With the rise of the Internet,
books on cultivated plants may be less needed than in
earlier times. The Internet is a goldmine of plant
information. Horticultural web sites have sprouted like
mushrooms, some better than others. Comparison of a
10-minute Internet effort with the entry in any
landscaping manual confirms the value of the Internet.
This internet site is companion to the textbook.
So why bother compiling yet another
paper manual? A "manual" is still valuable. One reason
is nomenclature. Perhaps the biggest problem with
Internet-based plant data is with the varied use of
plant names. Most plants go by multiple English and
botanical names. The present effort brings such
information together. We list important synonymy
(multiple names in use) for many species.
A second reason for not relying
100% the Internet is localization. The plant world is
big, broad, and diverse. The way a species behaves in
Florida differs from that in Hawaii. If you are
interested in, say, orchids, there are some 30,000
species of them, and that count does not include
hybrids, grexes, cultivars, and other human-made named
"kinds." You can hardly "get your mind around" this
diversity, but the world is narrower on a local scale.
The present Manual filters the information down to South
A third reason for a manual is
convenience. Not everyone carries around a web-connected
Does South Florida need yet another
reference on cultivated plants? Yes. Despite the large
number of books on Florida cultivated plants, nothing
covers all the bases. Most provide a menu of attractive
plant choices for home gardeners but have gaps that we
are striving to fill insofar as possible. Gaps in
existing resources are:
1. Breadth of coverage. The
number of species and cultivars grown in South Florida
is enormous, well over 1000. Total coverage in any
reference is impossible, although the quarterly
Plant Finder from Betrocks Information Systems
in Hollywood, Florida comes close to comprising a
checklist of landscaping plants offered at wholesale
commercial sources. This is our jumping-off point for
deciding on species to include, although many older
landscaping plants and native species not in the Plant
Finder are included in the Manual. By the same
Betrock’s Reference Guide to Florida Landscape Plants,
by Timothy Broschat and Alan Meerow is a 1991
(reprinted) database listing cultural attributes for
numerous Florida plants.
We aim to account for the vast majority of significant
landscaping species cultivated in South Florida, not
giving much attention to the endlessly hybridized,
cultivar-dominated specialty groups, such as Orchids,
Bromeliads, Crotons, Heliconias, and Begonias. Each of
these groups demands (and has) entire books devoted to
2. Botanical and nomenclatural accuracy. Dealing professionally with any given
plant group reveals centuries of interpretations and
re-interpretations of classification and nomenclature by
taxonomists. The more a person learns about a plant
group, the more complex this historical taxonomic web
becomes. Virtually any well known species has
accumulated a long list of names variably applied to
(and/or excluded from) that species, depending on
differing ideas about its borders, membership, and
geographic range; and depending on the vagaries of
changing nomenclatural rules. Species are concepts, and
they differ in the eyes of different beholders. There is
no possibility of any book ever getting all this 100%
right, because there is no absolute "right." Many
readers may benefit from a reminder that the
classification of families, genera, species, and
varieties is the domain of botanical taxonomists.
Taxonomists seldom concern themselves with cultivars,
which are trivial from a classification standpoint.
Cultivars are unregulated, unscientific, often
impossible to identify definitively and often nothing
more than color variants or marketing devices.
The present effort is written attentively to the
underlying taxonomic botany. Yet uncritical adherence to
every new taxonomic interpretation in the spirit of
"they have changed the name of this plant" is as
simplistic as ignoring the march of progress. We believe
the best approach is a case-by-case handling of
taxonomic-nomenclatural matters. We cite sources for
deviations from common usage and list important synonyms
(the alternate names for a plant). Often "either/or"
disagreements about plant names are oversimplifications.
In some cases we have consulted taxonomists specializing
in certain plant groups. These persons are mentioned
Although there is no single final
authority on the interpretive
subjective side of plant classification, there is such
authority when it comes to the forms, formats,
spellings, and objective aspects of nomenclature. This
authority is the
International Code of Botanical Nomenclature,
revised approximately every four years by an
International Botanical Congress. The "Code" settles
such questions as to what categories can be used in
classifying plants, how they must be formatted, spelling
principles, the nomenclatural
consequences of subdividing and merging groups, and in
special (but not all!) circumstances which name to adopt
when there are competing names. The Code sets the
spelling for almost all family names and many generic
names (such as Buddleja as opposed to Buddleia).
sources of information.
The accumulation of information by
many persons in many places over many years is what it
is all about. Authors should not write only from limited
personal experience, when a better assessment comes by
melding personal experience with previous literature,
inquiries to experts, and the Internet. This is all
standard in academic writing, backed up with citations.
Seeking consensus in horticultural
writings is an interesting and eye-opening experience.
When consulting multiple sources for the same point of
information, authorities often disagree wildly, which is
healthy and expected, given that background variables
differ. Agreement among authorities is more common and
sometimes a little worrisome when TOO congruent, forming
the illusion of consensus, just as gossip can become
falsely self-confirming when it has spread far and wide
from a single common source. We cannot overcome this
hazard completely, but users of this manual will see the
sources of the information we present, freshened with
our own experience and direct expert opinion.
native species and invasive exotics. Oddly, most of
the existing books on Florida gardening often tend to
sort themselves out across a border:
native species vs. exotic landscaping species.
Several landscaping books ignore the rich (and
commercially available) menu of native species adapted
to our soils and climate. A separate set of books
features native plants for landscaping. The present
manual has two premises on the subject of indigenous
plants: 1) Native species are highly desirable for South
Florida landscaping. 2)
Selecting the best plants for a landscaping
project is not usually a simple natives vs. exotics
proposition. It is a matter of selecting the most
appropriate, non-invasive selections, native or not, and
the manual is written accordingly.
We deplore the long-standing sin in
Florida horticulture of introducing non-native species
without adequate attention to the possibility of
invading Florida’s natural areas. With the Florida
Exotic Pest Plant Council as our primary guide, we have
flagged species with this tendency, and we have given
the FEPPC Categories. Category I is severe; Category II
Further, just what constitutes being
species found naturally only in the Keys “native” for
Palm Beach County?
What about a rare species occurring wild only in
a few scattered localities?
Is a species from the nearby Bahamas more native
to West Palm Beach than one brought from the distant
Is a species brought to Florida by ancient
indigenous peoples native, or one brought by a recent
hurricane, or suddenly able to live in Florida due to
What about human-derived variants (cultivars) of
Thus "native" comes in degrees, and sometimes is
not fully known.
identification and distinctions. Very few plant
manuals provide the information necessary to distinguish
similar species, or to understand the size and diversity
of many plant groups. This is usually accomplished by
use of identification keys, such as those in Bailey’s
Cultivated Plants. Because the world is filled with
visually similar species, and any given group of plants
is usually bewilderingly diverse and complex when seen
in broad perspective, a manual without an identification
key is nearly worthless for identification purposes. For
example, South Florida gardeners generally apply the
term “Ficus” to one species---Ficus
But, in fact, there are some 800
in the world, with about 15 species cultivated in South
Florida. Distinguishing among related species is central
to understanding the cultivated flora of South Florida.
We include identification keys to all species.
This manual is not a list of suggested species.
For any given situation, individual species fall
variably along a spectrum running from ideal to
of course, some species are essentially always
unwelcome, most prominently the invasive exotics.
Yet invasive exotics are common in landscaping
and thus are included because this is an information
manual, and information on all species is useful.