Florida gardens from China



Halifax Media Group

Visiting Savannah, Ga., a few months ago, I was again struck by how much that area’s landscapes, like ours, depend on plants from China and Japan.

In Savannah, as well as in Florida, East Asian plants have been cultivated for so long that residents think they’re natives. That point was driven home by a misguided tour guide. Poised in a charming Savannah garden, she spread her arms in an all-encompassing gesture and spoke of the beauty of the “native plants." But not a single plant in sight was native.

How did those exotic species get to North America? Many were part of a flurry of plant introductions from East Asia that took place around 1900. Intrepid collectors such as E. H. "Chinese" Wilson and Frank N. Meyer operated under the auspices of the USDA's Seed and Plant Introduction Section headed by Dr. David Fairchild.

Although Central Florida gardeners like to pretend they reside in the Tropics, numerous devastating freezes during the last century have demonstrated the necessity of using adaptable plants from warm-temperate regions as the backbone of our landscapes. Sure, we liberally sprinkle tropical plants throughout our gardens and hope for the best. But even with ongoing climate change, it'll be a good while before coconut palms replace pine trees.

Among the Chinese and Japanese shrubs that adorn gardens in both Savannah and Central Florida are India hawthorn, pittosporum, podocarpus, sweet viburnum, nandina, tea olive, banana shrub, rose, arbor vitae, hydrangea, Chinese holly, king sago, camellia, Ligustrum japonicum, serissa, azalea, Viburnum suspensum, gardenia, azalea, loropetalum, spiraea, Pfitzer juniper, pyracantha, rose of Sharon, cleyera, Japanese boxwood and Fortune's mahonia.

Fruiting and flowering trees from East Asia that are common in both areas include crape myrtle, pomegranate and loquat. Incidentally, an Asian tree that's ubiquitous here but not evident in Savannah is the goldenrain. Among Chinese and Japanese palms we do share with Savannah are windmill, Chinese fan and lady palm.

Moving on to vines, only a trio of Asian imports seems to have found favor with us and our northerly neighbors: Confederate jasmine, wisteria and creeping fig. Numerous groundcovers, however, are seen in abundance in both places and include cast iron plant, Asian jasmine, shore juniper, mondo grass, holly fern, lily turf and other kinds of Liriope.

Charles Reynolds, a Winter Haven resident, has an associate's degree in horticulture and is a member of the Garden Writers' Association of America.


Last modified: January 9, 2014
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