The Gulf Coast is home of interesting plants that demand a lifetime.
Dan Mullins, retired Extension Agent with the University of Florida in Santa Rosa County, provides insight into why our area is a prime region for the study of native plants in today’s garden article.
Our coastal counties allow us to begin in the forested coastal plain to the north and traveling south, see a remarkable plant transition that ends in the scrub and pioneer zone at the beach.
Close observation reveals that plant species present in each zone look different because they are genetically not the same. Each one is adapted to the specific habitat.
Following are a few examples of these special plants.
Sand Hickory (Carya pillida) and Scrub or Florida Hickory (Carya floridana) are two species that grow on oak scrubland and interior sandy ridges. Most species of hickory struggle, or don’t exist on such sites, preferring moist, heavier soils.
Live Oak and Sand Live Oak are similar but there are important differences. Quercus virginiana, the standard live oak grows over a wide range of sites but prefers relatively fertile, well drained to seasonally wet soils. Sand Live Oak, Quercus geminata, inhabits sites having deep, infertile sands, coastal dunes and pine-oak scrub. It thrives where the standard live oak couldn’t exist. It’s adapted to the coast, being more tolerant of drought, wind and salt.
Woody Goldenrod, Chrysoma pauciflosulosa, is a low shrub of the coastal dunes, sandy ridges and scrubland near the coast. It’s distinguished from its inland cousin by its grayish green foliage and flat-topped yellow flowers. Standard goldenrod grows much taller and has open, tapered flower clusters and needs better soil.
There are three species and several subspecies of Black Gum or Tupelo Gum that grow in our area. The two most common species are found under much different natural conditions. Water Tupelo, Nyssa aquatica, is found in swamps, around pond margins and in floodplain fores, while sour gum, Nyssa sylvatica var. ‘sylvatica’ is adapted to well drained woodlands.
There are approximately 40 species of oaks found in the coastal counties. To see them all would require visits to several different habitats. White oak is seldom seen near the coast because it requires a soil that retains a relatively consistent soil moisture level. Other oaks found on better, moister soils include bluff oak, swamp chestnut oak, cherrybark oak, swamp laurel oak, and willow oak.
Visit the driest, most sandy natural areas and you’ll find another special group. These oaks have such common names as turkey, chapman, dwarf live, sand, and myrtle.