Fauna and Foliage - Illustration by Steve Hall

Boomster Blog: Fauna and Foliage on the Space Coast

The New Green Garden Deal

You’re probably thinking that I’m about to declare how the Space Coast is on the front lines of the new green deal movement. 

Actually, I’m talking about the insane volumes of green plant material that grow on the Space Coast and the incredible effort it requires to keep it all under control and presentable. It’s like living with teenagers, except plants never leave for college and then they continue to literally grow like weeds at home.

While you’re here you’ll see towering palms, flowering trees and bushes, variegated leaves, monstera, split-leaf philodendron, bright red mangos, and squeaky bamboo stalks everywhere.

There are plants that grow better on the barrier islands like Merritt Island and Satellite Beach than they do near the Interstate highway. Landscape architects in Orlando, only 45 minutes to the west, find themselves specifying plant materials that grow wonderfully in Winter Park, then just OK in Viera, and sadly struggle at Port Canaveral. Imagine having drastically different plant ecosystems just 45 minutes out of Indianapolis or Omaha. Well, maybe Omaha.

There is a large body of people on the Space Coast that are wild about plants. They treat their palms like their children and grandchildren. The first thing they notice when they visit friends is a new plant in the corner of the yard, see a gorgeous seasonal bloom, or ask ‘is that a new pot?’. Never mind the gazillion dollars you spent on your fancy new outdoor kitchen.

How fast do things grow on the Space Coast?

Planting shrubs three feet apart in March on the Space Coast makes homeowners wonder if things look too spaced out. It’s as though the landscape installer, designer, or landscape architect blundered. But, just months later the shrubs have grown-in and the color has filled in. It’s as though the shrubs have been there for years and need a trim.

Because plants grow so quickly on the Space Coast, home and business owners make the ‘manicured vs jungle’ choice. Whether you decide you want to look manicured or adopt a jungle theme, planted areas on the Space Coast need persistent scheduled maintenance -- even if you want the yard to look like a jungle. It’s like a haircut for men: one day everything looks fine; the next day, bang, you’ve got hair everywhere and your ears itch.

The lawn quietly sits there growing constantly and minding its own business. It can require mowing once a week or more often after a rainy spell. Typical lawn service companies mow 40 weeks a year and they charge you a monthly fee all year. It’s not like up north, where your yard guy might plow the snow in your driveway. Locals tell me they’ve seen grass grow three inches after a hard summer afternoon rain.

“Where do I start learning about the Flora on the Space Coast?”

If you’re a budding tropical plant buff thinking of learning more about Space Coast plants for your next visit you’re probably asking, “where do I start?”

While still in Cleveland or Toronto, start with the UF/IFAS Extension web site

The University of Florida (UF) and Florida A&M University (FAMU) runs the Florida Cooperative Extension Service, or the ‘Extension’. What this ‘Extension’ is extending escapes me, but through these web sites the ‘Extension’ provides info, research, and expertise. Here’s a link to their lawn and garden section. Learn about their Landscape Nematology Lab.

Visiting the Extension web site also gives you new knowledge about the diagnosis and management of plant-parasitic nematodes (the phylum Nemata, the unsegmented roundworms) affecting turfgrasses and ornamental plants. I added that dense sentence to make myself sound more intelligent. I will blurt this out when I’m visiting a Space Coast homeowner with a nice garden. More about this in a moment.

Using Latin Names You’ll Sound More Intelligent in Conversation

In polite plant conversation you might admire a split-leaf philodendron and confuse it with a monstera. This is the kiss of death, of course, on the Space Coast. Learning the latin and common names of the plants gives you a greater understanding of subtle differences between similar varieties of flora on the Space Coast as well as something to argue about over wine or beer.

For example, to the novice these plants look very similar:

  • Monstera deliciosa -- has large, leathery, shiny, and heart-shaped leaves. They develop lobes (an opening in a surface) in their leafy surfaces as they mature. Five common names include Ceriman, Swiss Cheese Plant, Monstera, Mexican Breadfruit, and Delicious Monster.  The ‘deliciosa’ refers to the large fruit they produce.
  • Philodendron bipinnatifidum -- a deep green, large, takes up to 15 years to mature, and is deeply lobed. Common names include Split-leaf philodendron, lacy tree philodendron, selloum, horsehead philodendron.

However, to the skilled professional plant observer, these two plants are as different as night and day.

Visit a botanical garden, garden shops and nurseries while you’re here

So, you’ll want to learn the Latin and common names of plants on the Space Coast. You’ll sound very intelligent throwing out latin plant names when you visit the neighbor. Be sure to mention how much you like their new kitchen. They paid a fortune.

“No,” you say, “that’s not a monstera, that’s a split-leaf philodendron -- one of my favorites -- or as I like to say, a “Philodendron bipinnatifidum.””

Plan a Trip to a Botanical Garden:

Joy & Gordon Patterson Botanical Garden, in Melbourne at Florida Institute of Technology, is as beautiful as it gets on the Space Coast for plant people. It’s near downtown Melbourne and it’s free.

Here are some Space Coast nurseries to visit:

Rockledge Gardens, Rockledge

Emerald Island Garden Center, Cocoa

Stevenson Landscaping, Cocoa

Valkaria Gardens, Palm Bay

In Closing: “Numquam etiam senex discere quam ad canetis intelligentes” (or, never too old to learn how to sound intelligent).

Space Coast Visitors Guide Cover Image

Vacation Planner for Florida’s Space Coast

The official Space Coast Vacation Planner Guide is now available. There are two ways to get yours: