11 Native Florida Trees (Common & Rare Varieties)

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Written By Kenique Ivery

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Planting native trees in Florida is a great idea not only for ornamental reasons but for practical ones!

Since the trees are adapted to Florida’s soils, temperature, and rainfall patterns, they need less irrigation and fertilization than other trees. This means you need less energy and resources to grow healthy trees. 

Another reason is that the trees are low maintenance because they resist the pests and diseases common in Florida.  

The following list details some attractive native trees for Florida to plant or admire in Florida. Some, such as flowering dogwood, are readily available in nurseries, but others, such as the super rare Florida Torreya, are more common in the wild than in planned landscapes. 

11 Native Florida Trees to Plant or Admire

1. Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)

Bald Cypress_Florida
Image by Chris M Morris via Flickr

The bald cypress is one of the longest living trees – up to 600 years! This Florida native is a conifer, just like pine trees. But unlike most conifers, it sheds its leaves in cones in the fall. 

You will find this type of Cypress tree growing near streams, rivers, and swamps throughout the state’s northern and central parts. But it is not only a wild tree but also has tremendous landscape value. Landscapers use it on city streets, as well as driveways. This tree provides a gentle and dappled shade. 

The Bald cypress features delicate needles that turn to a copper color before dropping. In spring, the new leaves are feathery with a soft green tone. 

The bald cypress makes an excellent landscape tree because it can tolerate dry and wet spots. It prefers full sun to partial shade, but never full shade. 

Other Common Names: Swamp Cypress

USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 9

Average Size at Maturity:  50 – 70 feet tall and 20 – 30 feet wide

2. Florida strangler fig (Ficus aurea)

Florida strangler fig
Image by James St. John via Flickr

Florida strangler fig is native to the southernmost countries of the state. This tree starts nestled on the limbs of another tree with a vine-like appearance. In the beginning, it seems like the vine-like tree is strangling its host, but it eventually becomes a self-supporting tree. 

Florida strangler fig is fast-growing and large with a spread of more than 60 feet. You can use this native tree in the landscape, but it is better for larger spaces. Its foliage, consisting of thick, shiny, and dark green leaves, provides a dense shade. 

The prominent surface roots give the landscape a rugged and wild look. However, you can remove the surface roots without damaging the tree if you prefer a neat-looking landscape. 

The tree is a heavy fruit producer. These tiny ½-inch oval fruits are a significant litter problem in the spring and summer. 

Florida strangler fig is one of the most hassle-free native trees for South Florida gardeners to plant.

Once you plant it in a spot with full sun or partial shade, you can water it a few times and then forget about it. The tree tolerates a wide variety of soils and has moderate salt tolerance. 

Other Common Names: Golden fig

USDA Growing Zones: 10B – 11

Average Size at Maturity: 50 – 60 feet tall with a spread of 50 – 70 feet

3. Florida Torreya (Torreya taxifolia)

Florida Torreya
Image by Malcolm Manners via Flickr

Florida Torreya is one of the rarest trees in the world, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The tree is native to just two counties in Florida – Gadsen and Liberty Counties – both in the panhandle region. There you will find it in the bluffs and ravines. 

Florida Torrey is a small evergreen tree with drooping branches, a member of the yew family. It has sharp-pointed, needle-like leaves that are glossy and dark green. 

Early settlers named this stinking tree cedar because of the pungent odor it gives when cut or bruised. They used it extensively to make fence posts, roof shingles, Christmas trees, and even riverboat fuel.

Florida State Parks estimates that about 600,000 of these trees were around in the early 1800s. Today, only around 200 remain. Such makes it one of the most endangered trees in the United States.

The Atlanta Botanical Garden is working with the Florida Park Service to obtain seeds from living trees and plant seedlings in the ravine habitat in Torreya State Park. 

Other Common Names: Stinking Cedar, Florida nutmeg, Gopher wood

USDA Growing Zones: 8A – 9B

Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 20 feet tall with a spread of 15 – 25 feet

4. White Dogwood (Cornus florida)

Flowering Dogwood Cornus florida - inflorescence VS leaves - GA Red Mtn State Park 2021-04-06
Image by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

White dogwood is one of the most common native Florida trees. The famous tree is native to the eastern United States, including northern Florida. Few native trees have found a prominent place in landscapes throughout the United States.

This tree is famous for its beautiful large white “petals,” which are technically bracts or modified leaves. The actual flowers are in the center of these bracts, though they are insignificant to the human eye. After flowering, white dogwood produces glossy red fruit, attracting many birds.

White dogwood produces excellent fall color – turning reddish purple. The tree forms a rounded and compact shape making it a perfect focal point tree in larger and smaller landscapes.

White dogwood can grow in full sun or partial shade. Regarding soil type, it is versatile and does well in most places. This attractive tree prefers moist over dry conditions and will benefit from frequent watering.

USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9

Average Size at Maturity:  25 feet tall with a similar spread

Flowering Season: Spring

5. Geiger Tree (Cordia sebestena)

Geiger tree
Image by Tatters via Flickr

Geiger tree has attractive large (4 – 9 inches long) sandpaper-like, dark green, rough, hairy, and stiff leaves. But its flowers, which appear throughout the year, are also striking. The 2-inch dark flowers appear in clusters at the tip of the branches. The flowers eventually form 2-inch-long egg-shaped fruits with a fragrance that some people find pleasant.

Geiger tree is perfect for coastal landscapes because it has a strong tolerance for salt and brackish water. It also tolerates light and sandy soils. Its compact and multi-trunked formed works excellent for a free-standing specimen or patio tree.

This is an easy tree to grow, but only for those in the correct climate. It can tolerate a bit of frost but will not survive in temperatures lower than the high 20s. You can grow Geiger tree in full sun or partial shade.

Other Common Names: Siricote, Kopté, Scarlet cordia

USDA Growing Zones: 10B – 11

Average Size at Maturity:  25 – 30 feet tall with a spread of 20 – 25 feet

Flowering Season: Year-round, but more abundant in spring and summer

6. Gumbo-limbo (Busera simbaruba)

Gumbo Limbo
Image by Matt Tillett via Flickr

Gumbo-limbo is a fast-growing tree with immense resistance to strong winds, drought, and neglect. This makes it an excellent choice for the hurricane-prone South Florida landscape. It is native to south Florida, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.

This large tree has an open growth habit with twisting branches that hang low to the ground. The showy red bark is unique. It peels back, resembling sunburned skin. That is why so many people humorously call it the tourist tree.

Mature trees feature pale green or white flowers in the spring. They are not showy and emerge in 2 – 6-inch-long clusters.

Gumbo-limbo is best for a large yard because its thick branches quickly and easily take up a lot of space. It does well in full sun to partial shade. In addition, it is not fussy about soil type. Regular irrigation helps encourage healthy growth, but it is better if the soil dries out between watering.

Other Common Names: Copperwood, Chaca,West Indian birch, naked Indian, Turpentine tree, Tourist tree

USDA Growing Zones: 10B – 11

Average Size at Maturity: 25 – 50 feet with a similar spread

Flowering Season: Spring

7. American Holly (Ilex opaca)

American Holly
Image by NatureServe via Flickr

This North and Central Florida native tree have strong ornamental value throughout the United States. Besides landscaping, its leaves and festive red berries make incredible Christmas decorations. Even before the arrival of European settlers, American Indians used the holly berries as decorative buttons.

Holly features feathery leaves that maintain their dull dark green hue throughout the year. The leaves are spiny points.

The tree’s famous and abundant berries remain on the tree well through the winter. That is if birds do not eat them all, as they are a significant food source.

Preceding its berries are dull green to creamy white flowers. The flowers are fragrant but not showy; they are easy to miss without the smell.

American holly has a lovely shape – generally much taller than it is wide. It has a symmetrical, dense, pyramidal shape – making it a beautiful addition to most landscapes.

Growing this native tree is easy. It does well in full sun and shade – few trees have this light versatility. In addition, it thrives in most soil types and has strong drought tolerance. You can plant American holly in coastal landscapes as it has a high aerosol salt tolerance and grows well in sandy soil.

USDA Growing Zones: 5B – 9

Average Size at Maturity:  35 – 50 feet with a spread of 15 – 25 feet

Flowering Season: Spring

8. Lignum vitae (Guaiacum sanctum)

Lignum Vitae
Image by Barry Stock via Flickr

The evergreen lignum vitae is one of the slowest growing trees in the world. The product of this small growth is its remarkably strong and heavy wood. This wood is common in the manufacture of propeller shafts for steamships and bowling balls.

Lignum vitae is native to southern to Florida, the Caribbean, Central America, and northern South America. As they are slow growing, most trees are short, with multiple trunks and a rounded canopy. Its form resembles a mature crepe myrtle, a common Florida flowering tree.

The tree features one to two-inch long, dark green leaves with a leathery texture. Also, the tree displays a show of large clusters of bluish-purple flowers. As the flowers fade, they turn to a light silvery-blue shade which create a lovely haze over the rounded canopy. Following the flowers are small-heart shaped yellowish orange berries.

You can plant lignum vitae in full sun to partial shade. It tolerates a wide range of soils, provided that they are well-draining. The tree has strong drought and aerosol salt tolerance.

Other Common Names: Holy wood, Tree of life

USDA Growing Zones: 10B – 11

Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 30 feet tall with a spread of 8 – 12 feet

Flowering Season: Year-round, but most abundant in spring

9. Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)

Image by Wendell Smith via Flickr

Pawpaw is a native Florida fruit tree. Its natural range in Florida is just a few panhandle spots. It is an understory tree growing along stream banks and flood plains in the wild. This deciduous tree is an excellent choice for landscapers in North Florida, as it does poorly in the rest of the state. 

Pawpaw features purple flowers with an unpleasant fragrance, which appear in the spring before its leaves. Following these flowers are 3 to 5-inch long, round or oval fruits which are green when young but brown when ripe. The fruits have a custard-like texture and a rich sweet taste similar to bananas. They are popular with wildlife such as raccoons and birds. 

You can grow pawpaw trees in full sun or dense shade. In dense shade, its foliage is thick and lush. This makes sense, as it is an understory tree in the wild. 

Pawpaw needs rich, moist, and slightly acidic soil for best performance. On moisture, it will tolerate wet or soggy spots with ease. 

Other Common Names: American pawpaw, Paw paw, Paw-paw

USDA Growing Zones: 5A – 8B

Average Size at Maturity: 15 – 20 feet tall with an equal spread

Flowering Season: Early Spring

10. Pigeon plum (Cocoloba diversifolia)

Pigeon Plum
Image by Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr

Pigeon plum is a fast-growing evergreen tree native to the coasts of Central and South Florida. The tree has an upright growth habit with dense foliage, making it an ideal shade tree. Fruits fall for about two months each year, creating a mess on patios and sidewalks. 

Pigeon plum features a grayish brown bark that falls off in plates, revealing a dark purplish bark. This coloring, combined with night-lighting, gives the tree a striking appearance. 

The tree produces whitish green flowers. These showy white flowers appear on 2 – 6 inches long racemes. The tree flowers throughout the year, but flowering is most abundant in the warmest months. 

You can plant pigeon plum in full sun or partial shade. It always does better in moist and well-drained soils. As a native to the coastal regions of Florida, it has excellent salt tolerance. 

Other Common Names: Tietongue

USDA Growing Zones: 10B – 11

Average Size at Maturity:  20 – 40 feet tall with a spread of 20 – 35 feet

Flowering Season: Year-round, but more abundant in spring and summer

11. Red maple (Acer rubrum)

Red Maple_Florida
Image by Dushan Hanuska via Flickr

Red maple is a fast-growing and attractive deciduous yard tree. This particular variety of maple is one of the most common landscape trees in North and Central Florida.

Red maple’s red-tinged young leaves and red flowers appear early in the spring, indicating that winter is ending. The display is quite attractive.

Following the flowers are pinkish to reddish winged fruits, which are an essential food source for small mammals such as squirrels.

The tree features dense and attractive foliage during the spring through fall on a rounded tree. In fall, the leaves turn red, orange, or yellow. The color lasts for several weeks and provides fall foliage color even in balmy Central Florida.

Red maple prefers soil that is on the moist side, though mature trees have moderate drought tolerance. It tolerates a wide range of soil types. Red maple does not do well in coastal landscapes as it has low aerosol salt tolerance.

Other Common Names: Swamp maple

USDA Growing Zones: 4A – 9B

Average Size at Maturity: 60 – 75 feet tall with a spread of 25 – 35 feet

Flowering Season: Early Spring

Finding and Planting Common and Rare Native Florida Trees

There are a variety of beautiful native trees in Florida. Some like red maple and bald cypress are common, while the lignum vitae and gumbo-limbo are generally unknown outside South Florida. 

For various reasons such as energy efficiency, environmental education, and ease of maintenance – planting native trees is an excellent idea!

But as a note, native trees should never be taken from the wild without permission from the landowner. Furthermore, they should never be transplanted from public lands. It is always better to leave them where they are unless the site faces destruction from development projects.

As such, it is best to obtain native trees from reputable nurseries in Florida. An excellent authority for sourcing sustainable native trees in Florida is the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.

You should also check Florida’s planting zones to ensure whichever tree you choose is most suited to the area you live in.

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Kenique Ivery

Global Green Thumb

Kenique grew up in Florida and currently lives in southern China. Before China, he spent many years in Portugal and the Caribbean. He studied economics and is a teacher, entrepreneur, and writer. Since he was knee-high, he has been gardening and was an active member of FFA (Future Farmers of America). He is his best self in a densely wooded forest or park. Depending on the day, you can find him reading, hiking, traveling, exercising, sipping lots of tea, or eating everything in sight.

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