When you mention holiday plants, most people probably think of Scotch pine trees, holly bushes, and mistletoe. We do have mistletoe here in Central Florida, and I have an American holly hedge, but we have many other beautiful holiday plants (many of them native) growing here also!
We do not get a lot of fall color here in Central Florida, but one tree whose leaves change color before they drop is the red maple (Acer rubrum). This fast-growing tree can reach a height of 75 feet in wet areas but can still do well in sandy spots. The leaves turn yellow, orange and red for a few weeks in the fall.
Simpson’s stopper (Myrcianthes fragrans) is a Florida native that can be grown as a shrub or small tree. It flowers in the spring and holds its colorful red berries into winter. Other benefits are that it is slow-growing and has almost no insect pest and disease problems. This is a great native option if you want to enjoy the red berries during the holidays and want to avoid all the pruning in the summer that some holly hedges require.
Another native plant that will add some color to your holiday season is the beautyberry (Callicarpa americana). This plant grows wild in flatwoods and hammocks and forms bright purple berries that hang on through the winter, or until the birds eat them up! You could make a tasty jelly from the berries or use them in colorful holiday arrangements.
One holiday-type plant that thrives in shady spots is wild coffee (Psychotria nervosa). This Florida native shrub will freeze here if the weather gets too cold, but the glossy green leaves and small red fruit will survive warmer winters just fine.
A small tree that was originally brought to Florida because it forms bright red berries just in time for Christmas is the Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius). In fact, a common name for this tree is Christmas berry. But this is one tree you do not want in your yard for the holidays- or any other time of year. Brazilian pepper is a noxious invasive tree which is banned here in Hernando County because of the environmental damage it can cause along our coastal areas. This tree crowds out all other vegetation to form a monoculture, competes with our native mangroves and, because it is related to poison ivy, it can cause a nasty rash if you come in contact with the sap. Beekeepers like this plant because it flowers in the fall, but you may want to remove this one for the holidays.
For more information about any of the plants in your landscape, or to have a sample identified, stop by or call UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County weekdays from 8 to 5. Our office is in the airport industrial park at 16110 Aviation Loop Drive, Brooksville, 34604; (352) 754-4433. In addition, Master Gardeners are available to assist you at the Master Gardener nursery from 9 AM to noon every Wednesday and Saturday (weather permitting). Our nursery is located behind the Hernando County Fairgrounds at 19490 Oliver Street, Brooksville.
UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County is a free service that provides solutions for your life. Extension programs are open to all persons without regard to race, color, sex, age, disability, religion, or national origin.