10 Best Native Plants For Your Tampa Yard

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close-up of a bright yellow bloom from a sea-oxeye daisy

Tampa Bay is known for its beautiful beaches, subtropical climate, and its native plants that can handle the heat and even occasional hurricane-strength winds.

Native plants are durable, low-maintenance, drought and heat tolerant, making them an excellent choice for your Tampa Bay lawn. 

Some other advantages of native plants include: 

  • Adaptable: Native plants are easy to grow and require less fertilizer than non-native plants. What this means: Native plants will adjust quickly to your lawn, even if the soil is infertile.
  • Attract Wildlife: By planting native plants, you provide food and shelter to bees, songbirds, butterflies, and squirrels. Why this important: Pollinators are vital to our ecosystem.
  • Hurricane Resistant: Most of the native plants on this list can withstand strong, gusty winds. That’s important because Tampa and St. Petersburg can experience intense storms and are often in the path of hurricanes in the summer.

So, which native plants are best for your Tampa or St. Pete yard?

We believe these are the 10 best native shrubs, trees, and flowers for those zones for our USDA Hardiness Zones (9b for Tampa and 10a for St. Pete):

1. Bald cypress (taxodium distichum)

tree limbs from a bald cypress
Shawn Taylor | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Bald cypress trees are durable and beautiful, adding gorgeous color to your landscape and producing coned fruit that birds and other wildlife love.

Where does the tree get its name? The bark on the tree tends to peel.

Bald cypress can thrive in flooded areas for extended periods of time, which makes it a smart choice for coastal Tampa Bay.

Downsides: Bald cypress is susceptible to twig blight, but proper watering and fertilizing can help your tree fight back. 

  • Plant Type: Deciduous tree 
  • Hardiness Zones: 4-11
  • Sun: Full sun 
  • Water Needs: Low, this tree is drought tolerate
  • Wind Resistance: High 
  • Salt Tolerance: Moderate 
  • Soil: Loamy, moist, dry, acidic, clay, and silty 
  • Duration: Perennial 
  • Mature Height: 50-75 feet 

2. Sabal palm (sabal palmetto) 

close up of palm fronds form a sabal palm
Calmuziclover | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

When most people think of Florida palm trees, they envision sabal palms. The towering sabal palm has curved, fan-shaped palm fronds and smooth bark. In spring it produces small white flowers that attract bumblebees and other pollinators. This tree is also known as a cabbage palm because its immature leaves are edible

Florida’s official state tree is a great addition to your Tampa or Saint Petersburg yard because of its hurricane wind resistance.

  • Plant Type: Palm 
  • Hardiness Zones: 7-11
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade 
  • Water Needs: Low 
  • Wind Resistance: High 
  • Salt Tolerance: Moderate 
  • Soil: Loamy and sandy; adaptable to a wide range of soil pH
  • Duration: Perennial 
  • Mature Height: 100 feet 

3. Sea grape (coccoloba uvifera)

long clusters of sea grapes surrounded by large leaves
Malcolm Manners | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Sea grapes are a protected species, which means you can’t touch ones found in their natural habitat (like along the coastline), but you can plant new ones on your Tampa property.

Sea grapes are edible, though they don’t taste like the traditional grapes you’d find at the grocery store. You can use the grapes to make jelly, jam, and wine. Songbirds, gophers, and lizards like to hide among this tree’s canopy, and pollinators feed on its white flowers. 

What makes sea grape great for Tampa yards? This native plant is extremely drought and salt tolerant.

  • Plant Type: Evergreen shrub or tree 
  • Hardiness Zones: 10-11 
  • Sun: Full sun, moderate shade 
  • Water Needs: Low 
  • Wind Resistance: High 
  • Salt Tolerance: High 
  • Soil: Sandy 
  • Duration: Perennial 
  • Mature Height: 35-50 feet 

4. White stopper (eugenia axillaris) 

green and yellow leaves from a white stopper plant
Sam Fraser-Smith from Brisbane, Australia | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 2.0

White stoppers can be found growing in the wild as well as in your neighbor’s yard.

White stopper’s flowers are white or pale yellow with multiple long stamens shooting out of the middle, giving them a frilly appearance. Little round, red fruits form on the tree in the fall. This shrub has an intense aroma that some say is a skunky or earthy smell. 

White stopper can be used as hedges or privacy screens and are a great addition to your Tampa-St. Pete yard because they withstand hurricane-force winds.

  • Plant Type: Evergreen shrub 
  • Hardiness Zones: 9-11
  • Sun: Partial shade, partial sun 
  • Water Needs: Low 
  • Wind Resistance: High 
  • Salt Tolerance: High
  • Soil: Moist, sandy, loamy, limestone soils; well-drained soils 
  • Duration: Perennial 
  • Mature Height: 10-30 feet 

5. Shiny leaf wild coffee (psychotria nervosa)

shiny leaf wild coffee with red berries
Katja Schulz | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Florida is the only state where shiny leaf wild coffee grows. The shrub is native to the Caribbean and Central and South America.

Shiny leaf wild coffee has small, white flower clusters in spring and summer and produces red berries in the fall. The berries resemble real coffee beans, but they do not contain caffeine. Shiny leaf wild coffee’s deep green leaves have a waxy appearance.

When grown in the shade, shiny leaf wild coffee can appear more like a tree with a canopy than a rounded bush. It does not tolerate cold, so plant it after the last frost, if one occurs. 

Note: Shiny leaf wild coffee has moderate salt tolerance and is not the best shrub for properties directly along the coast. 

  • Plant Type: Shrub 
  • Hardiness Zones: 9-11
  • Sun: Partial to full shade 
  • Water Needs: Moderate 
  • Wind Resistance: Moderate 
  • Salt Tolerance: Low/moderate
  • Soil: Sandy and loamy soils that need to be adequately drained
  • Duration: Perennial 
  • Mature Height: 4-10 feet 

6. Sea-oxeye daisy (borrichia frutescens)

close-up of a bright yellow Sea-oxeye daisy
Bob Peterson, North Palm Beach, Florida | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 2.0

Sea-oxeye daisy is a flowering shrub that produces dark yellow, daisy-like blooms on year-round. The flowers provide nectar for bees and native butterflies like the large orange sulfur butterfly. The sea-oxeye daisy also produces small black fruits that are food for birds and other wildlife.

Sea-oxeye daisy can be used as a ground cover, or it can be planted singularly as an addition to your garden. In the wild, this shrub is mostly found along salt marshes, beach dunes and mangroves.

The main benefit of this hardy shrub for your Tampa yard? Sea-oxeye daisy is able to withstand salty water from a storm surge.  

  • Plant Type: Shrub 
  • Hardiness Zones: 8b-11
  • Sun: Full sun, light shade 
  • Water Needs: Low 
  • Wind Resistance: Moderate
  • Salt Tolerance: High 
  • Soil: Sandy, loamy, clay, mud
  • Duration: Perennial 
  • Mature Height: 2-6 feet 

7. Seaside goldenrod (solidago sempervirens)

small, yellow seaside goldenrod flowers
Sam Fraser-Smith from Brisbane, Australia | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 2.0

Seaside goldenrod is a short-lived perennial flower that thrives in coastal areas like Tampa. It has clusters of small yellow flowers that bloom on long stalks.

Seaside goldenrod attracts a variety of pollinators, from monarchs who drink the nectar to goldenrod soldier beetles who enjoy feeding on the flowers. The nectar can even be used to make honey.

This native plant has a strong Florida connection: Seaside goldenrod was once used by the Seminoles to care for wounds. 

  • Plant Type: Herbaceous flower
  • Hardiness Zones: 5-10 
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water Needs: Regular watering 
  • Wind Resistance: Moderate 
  • Soil: Sandy, well-drained 
  • Salt Tolerance: Moderate/high 
  • Duration: Perennial 
  • Mature Height: 2.5-8 feet 

8. Butterfly milkweed (asclepias tuberosa)

red and orange butterfly milkweed
John Flannery | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Monarch butterflies love butterfly milkweed, and planting these in your garden can help keep this endangered species alive. This plant blooms with multiple orange and yellow flowers and straight, hairy stems throughout the summer and early fall.

Note: Unlike other milkweeds, butterfly milkweed has a translucent sap that does not irritate the skin. 

  • Plant Type: Wildflower 
  • Hardiness Zones: 3-9 
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Water Needs: High when being established 
  • Wind Resistance: Low 
  • Salt Tolerance: Moderate 
  • Soil: Well-drained, dry, rocky, and clay soils 
  • Duration: Perennial
  • Mature Height: 1-2 feet

9. Bidens alba (asteraceae)

Close-up of Bidens alba which are white flowers with a yellow center
Forest & Kim Starr | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 3.0

Bidens alba — also known as butterfly needles, beggarticks, and shepherd’s needles — is a quick-growing Florida wildflower that can be so invasive that many people consider it a weed.

Bidens alba has tri-leaves, prickly seeds, and dainty white flowers with yellow centers that attract local bees and butterflies. The leaves on Bidens alba are edible and are used for their medicinal properties. 

Downsides: Bidens alba proliferates quickly and is invasive. As a result, Bidens alba can be hard to control in flower beds, borders, and walkways.

  • Plant Type: Wildflower 
  • Hardiness Zones: 8-11
  • Sun: Full sun 
  • Water Needs: Low
  • Wind Resistance: Moderate 
  • Salt Tolerance: Low 
  • Soil: Sandy, moist, infertile, fertile, and loose dirt. Not salt tolerant. 
  • Duration: Annual
  • Mature Height: 1-3 feet  

10. Seaside heliotrope (heliotropium curassavicum)

Seaside heliotrope with small white flowers and green leaves
Franco Folini from San Francisco | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 2.0

Seaside heliotrope (or salt heliotrope) flowers are white with light yellow centers. They grow in double rows and look almost like a caterpillar crawling across the stem. The leaves are green with a blue tint and are dusted with white powder. Each flower on the seaside heliotrope produces a small nut-like fruit that local birds love to eat. 

Seaside heliotrope is the perfect plant to enhance your Tampa yard or can be used as a protective ground cover.

  • Plant Type: Flower 
  • Hardiness Zones: 10-11
  • Sun: Full sun, partial shade (more tolerant of shade than other native flowers) 
  • Water Needs: Low 
  • Wind Resistance: High
  • Salt Tolerance: High 
  • Soil: Dry dirt, gravel, sand, slightly alkaline and infertile soils
  • Duration: Perennial 
  • Mature Height: 3 inches – 1 foot 

Why native plants make gardening easier 

Native plants provide so many benefits to your Tampa-St Pete garden: These flowers, shrubs, and trees have adapted to the region, so they require less water, fertilizer, pesticides, and overall maintenance.

Native plants also help provide shelter for squirrels and songbirds, and food for pollinators and other insects. And native plants help protect the environment by preventing erosion and flooding, which is important for hurricane-prone areas like Tampa-St. Pete.

Want help selecting the best native plants for your yard? Contact a Tampa lawn care pro, who can help you choose the best low-maintenance flowers, trees, and shrubs for your yard. You may even decide to hire him or her to take over the chores of mowing and caring for your yard.

Our list of the 10 best native plants for your Tampa yard just scratches the surface. There are hundreds of other native plants to choose from to enhance your Tampa Bay Area yard. 

If you’d like to learn about all the Florida native plants, the Florida Native Plant Society and the University of Florida’s Gardening Society are great resources. 

Main Photo Credit: gailhampshire | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

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