Native Plants of the Florida Keys

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The warm weather of Florida helps a large number of plants thrive throughout the state, especially in the Florida Keys. The Florida Keys offer more than 120 miles of islands where many native plants live; more than 450 species of plants live on Big Pine Key alone. Plants have evolved to live and survive in both the freshwater and saltwater of lakes, marshes and coastal areas along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. Some plants have developed ways to turn saltwater into freshwater and to extract nutrition from the state’s salty waters.

Mangroves

  • Three different types of mangroves can be found in the Florida Keys: black, red and white. Mangroves are also known as walking trees because of how their roots look like they are walking along the shores of river banks and throughout marshes. The mangroves have been able to survive in high concentrations of saltwater because they can turn it into freshwater by filtering out the salt. Black mangroves dispose of the salt on their leaves. Mangroves provide a habitat for birds and small marine organisms and can provide protection during tide surges and storms.

Gumbo Limbo

  • The gumbo limbo tree is a large semi-evergreen tree that can reach up to 60 feet in height, but on average reaches 40 feet tall. The tree is used for residential landscaping, but is found in the Florida Keys near waterways and wetlands. This is a thick tree that can be almost as wide as it is tall, with thick branches and a bark that appears to have been varnished. The wood of the gumbo limbo is easily carved and has been used to make carousel horses in the past.

Cabbage Palm

  • The cabbage palm is Florida’s state tree and has been seen throughout the state in various climates, landscapes and natural habitats. The tree is commonly used in household landscaping designs and is also known as the sabal palm. The plant produces white flowers in the summer, has fan-like palm fronds and is tan-gray in color. Though the tree reaches over 80 feet in height, the build of the cabbage palm helps it survive hurricane forces and high winds.

Strangler Fig

  • Found in the coastal area of South Florida, especially in the Florida Keys, the strangler fig is also known as the golden fig. As a seed, the strangler fig begins its life cycle as a parasite growing in the bark of other plants, known as host plants, stealing nutrients and water from them. After time, the roots grow long enough to reach the ground and can grow to cover the host plant with their trunk. This type of plant is a fast-growing and large plant that over time can be comprised of a compound structure of trees. The Strangler Fig produces a fruit that is yellow to reddish purple in color. The plant can be found in the sandy soils of the hammocks found in coastal areas of Florida.

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