Leslie and Alfred Romeu’s entire backyard is a colorful nursery, filled with plants native to Florida: milkweed, an important food source for butterflies; salvia coccinea, a red-flowered sage; dune sunflowers, which resemble yellow daisies, and fire bush, an orange-flowered shrub that can grow as high as 10 feet and is much loved by hummingbirds.
Pictured above: Alfred and Leslie Romeu with daughter Mabel surrounded by milkweed plants and other offerings at their business Native & Uncommon Plants where they specialize in Florida native plants for the home garden.
Owners of Native and Uncommon Plants, the couple’s little home nursery specializes in the types of flowers, herbs, shrubs and trees that flourish in Northeast Florida because each is natural to the area. The kinds of plants that don’t need fertilizer or irrigation, or much upkeep. The flora that supports our ecosystem by offering birds and butterflies food and shelter.
Native plants, according to the Florida Native Plant Society, are those that were present in Florida prior to 1513, when Europeans arrived. These are the types that homeowners should plant in their gardens, because each is meant to thrive here, Alfred says. As opposed to “invasives.” Invasives are foreign to the region and can wreak havoc by potentially spreading through an area, or are varieties that are carefully cultivated greenhouse plants that need a lot of fertilizer, spraying and watering just to stay alive in our unique climate.
Natives are healthier for everyone, Leslie says, because fertilizers and pesticide sprays pollute the environment. This choice is also healthier on a homeowner’s pocketbook. Because they’ll “spend less money in the long run with less water and less chemicals for plants that are beautiful and last longer,” she says.
And they are healthier on a gardener’s ego.
“A lot of people think they can’t garden because they buy plants that aren’t suitable to the area, or which are already blooming and then they die,” she says. Often she sees people in this situation turn to planting grass instead, which requires fertilizers and pesticides while increasing water usage.
Many people, whether they realize it or not, have some non-native plants growing in their yards, which they’d do well to remove and replace with natives, says Alfred. When he and Leslie bought their home, invasives such as air potatoes, elephant ears and Chinese tallow trees were growing there, and the couple is still trying to get rid of them. Once planted, invasives tend to flourish, compete with natives for resources and aggressively jockey for position.
Choosing the right natives for your yard can be confusing, because some need sun, while others need shade, thus location is important, Leslie says. It’s important to do your homework. Even a plant such as milkweed, known to be important for Monarch butterflies, can cause confusion because many places sell Tropical or Mexican milkweed, which blooms longer than native milkweed. The longer bloom period keeps butterflies in the area longer, preventing them from migrating on schedule.
“I’ve known people who bought Tropical milkweed,” Alfred says, “and watched caterpillars die on it.”
The Romeus are passionate about organic gardening and preserving the environment. It is what drove them into starting this new venture. “Jacksonville is going to a more organic route,” Leslie says. “So being in that wave ourselves, it was a very big draw.”
Go Native Garden Overhaul
The Romeus recommend removing common non-native plants and replacing them with suitable natives, such as these listed below.
• Chinese Tallow tree with Florida Sugar Maple
• Lantana, Shrub Verbena with Dune Sunflower
• Brazilian Pepper with Yaupon Holly
• Heavenly Bamboo with Wild Coffee
• Mexican Petunias with Purple Coneflowers
• Asparagus Fern with Coontie
• Elephant Ear with Giant Sword Fern
• Japanese Honeysuckle with Coral Honeysuckle
Creating a Hummingbird Garden
Some native Florida plants are “pollinators,” they provide food for butterflies and birds, especially hummingbirds, which expend so much energy that they need to consume three times their body weight in nectar every day.
To attract hummingbirds to your yard, Native and Uncommon Plants recommends the following pollinator plants:
- Indian pink
- Fire bush
- Coral Bean
Native and Uncommon Plants is a nursery that is accessed by appointment only. For more information visit nativeanduncommonplants.com.