Native plants, evolved over thousands of years to provide the base of the ecosystem food web, supports insects, birds, reptiles, mammals, and humans. Over the past seven decades throughout South Florida, urbanization has expanded exponentially. As South Florida’s urban population continues to grow, intact, ecologically productive land becomes fragmented and transformed into lawns filled with exotic ornamental plants and monoculture lawns. These new Florida landscapes no longer support functioning ecosystems, and the remaining isolated natural areas are not large enough to support wildlife.
Exotic, or non-native plants, were brought across a natural boundary by humans, either accidentally or purposefully. Some species of non-native plants displace native plants and disrupt ecosystems. These plants are called “invasive” and pose threats to native ecosystems; because they did not evolve in the same conditions as the other living organisms in the ecosystem, they are not able to play the same role that native plants provide. For example, butterflies, like most insect herbivores, are specialized to feed on only a particular species of plant.
The plants shown here were documented by FAU students and staff working on the FAU Biosphere Project. Non-native plants are denoted with an asterisk, and invasive non-native plants are denoted with two asterisks. To see more Florida plants (and some of the creatures that depend on them), check out the FAU Biosphere Project at iNaturalist.
Lupine thrives in the dry, sandy soils of the scrub habitat on the FAU Ecological Preserve. The leaves are covered in many fine silvery while hairs, giving them a metallic appearance.
Ancient peoples have used some lupine species as food or medicines, but Lupinus diffusus is known primarily as a colorful addition to native gardens.
Goldenrods grow well in the dry, sandy soils of the scrub habitat on the FAU Ecological Preserve. It attracts ladybirds, lacewings, and hoverflies that can help control plant pests, making it a useful addition to a native garden.
Solidago species have been used by native populations for a variety of health remedies.
Partridge pea is found throughout the eastern United States and is common in open, sandy areas of the FAU Ecological Preserve. Bees are attracted to its flowers, and ants, wasps, and flies visit the extrafloral nectaries on the leaf petiole. It is the host plant of the clouded sulfur butterfly (Colias philodice) .
Chamaecrista species have been used by native populations for a variety of health remedies.
The American Beauty Berry is a shrub whose range covers the Southeastern United States. The name for this plant comes from the beautiful purple berries that grow in clusters up and down the stems.
The Muscadine Grape is a high-climbing, vigorous vine that can reach lengths of over 90 feet in good conditions. The leaves are large and shiny, with broad, blunt teeth. The berries can range in color from purple-black to bronze, and they ripen in September and October. (“Vitis rotundifolia .”)