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FNGLA Names 10 Plants as the

2009 Florida Plants of the Year & the Best of the Decade
by Jennifer Nelis
December 28, 2008

Launched a decade ago, the Florida Plants of the Year program celebrates plants ideal for each of Florida’s three geographic regions. Each year, a selection of Florida’s best plants are hand-picked by a jury of distinguished horticulturists representing the different facets of the state’s diverse nursery and landscape industry.

2009 brings an exciting year as we mark the 10th anniversary of the program and announce the best selections from the past decade of Florida Plants of the Year. The 2009 Plants of the Year consists of 10 plants – one representing each year of the program’s success.

The 10 plants are deemed the Plants of the Decade and include three flowering shrubs: one evergreen with pink flowers and guava-like fruit, one semi-woody butterfly attractor and the third, a low grower with masses of small white flowers. The remaining seven plants are a clumping fern, a flowering ground cover, a robust palm, a deciduous tree, a clumping native palm, a heat-tolerant perennial and a versatile houseplant.

Acca sellowiana/Pineapple Guava Zones: North, Central & South Florida

Mature Height & Spread: 8’ – 12’ tall and wide, can be kept lower with regular pruning

Classification: Evergreen, landscape shrub or small tree

Landscape Use: Background planting, foundation planting, hedge or specimen shrub for full sun to partial shade

Characteristics: Pineapple Guava is a large, very cold hardy, disease-resistant, salt-tolerant evergreen shrub. Leaves are grey-green on top and silvery and slightly fuzzy on the undersides. Spring flowers have dark red showy stamens surrounded by pink and white waxy petals which are edible and have a slight pineapple flavor. Pineapple guava produces an edible, oblong guava-like fruit about the same size and shape as a chicken egg. Acca was formerly known as Feijoa. Photo courtesy of


Arachis glabrata/Perennial Peanut Zones: North, Central & South Florida

Mature Height & Spread: 6” – 12” tall X 2’ – 4’ wide

Classification: Native ground cover

Landscape Use: Flowering ground cover, turf replacement, hard-to-mow areas

Characteristics: With perky, rounded, bright yellow blooms, this drought-tolerant, evergreen plant is a great ground cover ideally suited for a well-drained soil in a sunny area. Perennial peanut adds great interest when in bloom bearing yellow flowers during late spring, summer and fall and crawls along the ground spreading as it grows. It does well when inter-planted with grass, is mowable and is a possible turf replacement as it remains extremely low, some varieties are no more than 6” off the ground. Photo courtesy of


Bismarckia nobilis (silver form)/Bismarck Palm Zones: Central & South Florida

Mature Height & Spread: 30’ – 50’ tall, 10’ – 15’ wide

Classification: Palm tree

Landscape Use: Specimen plant best for large areas

Characteristics: A massive, robust, stout, symmetrical palm with large silver-blue colored fronds extending from a central trunk which is smooth when mature. Even young Bismarck palms appear massive as they sport full crowns of about 25 leaves and a full spread dominating the landscape. Both sides of the leaf stems have a sharp edge. Once established, this palm is drought tolerant and needs no additional water to sustain in the landscape. Photo courtesy of


Dryopteris erythrosora/Autumn Fern Zones: North, Central & South Florida

Mature Height & Spread: 24” x 24”

Classification: Herbaceous perennial

Landscape Use: Mass planting in shaded areas

Characteristics: This clumping fern has upright foliage reaching 24” in height and spread. Sometimes called Japanese Shield Fern, its young foliage is eye-catching bronzy-red maturing into a glossy, dark green. The best growth is achieved in a well-drained soil in light shade. Though water requirements are moderate, autumn fern will signal its water stress by wilting and changing its foliage’s color. Photo courtesy of


Hamelia patens/Firebush Zones: Parts of North, all of Central & South Florida

Mature Height & Spread: 10’ X 6’ in warmer areas, but typically maintained as a smaller shrub

Classification: Native semi-woody evergreen shrub or small tree

Landscape Use: As a hedge, mixed border, stand-alone shrub, butterfly garden plant

Characteristics: From March to November, Firebush exhibits its showy flowers which are a big attractor to butterflies and hummingbirds. The leaves of this evergreen shrub are reddish for much of the year, turning green as the leaves mature. Its berries are black in color and are a good source of food for local wildlife. The drought-tolerant Firebush thrives in full sun to partial shade and grows vigorously, particularly in spring. Dwarf varieties are available and are becoming increasingly popular. Photo courtesy of Harry P. Leu Gardens, Orlando, FL.


Serenoa repens (silver form)/Silver Saw Palmetto Zones: North, Central & South Florida

Mature Height & Spread: 6’ X 6’

Classification: Native clumping palm

Landscape Use: As mass planting, background, trendy in containers

Characteristics: Extremely slow-growing clumps form multiple trunks with slender, blue-green palm leaves. It is a cold-hardy, salt-tolerant Florida native and grows in clumps or dense thickets in sandy coastal lands or as undergrowth in pine woods or hardwood hammocks. Its leaf stalks are armed with fine, sharp teeth or spines that give the species its common name and the stalks produce fleshy, reddish-black fruits which are an important food source for woodland wildlife. The berries are also used in alternative medicine associated with urinary tract infection relief and for increased prostate health. Photo courtesy of Harry P. Leu Gardens, Orlando, FL.


Torenia fournieri ‘Summer Wave ’®/Wishbone Pansy Zones: North, Central & South Florida

Mature Height & Spread: 12” X 18 - 30”

Classification: Perennial, annual in North Florida

Landscape Use: Bedding plant, container plant and hanging baskets

Characteristics: This small stature, delicate-looking perennial spreads and trails with flowers produced in abundance all season long. The ‘Summer Wave’® series is a torenia hybrid consisting of eight varieties with colors from deep blue to violet to white with purple throats. Torenia ‘Summer Wave’® is a low-maintenance sun-lover throughout even the hottest and most humid months of the year. In the southern half of the state, if knocked out by frost, it will soon recover as temperatures rise in spring. Photo courtesy of


Ulmus alata/Winged Elm Zones: North & Central Florida

Mature Height & Spread: 45’ X 40’

Classification: Tree

Landscape Use: Shade or street tree

Characteristics: With its medium-large stature and moderate growth rate, this Florida native tree gained popularity with urban planners and can be seen in a growing array of residential settings too. The winged elm tolerates a range of soil environments and some alternation between wet and dry conditions. In summer, winged elm is an attractive tree with an upright habit and a dense round head. When it loses its leaves, the winged branches are more visible, adding to the tree’s winter interest. Photo courtesy of


Viburnum obovatum (compact forms)/Compact Walter’s Viburnum Zones: North, Central & South Florida

Mature Height & Spread: 4’ – 6’ Tall X 3’ – 4’ Wide

Classification: Native evergreen shrub

Landscape Use: Low hedge, specimen plant, mass planting

Characteristics: This Florida native features a mass of small white flowers in early springtime then reblooms in autumn. New growth appears reddish and it grows more compactly than the tree viburnum. Red fruits ripen to black in the fall attracting wildlife. In North Florida, it is semi-deciduous. It grows in a range of soils with many cultivars showing drought tolerance once established in the landscape. Many compact forms have been made and are available including ‘Whorled Class’, ‘Mrs. Shiller’s Delight’ & ‘Densa’. Photo courtesy of

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Zamioculcas zamiifolia/ZZ Zones: North, Central & South Florida

Mature Height & Spread: 2’ – 4’ tall X 3’ Wide

Classification: Tropical perennial, houseplant

Landscape Use: Accent or Specimen plant

Characteristics: This interesting succulent resembles a cycad with its thick glossy leaflets and its semi-erect “fronds.” ZZ is actually an aroid occasionally showing a yellow-brown spathe. From stout underground rhizomes, stalks with a swollen base and shiny dark green leaves arise. All parts of this plant are poisonous if ingested. ZZ’s are an extremely tough plant performing well indoors and handling neglect extremely well. New bulbs can form when leaflets are clipped and stuck directly into soil. It handles low light conditions, uses little water and has very few, if any, insect problems. It grows very slowly and appears practically picture perfect with very minimal maintenance making it a favorite for use by interiorscape professionals in commercial settings. Photo courtesy of

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