Identifying Florida Trees and Shrubs in My Backyard

My Florida yard is very small but I have wild growth on two sides. A vacant lot behind the house is full of trees, brush, and vines and it’s where I set up my bird feeders for the Painted Buntings. I have identified some of the growth thanks to a good site I finally found.

Searching for photos online has proven difficult because often there is no image of the leaves. The whole tree or bush is not really helpful without some up close images.

I’m adding photos from my yard to this page to help me remember what is what. I have to know what to keep and what to destroy as I clean up.

Unknown Tree or Shrub – Laurel Fig?

This plant was uncovered as I cleaned up for a small garden space in January. The leaves are widely spaced and are dark green and oval in shape. The bark is very light gray. Possibly the Laurel Fig and if so, it is an invasive tree. I was hoping this was a nice bush to save, but it seems that I may have to cut it out.

Dark green small leaves tree type?
No name for this yet.

Read, and see amazing photos, on this interesting page on Strangler figs and how the roots cause havoc.

The Brazilian Pepper Tree is an Invasive Species – Non Native

I have a group of Brazilian Pepper trees just over my lot line. During the winter months loads of red berries appear which bring robins and other birds to feed.

It is an attractive tree, but is an invasive species and not a Florida native. In fact, the trees should be destroyed when possible according to many articles I have read. This clump of trees is huge, with a large root system. It is also not on land I own but the branches arch over my yard.

  • Dahoon holly tree with red berries
  • red berries dahoon holly
  • Robin on branch of a Dahoon holly tree
  • backyard
  • Multi-trunks of the Brazilian Pepper tree

Florida Maple Trees

The Florida maple trees lose their leaves during the cooler months. This photo was taken in February. Soon new leaves will form. I saved this little tree which is growing on the edge of my property when it was covered in potato vines (see below) and unable to grow. Now this maple tree is thriving and has tripled in size.

Leafless maple tree in winter
The Maple tree loses leaves in winter

The Elderberry Shrub – Florida Native

I’ve included a new volunteer Elderberry with a photo of the larger Elderberry in the woods. The tree has pretty white clumps of flowers and dark berries during the warmer months. The berries are toxic to humans when raw, but edible when cooked. Many animals and birds can eat the berries, but I think I will pass!

  • White flowers of the Florida Elderberry
  • flowering Elderberry in woods
  • Elderberry leaves and flower head
  • Elderberry flowers
  • Florida Elderberry
  • Elderberry white flowering tree
  • Elderberry flowers

The Beautyberry – Florida Native

When I came across this stem of berry “bubbles” I took some photos not knowing what it was. The Beautyberry bush is a Florida native plant and this one is located in my backyard.

  • Long beauty berry stem with purple berry clusters
  • purple berries
  • purple beauty berry
  • purple berries

FYI: UF Plant Directory Page for Native and Non-native plants, with photos

The Annoying Potato Vine / Air Potato

There are many obnoxious and non-native vines in Florida. Most were purposely brought here for some reason and then they grew out of control. The potato vine is one. See my photos below and more photos at the UF site.

Because of the long months of agreeable weather for growing, vines can easily take over a landscape. The potato vine creates loads of potato-looking things of all sizes that become more vines. Native trees and shrubs can become smothered.

  • air potato vine leaves
  • large air potato in Florida
  • Hanging flowers on air potato vines
  • Potato vines smothering vegetation
  • Potatoes dropped along the edge of my yard
  • Florida air potatoes
  • potato vines
  • bags of air potatoes

Thorny vine – unknown

Leaves and thorny vines
Unknown vine with thorns

Pink Wood Sorrel – Clover

I call this pink wood sorrel plant a “clover” because of the leaves. I don’t know if it is a relative to clover, but it blooms with the prettiest little dark pink-purple flowers. I’ve had it pop up in my front garden bed all on it’s own, but this plant below I photographed along the shrub line out back.

It does die down and disappear, but comes back.

  • clover flowers pink wood sorrel
  • dark pink clover flowers pink sorrel
  • Flower cluster of pink wood sorrel

Elephant Ear – Non-native / considered invasive

I was surprised to see that the Elephant Ear plant is not a Florida native. I always associated it with this tropical climate, but it came from South America. An interesting note: The tubers of this plant can be eaten.

  • flower of the elephant ear plant
  • banana trees and elephant ears

Muscadine Grape Vine – Native (no photo)

The Muscadine Grape vine is not unwanted like the other vines mentioned here. It is a Florida native and grows all over the state.

Bottlebrush

Along the back of my lot an overgrown shrub border contains a couple of bottlebrush trees.

Lantana?

I photographed these little flowers without knowing what they were. Possibly they are Lantana, which is also an invasive plant here in Florida. It is listed as a non-native plant at the UF site.

  • pink flowers
  • Lantana

Unknown Flowering Vine – Probably the Invasive Japanese Honeysuckle

I took this photo of what I think was a vine with white flowers resembling the honeysuckle. I’m not sure if it is the invasive Japanese Honeysuckle or not. I will look for it again in the side yard when plants begin to flower. Unless….

I have been pulling out long vines with leaves similar to this vine. The description is that it grows over everything blocking out light and killing smaller plants, and the vines are definitely long enough to do that. Some of the vines I pulled have black berries, which can be seen in a photo at the link above. I’ve been dealing with the vines while cleaning up a space for my new backyard garden.

So not be tempted to plant this as it is a real pain to remove. It is NOT a Florida native, so choose a vine that is.

Florida invasive species Japanese Honeysuckle
Japanese Honeysuckle?

In Closing

Once I began to add photos and identify the growth around my yard, I have found that many of them are invasive and unwanted. Trees, shrubs and vines are labeled “invasive” when they block out native growth by taking over spots where native things should grow.

When shopping for yard plantings look for “native” plants. I will have to remove as best I can the plants that should not be allowed to grow. The new garden area I am creating already has a small Brazilian Pepper tree which is small enough to cut down.

Once I have cleaned out the vines, I’ll look for native plants to add to the landscape.

Planning a Small Backyard Garden in My Florida Yard

It’s January and now that the weather here in Florida is cooler, working in the yard has become a priority.

Yesterday I began to tear out vines from the back corner to see what type of trees and shrubs could be saved. The vines are everywhere and they grow up into the trees covering branches and bending small trees down.

Overgrown mess to clean up
Overgrown and neglected area of the yard

This little area of our small yard has been used to toss palm fronds and yard debris ever since we moved in. I never really knew for sure where our actual lot line was. Piles of dead branches and palm leaves can become a haven for small animals so I’ll have to be careful when cleaning up.

Backyard
Backyard lot line with neighbor’s white fence and travel trailer just beyond our hedges.

When the people behind us did some landscaping to move a big travel trailer behind their house, they tore out all the vegetation (on their side) which divides our properties. It opened up the view a lot, but they also put up a fence which required a survey and finding the lot lines.

New garde spot in my yard
Location of new garden area

Now that I can see the markers back here for our property line, I can better decide what to do with this area of the yard. First thing is to clean up the unwanted vines which are entwined all up in the trees.

Florida vines in the trees
Vines strangle the trees

Within my property line there is a large oak, tall palmetto, and another tall tree I can’t identify – it is red now, in January so maybe a red maple??? There are also smaller trees growing beneath a ton of vines. Many ferns act as ground cover in the area. I want to leave it as natural as possible while making it neater.

Overgrown mess in the yard
Yard cleanup

Yesterday I began pulling out the vines and tall grasses to uncover some growth. I don’t really know my Florida trees, so I’ll have to do a bit of investigating to identify what’s back there. I’ve begun a page listing photos of the trees, vines and shrubs to identify.

UF Florida Tree Species List

The University of Florida site also has lists of shrubs, and other ways to enhance a Florida yard for wildlife. I want this new garden area to be bird, butterfly and bee friendly. I will plant Florida native plants that attract our native wildlife.

Florida tree with dark green leaves
Unknown bush / tree – what i this???

I filled my two trash barrels with yard debris that won’t be picked up until Wednesday. Then, I will fill them again. I now have two additional piles of vines to drag down to the road.

I used to be very nervous working in my Florida yard – the yard from long ago. Back then, there were loads of snakes – some poisonous – but now most wild animals have lost their wilderness and I never see that type of thing these days. In the 4 plus years I’ve lived in this neighborhood I’ve seen three snakes. I rarely see a green lizard, and a turtle shows up now and then – not a gopher tortoise, but a water type turtle.

The worst thing I might encounter these days is fire ants hidden down in the tall grass.

I don’t like where I live, but I’ve decided to make the best of it. Cleaning up a little section of the yard will be a nice thing.

Spring in Florida is Like Fall Only Uglier

Some people will say that Florida is one big season that just gets hotter at times. But Florida does have a Spring. It’s when the leaves fall off the trees and pollen collects as a yellow film on everything day after day. Yes, Spring is like Fall / Autumn here, in a way. It’s a duller, more annoying, version of Fall.

Florida oaks with moss branching over a road
Live Oaks – Spring

There are no colorful leaves, or crisp air to breathe, like in a real Autumn. The trees turn a brighter green with the new growth and the oaks drop those long brown things all over the cars (that don’t fit inside garages because that is where everything is stored because there are no basements). Oak leaves are small here and not like the oak leaves where I come from.

That’s about it. Other than that, new growth will appear when bushes are trimmed, but that can happen at any time of year. No use looking for tulips, forsythia, daffodils, or anything that signals Spring in many places, because those flowers don’t grow here in the jungle.

Spring Trimming of The Shrubs

A seasoned Floridian knows when to trim the shrubs. Don’t trim in winter as it will promote new growth that will freeze if the temperatures drop, which they sometimes do. Don’t trim azaleas until after they bloom in March or April. Plant new perennials well before the summer heat arrives. (Not this year. The nurseries are all closed.)

Trimmed hedge
Trimmed hedge of little ficus?

I have decided this year to try and fix up the shrubs along the front by the garage. These are hardy little things that are slow growing, so they are perfect for this area. I’m not sure of what they are, maybe some sort of ficus. I imagine they were planted when the house was built. Unfortunately, the sprinkler system didn’t reach them, and they’ve been ignored since I moved in over three years ago. I’m so sorry, but you did well enough without my help.

new growth on the shrubs
New growth

Now it’s time I paid attention and helped them out. I just recently cut them back a lot. The leaves were looking bad, as you can see I’m my photo. The stems had become spindly and leafless. I’m hoping that this trim will help them to fill out.

new growth on green shrubs

Already there is lots of new growth on the stems. I’ve added topsoil, fertilizer and mulch to this section of garden. My son bought, and installed, a little sprinkler head that sprays this garden specifically. It shouldn’t be long before this hedge is looking thick and lush.

Creating a Front Garden

Last winter and into spring, I decided to begin creating a front garden space to plant new perennials. When one older lady is doing this work herself, it takes time. I wanted to prepare the bed by killing the grass and weeds and adding some “good” dirt.

I bought the border bricks, which I put around a few other little gardens in the yard, and my son helped me move the bricks. I bought a load of dirt from a local landscape center and put that on top of my saved newspaper.

new garden
Getting the ground ready for a new garden

In New Hampshire this newspaper trick worked pretty well. Paper plus a layer of dirt kills the stuff underneath. I used to do it so it could sit over winter. But Florida growth is a different beast. For one thing it never really stops growing. There is no ice and snow to make it dormant. The newspaper and cardboard did help but some grass and lots of dollar weed came right up through everything.

Also grass here is not the slightest like northern grass. This grass is in vine form and it’s tough stuff. You don’t want to have to dig it up.

front garden area
The weeds are thriving

A strange tall weed began to grow and I let it. I still have no idea what it was. Once it got big, it had a few pretty little yellow flowers. Eventually the whole thing died and I pulled it out. Weeds can be interesting and beautiful.

Yellow flowers on tall weed
This weed had pretty little golden yellow flowers

All in all the work I did to remove the grass worked pretty well, but I still had a lot of stuff to pull up. The dollar weed is under control. The older part of the garden, as you can see below, is full of plants. My hydrangea looks pretty bad, but it’s alive. The blooming New Guinea impatiens are some of my favorites as they last a long time and brighten the yard for months. The red bromeliad was a Christmas gift from a friend.

Front garden with extension
Front garden Spring 2020

The new garden area, in the back on the photo above, contains only two crotons which I began from cuttings, and a spiky agave plant- at least I think that is what it is. I got it from a neighbor and haven’t been able to find a spot to plant it. Finally it’s “roots” were breaking the pot apart, so I stuck it here. But it will be in the way of the sprinkler head, so it might have to go. These things get huge!

Agave plant
New croton plant
The baby crotons are doing okay

My plan for this time of year was to buy some new plants for the front garden. I hadn’t decided for sure what plants, but a trip to Pells Nursery would have helped me decide. Now that everything is closed, thanks to the Coronavirus, and we have to stay home, I can’t very well shop for plants. So… change of plans.

I’m currently planning to plant some vegetable seeds I have saved in this empty garden space.