in most soil types as long as it gets good drainage 
  • Water needs: Needs about 1 inch of water per week including rainfall (may need weekly watering during dry spells)
  • Potential hazards: Toxic to pets and people if ingested

4. Lanceleaf blanket flower (Gaillardia aestivalis)

For a long time, gardeners thought the common blanket flower (scientific name Gaillardia pulchella) was a Florida native, but a research study in 2020 found that it probably isn’t native here, although it is popular and grows well in the local climate. In North Florida, you can still enjoy the beauty of blanket flowers with a native species, the lanceleaf blanket flower. 

Both Gaillardia species, the native and the adapted one, grow along the ground as a ground cover and produce blooms from spring until frost. Some years, they may bloom year-round in Pensacola. The native lanceleaf blanket flower has yellow blossoms with an interesting sparse shape and fan-shaped petals. 

  • Growth habit: Ground cover or flower 
  • Mature size: 1-3 feet tall and up to 2-foot spread
  • Duration: Short-lived perennial
  • Foliage: N/A
  • Sunlight needs: Full sun
  • Soil preferences: Can grow in most soil types as long as it gets good drainage
  • Water needs: Drought-tolerant once established; usually only needs supplemental watering in very hot, dry conditions
  • Potential hazards: All parts of the plant can irritate the skin

5. Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris)

Longleaf pines are some of the most common trees in the Florida Panhandle. While they’re more common in nature than landscapes, longleaf pines can make a great hardy, low-maintenance specimen plant because they’re drought- and salt-tolerant and rarely have issues with pests or plant diseases. 

If you plant a new longleaf pine in your yard, you’ll have to wait for it to grow. These trees grow very slowly at first and will remain in a juvenile, grass-like form for five to seven years. Once they grow to their mature height, longleaf pines have a very deep root system, which makes them less likely to fall during high winds. A longleaf pine would make a good addition to a hurricane-resistant landscape. 

  • Growth habit: Tree
  • Mature size: Up to 125 feet tall and 30-40 feet wide at the crown
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Sunlight needs: Grow best in full sun but tolerate partial shade 
  • Soil preferences: Sandy, well-draining soils
  • Water needs: Water new seedlings frequently; drought tolerant once established 
  • Potential hazards: Non-toxic; drops large pine cones that can be up to a foot in length 

6. Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens)

Saw palmetto is one of Pensacola’s native palms. It’s a low-growing, multi-trunked species with spiky, fan-shaped fronds. Saw palmetto spreads on its own and grows rapidly in the right soil conditions, so leave plenty of room for it. You can use saw palmetto in the landscape as a ground cover or a decorative shrub-like specimen plant. 

  • Growth habit: Ground cover or shrub
  • Mature size: Typically 3-8 feet tall and 4-6 feet wide in the landscape but can reach up to 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide 
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Sunlight needs: Prefers full sun but will grow in almost any sun exposure  
  • Soil preferences: Loam or sandy soils that drain well
  • Water needs: Very drought-tolerant once established 
  • Potential hazards: Non-toxic; sharp spines on leaf stalks can easily cut skin

7. Scaleleaf aster (Symphyotrichum adnatum)

Scaleleaf aster is a small, light purple flower in the same family as daisies. It blooms in late fall through early winter, so it’s great for adding a dash of fall color to your flower garden. The plant gets its name from the rough, scale-like texture of the stem and leaves. 

  • Growth habit: Flower
  • Mature size: 1-2.5 feet tall
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Foliage: N/A
  • Sunlight needs: Full sun
  • Soil preferences: Prefers rocky or sandy soils and adapts to most soil pH levels
  • Water needs: Drought-tolerant; prefers when the soil dries out between waterings
  • Potential hazards: Non-toxic and no safety hazards 

8. Southern live oak (Quercus virginiana)

The southern live oak is a classic symbol of the South and provides lots of shade during hot Pensacola summers. Southern live oaks grow huge, sprawling branches that trail close to the ground as they get longer. This is a perfect tree for climbing and playing. 

If you add a young southern live oak to your landscape, be prepared to prune it regularly for the first few decades of its life to develop a strong trunk and branch structure. It will be many years before you can enjoy the shade of your oak tree, but you’ll leave behind a wonderful legacy one day for your children or the next family who lives in your home. 

  • Growth habit: Tree
  • Mature size: Up to 60 feet tall with branches spreading up to 100 feet wide 
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Sunlight needs: Full sun or partial shade
  • Soil preferences: Any moist but well-draining soil 
  • Water needs: Young southern live oaks might need watering once a month except during winter, when rainfall provides enough water; mature trees are very drought-tolerant and most likely won’t need any watering outside of rainfall
  • Potential hazards: Acorns and leaves are toxic to pets and cause gastrointestinal upset if ingested; surface roots can damage nearby sidewalks, driveways, or other pavement

9. Southern wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera)

If you want to create a hedge or windscreen around your property using tall shrubs or plant a row of small specimen trees, the southern wax myrtle is a great option. This salt-tolerant native does well in coastal Pensacola’s salty air and soils. 

Southern wax myrtles have fragrant, glossy leaves and attractive grey bark. If growing one as a specimen tree, prune the lower branches to show off an interesting twisted trunk shape. 

  • Growth habit: Tall shrub or small tree
  • Mature size: Up to 25 feet tall, but often kept shorter than 12 feet in landscapes; up to 25 feet wide at the crown
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Sunlight needs: Prefers full sun or partial shade but also tolerates full shade 
  • Soil preferences: Grows in most soil types and pH levels
  • Water needs: Water once every 10-14 days in the absence of rain
  • Potential hazards: Non-toxic and no safety hazards 

10. Tickseed (Coreopsis spp.)

Several types of tickseed, Florida’s state wildflower, are native to the Pensacola area. That’s great news for brown-thumbed gardeners, as these bright flowers thrive in most conditions with little maintenance. 

Pensacola native tickseed varieties include:

  • Growth habit: Flower
  • Mature size: 1-4 feet tall and 1-2 feet wide at the base (depends on species)
  • Duration: Some species are perennial and some are annual
  • Foliage: N/A
  • Sunlight needs: Grows and blooms best in full sun but also can grow in partial shade
  • Soil preferences: Tolerates most soil types as long as they have good drainage 
  • Water needs: Drought-tolerant but won’t bloom as well without regular watering; water deeply whenever the top 1-2 inches of soil dry out (usually about once per week) for the most blooms possible
  • Potential hazards: Non-toxic and no safety hazards 

How to choose the best Pensacola natives for your landscape 

Just because a plant is native to the Pensacola area doesn’t mean it will do well in your yard. Make sure your yard has the right type of soil and gets the right amount of sun exposure for the plants you choose. 

You also should know a plant’s USDA Hardiness Zone range before planting it. Pensacola’s Hardiness Zone is 8b to 9a, indicating that the coldest annual temperature is 15 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit. All the native plants on this list are cold-hardy enough for Pensacola’s zone, which means they won’t die here in winter. 

For more information on how to choose the best plants for your yard, see our Florida native plant guide

Where to find native plants in Pensacola

Take a look around your home. You may find some of these native plants already growing in your yard! If they’re not already there and you want to introduce them, source your native plants ethically. Never remove plants from the wild to transplant them into your yard, as this can disturb wildlife habitats. 

Instead, check out the selection at one of these local nurseries that Pensacola News Journal recommends when shopping for native plants:

Once you’ve filled your garden with low-maintenance native plants, it might be time to turn your attention to the lawn. Make sure you have one of the best grass types for Pensacola for the healthiest lawn possible. Then, keep your grass healthy without breaking a sweat by hiring one of Lawn Love’s local pros to handle lawn care for you. 

Main Photo Credit: Forest and Kim Starr | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

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