Sunday, December 4, 2011

Fast Growing Shrubs in South Florida I

     So this is a second attempt at blogging about Fast Growing Shrubs in South Florida since somehow I edited the HTML code & messed it up beyond return.  The real kicker is that I was almost done & it was a long one, and I had so much witty commentary too, drat!!  Oh well, hopefully this one will go smoothly, who knows maybe even a better blog than the last, lol.  :)

     When designing a landscape for any project, it's nice to use fast growing shrubs.  This way we can help save the client money by purchasing a smaller gallon pot since the shrub will sprout up in no time in South Florida's climate.  Like with any project it just depends on what type of landscape the client would like, i.e. tropical, formal, exotic specimens, butterfly garden, etc.  So let's say we have a landscape in need of some great budget conscious fast growing shrubs/bushes.  Depending on the growth habit of the shrub they can even be used as small trees.  Shrubs are typically defined as a multi-stemmed plant averaging between 3-15 feet in height, yeah it's quite vague.  So let's get started by taking a more detailed look at few of my favorite South Florida fast growing shrubs.

     The first to start the show is a truly spectacular native, the American Beautyberry, callicarpa americana, a vertically growing evergreen with super vivid purple berries that are veritable show stoppers against the backdrop of rich green leaves. The once erect branches create graceful arches with the weight of ripe berries. Birds are always stopping by to feast on the berries for a perfect winter's meal.  Bees & butterflies are constantly surrounding the multitude of tiny light pinkish purple flowers.  The soft white fuzz on the newer branches becomes airborne during trimming time; inevitably making me sneeze.  A slight touch of the American beautyberry and it's unusual spicy fragrance will literally linger on me for hours.  I guess that's why Native Americans use this as a natural mosquito & fly repellent.  The American beautyberry definitely needs room to spread as it likes to reach about 15-20 feet high by 6-8 feet wide.  American beautyberry is extremely hardy, drought tolerant, full sun loving, easy growing shrub for any landscape.
Even the ladybugs love American beautyberries
Amazing how many berries were on this branch!
The beautyberry blends in our landscape
This one is about 12 feet high.
American beautyberry shrub

     This thorn in my side is none other than the Wild Lime, zanthoxylum fagara, a wily growing evergreen native born & raised in the tropical hardwood hammocks of Florida.  This shrub grows all kinds of crazy with no rhyme or reason, branches growing over & under themselves.  Wild limes can grow as high as 25 feet by 10-15 feet wide.  Ours completely took over a corner of the yard until I got out there to tame the beast.  Don't let it's dainty bright lemon-lime leaves & tiny lemon flowers fool you, the thorns on this creature are fierce.  "Please don't throw me in 'dem 'dare wild lime patch Briar Bear!" lol, (my portrayal of Briar Rabbit)  Wild limes can be grown for privacy screens and are excellent security thickets.  The giant swallowtail butterflies use the wild lime as a host plant for their caterpillar larvae, as well as the Biscayne Prickly Ash we have in the yard.  Both are part of the citrus family.  Unfortunately the wild lime is also a host for Citrus Greening Disease which has caused millions of citrus trees in Florida to be eradicated due to citrus canker.  The wild lime is extremely resistant to wind, salt, drought, likes full sun and part shade. Yes, the wild lime has an ornery side when it wants but it's also a gentle giant protecting it's broad of baby caterpillars.
Giant swallotail butterfly caterpillar on
our wild lime.  They like to eat the new
growth with doesn't seem to phase the
wild lime one bit.
This is our wild lime before I pruned it way back.
It's about 15-18 feet high here.
     Our next contender is "THE go to plant of South Florida" (why I don't know as there are so many other plants to use) the infamous Cocoplum, chrysobalanus icaco heralding from Florida's coastal swamps, scrub land & wet woodlands.  This native has two forms of itself, a sprawling/crawling beach dune variety and the more upright variety.  It's a great all around plant for hedges, focal points & privacy screens with its glossy bright green & red flared-tip oval leaves.  Cocoplum's can grow as high as it is wide.  Florida's native Indian's as well as Florida's coastal animals rely on the cocoplum fruit as a staple part of their diet.  The pioneering women made cocoplum jellies with the small ping-pong size fruits.  If you are lucky enough you can still find a few retailers still selling the delicious sweets on your travels through Florida.  The cocoplum has stood the test of time and is a fast growing, sun lover that prefers moist well drained soil.
Cocoplum natural upright form
Cocoplum hedge
     My sweet, sweet, Sweet Almond Verbena, aloysia virgata, oh how I miss thee in our landscape.  Our's did not survive the transplant and now I have no room for this erect growing shrub.  The shape of sweet almonds make me think someone plugged it in an electrical socket & it's limbs are standing on edge.  They almost grow straight out in the full sun.  Tiny white flowers grow in clusters to form a cat tail shape that wiggles in the wind.  Not much information is out there about this hearty drought tolerant full sun loving insanely sweet smelling shrub except from experience.  The sweet almond's popularity is catching on & they are becoming more readily available at local nurseries.  Make sure you give them plenty of room to do their thing because they grow fast and does not like nor does well to harsh pruning.  Sweet almond verbena's get up to about 6-10 feet high by wide.  You will definitely smell one before you see one.  Don't resist if you find one, buy it, plant it and pull up a chair to enjoy nature's aromatherapy plus it is spectacular to look at.
Sweet Almond Verbena close up
Since I didn't have any pics of the sweet almond I
had in our garden I looked for some online & found this
picture from Jeanni's blog, Roses & Gargoyles, which is a
very accurate example of how big they can get.  Thanks Jeanni!
     The firebush, hamelia patens, is another all time favorite used by landscapers, home owners and park planners alike.  It has beautiful green foliage with red blushing & veining.  Firebush's flowers are how it got it's name with their bright yellow, orange & red colors looking like flame bursts.  This shrub is another extremely hardy, drought resistant, full sun & part shade loving plant from Florida's hardwood hammocks. The birds love to eat it's black berries, the bees, hummingbirds & butterflies love their flowers and we love to use it in landscapes for its bright & sassy nature.  Firebush's grow to be 15-20 feet high by 6-10 feet wide. These are very easy to grow and easy to find at local nurseries.
Firebush in our backyard
Our two firebush's about 12 feet high
Firebush with zebra butterflies
     Another understated evergreen shrub although increasing in popularity due to it's soft velvety silver foliage and beautiful violet-purple flowers is the Texas Sage, leucophyllum frutescens.  It's a great contrast to any green landscape, can be a stand alone or an excellent container plant with some trimming.  Texas sage can be grown in part shade but really thrives in full sun.  They can be trimmed to be a shapely small shrub or you can let it grow it's natural soft yet dense conical shape.  Texas sage can grow from 5-8 feet high by 3-5 feet wide.  I use this plant quite a bit in my landscapes since it has so many great attributes to offer.
Texas Sage close up
Texas sage in the landscape, natural form
   One of my favorites shrubs is this super easy & very forgiving evergreen, the Wild Coffee, psychotria nervosa, from Florida's rockland hammocks.  It's favorite place is as an understory plant with dappled sun & shade amidst the firebush's and wild lime's but can be in full sun for part of the day.  Can be drought tolerant though likes to be watered in well drained soil.  Wild coffee has big bright green glossy leaves that reflect the sun & shimmer in the shade.  The butterflies & bees love the small white flower clusters which turn into the small red juicy berries the birds gobble up as soon as they are ripe.  Wild coffee's grow about 4-10 feet high by 4-8 feet wide.  You can't go wrong with this fast growing shrub in your landscape as it will adapt to many situations if need be.
Wild Coffee
Wild Coffee

Some additional fast growing shrubs in which I will add more detail to later are:
Dwarf Mussaenda
Jamaican Caper
Crotons - see my earlier blog Oct 30
Wax Myrtle
Fire Spike
Chenille Plant
Cat Whiskers
Necklace Pod
Golden Dewdrop
Dwarf Mussaenda
Clerodendrum quadriloculare


  1. Cocoplum will grow much taller than 3 to 6 feet. We have one well over 20 feet, and they will potentially reach 30 feet. It also grows wider than tall. This is the reason it so often looks pretty horrid when clipped into a 3 foot hedge for any length of time. Clipped straight up and down the lower plant suffers. Clipped to 3 feet it is clipped so much to maintain the height the leaves even tend to change due to the constant attack on the plant to reduce it to around 30 to 10 percent of the height it would prefer and ditto with width.

    The coffee in the photo appears to be Psychotria nervosa not ligustrina.

    The third fire bush photo has some look of the non-native Hamelia patens var glabra but hard to tell without checking leaves to see if they are glabrous. The yellow flowers are more typical of var glabra - usually constricted at base. Also 4 leaves more typical of glabra vs 3 on var patens.

  2. Capers are slow growing, as are some of the stoppers - especially Red and Redberry, with Simpson's moderate.

    Horizontal cocoplum is the sprawling crawling beach dune variety