Bromeliads in the South Florida landscape



Mike Malloy

With August winding down, it’s time in Florida to set our sights on-- fall?

Most of us have been trapped for months, scurrying from our air-conditioned cars to our air-conditioned homes, trying not to be overcome by heat exhaustion or dehydration and working in our gardens only in the wee hours of the morning to escape the burning rays of the hot Florida afternoon summer sun. Never mind the increasing number of mosquitoes that take up residence in the rainy season.

The only good thing about working in the garden in the midday heat is that one can lose two to three pounds through perspiration, and that always makes the first late afternoon beer the best of the day.

Come September we start thinking about opening the windows in our homes and the lanai doors to take in the best weather Florida has to offer. Late fall and winter weather is called Chamber of Commerce weather because of the great temperatures and abundant sunshine; probably one of the main reasons we all moved here in the first place.

This is the time of the year we can really appreciate the fragrance our gardens can produce if we have the right plants in the right place. Plants that produce pleasant fragrance, whether through leaves or flowers deserve special attention this time of the year in Florida. These plants can be planted near patios, decks, walkways and most importantly, by entrances to your home and lanai, where the fragrance can be appreciated. They also do well as container plants. There are many different fragrant plants available, and here are some of my favorites.

1. Gardenia (Gardenia spp.)

Gardenias grow well in south Florida; they need fertilizer at least a couple times a year. Remember pickle juice is one of their favorites. Water them during the dry season. Frequently they yellow (chlorotic) due to deficiency of micronutrients, but a product called Ironite usually can take care of this problem. Beware of sooty mold, which is the blackening of the leaves due to presence of insects. There are many different gardenias, so pick one, or more, you will be happy with.

2. Jasmine (Jasmine spp.)

There are so many species of Jasmine, take your pick. Just remember that some can be invasive and others do not have a fragrance. Do yourself a favor and do a little research. Some say the lakeview jasmine is the most fragrant of all jasmines. Constantly trimming them into boxes and balls removes most of the flowers that their fragrance comes from, so particular pruning is a must for these plants.

3. Angels and Devils Trumpet (Brugmansia and Dutura)

These fragrant plants are commonly known as Jimsonweed. Flowers release an extremely sweet, intoxicating scent and, under the right conditions, can bloom year round. Blooms can also be 10 to 12 inches long. They are evergreen or semi-evergreen.

Warning: all parts of the plants are narcotic and poisonous. They just love our warm to hot Florida climate and thrive in full to partial sun. Whitefly and spider mites may be a problem but not enough to stop one from having this beauty in one’s garden.

4. Butterfly Bush (Buddleia spp.)

You would think with a name like this that it would attract butterflies. Well, this is a butterfly magnet for all species of butterflies in your garden seeking nectar. It is sometimes called summer lilac. Morning and late afternoon is when it is most fragrant. Like a lot of fragrant plants they lose something in the hot midday sun.

In the many years I have been growing Buddleia I have found that here in Southwest Florida it acts almost as an annual, lasting a year. Actually, I have had better luck growing it in pots. Buddleia likes a sunny spot with occasional fertilization.

There is another Buddleia called Madagascar Buddleia which has golden flowers and is extremely easy to grow but can get out of control. Plant this one only if you have a large enough area or really enjoy trimming plants. The one big difference with this Buddleia is not that it isn’t fragrant, but instead of a sweet smell, it smells like a wet dog. This does not stop butterflies from engulfing the flowers for nectar. In the past couple of years there has been a new Buddleia out there on the market, called Weeping Buddleia which seems to grow much easier than the original one.

5. Cherry sage (salvia greggii)

This is a low growing perennial, one to two feet; it has red to pink, very fragrant flowers and in perfect conditions, it will bloom from spring through fall. It is very attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds and is a great border plant. When in mass, it is at its showiest and like most fragrant plants, it loses some fragrance during the hot part of the day.

6. Sweet Almond (Aloysia virgate)

One of my favorites. The fragrance on this one is not to be outdone. Sweet almond scent is strong throughout the day and night; unlike most fragrant plants its fragrance is continuous. It blooms on and off all year and after blooming it rests a little and then begins blooming all over again.

It will grow in almost any light except deep shade and, once established it requires very little water. Not only is it drought tolerant it will tolerate our poor soil conditions. The scent is a combination of vanilla and almond.

This one is very special. When I was planting mine in my garden, my neighbor came over to ask what I was planting because he was on his lanai and got a scent of something wafting through the air. I have now planted six of them in my garden. When is all this madness going to stop?

7. Fiddlewood (Ciyharexylum fruticosum)

I just took a walk in my garden and was overwhelmed by a strong sweet fragrance and I realized I did not include Fiddlewood in this article. The flowers are white and appear to be little bells on a string. The leaves are shiny green and when not in bloom they make their own statement. This plant grows into a beautiful shrub and also makes a great hedge. It is a great alternative to Ficus as a hedge with added charm: it has fragrant blooms.

Fiddlewood does not have to or want to be trimmed into a box or formal hedge. It grows best when let to grow in a little bit more natural shape in low to medium light.

Remember, these are only a few fragrant plants; have fun exploring other plants in different nurseries on your own, the list is enormous. Also, don’t forget about herbs which will give you a variety of fragrances in your garden, especially when planted near walkways where they will be brushed up against and walked on, releasing their fabulous fragrances.



Mike Malloy, local author and artist known as “The Butterfly Man” has been a Naples resident since 1991. A Collier County Master Gardener, he has written two books entitled “Butterfly Gardening Made Easy for Southwest Florida,” and “Tropical Color – A Guide to Colorful Plants for the Southwest Florida Garden”, and currently writes articles on various gardening topics for several local publications. Mike has planted and designed numerous butterfly gardens around Naples including many schools, the City of Naples, Rookery Bay, the Conservancy and Big Cypress. Bring your gardening questions to the Third Street Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings or on Thursdays at the Naples Botanical Garden where he does a Plant Clinic or visit his website,

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