For the past few weeks, many naturally planted pine woods and sandy roadsides have been tinged lilac and purple with wildflowers. In the garden, sunny, dry, sandy areas with only natural rainfall and dew are particularly difficult sites to cultivate colorful plants. Natives do best but are deep-rooted, so will probably not survive transplanting from the wild.
Native garberia, Garberia heterophyla, has conspicuous showy heads of lavender to pinkish flowers from mid October into November in Citrus County. The small individual flowers, tubular and rayless, provide nectar for butterflies. When the flower is spent, the bush is covered in fluffy puffs containing tiny achene seeds that small songbirds eat. Wind spreads the seed to nearby natural areas.
Hardy in zones 8 to 9, garberia is a long-lived (more than 25 years), evergreen, woody shrub. Its best features are the attractive flowers in the fall when little else is blooming, dense form and the evergreen, grayish-green leaves. It is easily recognized, as no other native plant has such a flower display nor the alternate, oval, 1- to 2-inch-long leaves that stand upright along the stem.
Garberia is endemic to Florida's oak and pine scrub lands; it grows nowhere else in the world. It prefers coarse, sandy, well-drained soil in full sun to light shade. No irrigation is needed once a potted garberia is carefully planted and becomes established. In my garden, those garberia that do get some extra watering grow a little faster and taller than nearby ones and show no ill effects from occasional irrigation.
Seeds naturally disperse in late November and get covered with sand or leaf litter. Seeds can be bought from growers.
In the spring, tiny plants peek up but only grow a few inches tall with less than a dozen leaves during their first year. Meanwhile, they develop a deep, extensive root system.
By the end of the second year they may be a foot tall with several little branches. These are available from only five grower members of the Association of Florida Native Nurseries (www.afnn.org) to conscientious gardeners who want native plants for their natural planting areas and butterfly gardens.
Because potted plants in full sun and on black ground cover fabric get too hot, growers of natives put them under part shade and provide occasional water only when needed. They do not spray with insecticides or pesticides as native plants are adapted to live harmoniously in nature.
I provide a time-released fertilizer to speed growth rate, and occasionally must move the pots to prune stray roots that go exploring out of the bottom of the pots.
Growing garberia and other endemic natives is long term and labor intensive. No big-box outlets carry them but any small, privately run nurseries or landscapers can order garberia if they have the time to service their naturalist customer.
Readily available companion plants that grow in the same difficult situations as garberia include beautyberry, Callicarpa americana; wax myrtle, Myrica cerifera; gay-feather or blazing star, Liatris spicata; American, flatwood and Chichasaw plum, Prunus americana, P. umbellata and P. angustifolia; dwarf scrub palmetto, Sabal etonia; saw palmetto, Serenoa repens; and coontie, Zania plumila.
With a little diligence, your xeric landscape and butterfly garden can become a naturalistic environment - one full of color, shape, form and texture with enough variety (bio-diversity) to attract butterflies, songbirds and other wildlife that depend on native plants for nectar, food, cover from predators, and a place to raise their young.
Editor's note: This weekly article is provided by Jane Weber, professional gardener, grower, consultant, designer and environmentalist. Visit her Certified Florida Yard and Backyard Wildlife Habitat, 5019 W Stargazer Lane, Dunnellon. Call (352) 465-0649.