What is Scrub?

Florida’s Natural Landscape

Sabal palmettoImage Credit: Megan Hansen, via Flickr

Understanding Scrub

The term “scrub” describes any well-drained sandy-soil habitat dominated by low hardy shrubs, various palmetto species, evergreen oaks, and high pine trees. This ecosystem is found along the coast and on Florida’s inland ridges. Scrubs are relatively dry and desert-like compared to the swampy, wet conditions found in much of Florida.

In those lower, wetter areas, sand mixes with rich organic matter and creates fertile soil. Organic matter tends to wash away in the fast-draining scrub sand, resulting poorer soil that only the toughest plants can tolerate.

These ecosystems are adapted to fire, and will naturally ignite if lightning strikes when conditions are right – about once every 10 to 100 years. Scrub biodiversity is maintained by the effects of fire, as the devastation clears space and effectively “resets” the food chain and life cycle of the ecosystem.

Baby palmettos that survived a firePalmettos growing back after fire, grass growing in newly open areas. Image Credit: Daniel Oines, via Flickr

Without fire, low vegetation becomes overgrown and the forest is taken over by only the plants that can grow tall enough to reach the sunlight. Species that need open land are crowded out, and biodiversity decreases until a fire comes through to mix things up.

Types of Scrub

Different types of Florida scrubland are categorized by the dominant plants or trees found there.

Go Native

Scrub habitats in Florida have been severely fragmented by human development, and are now considered an endangered ecosystem. What can we as individuals do to help? You don’t have to go out of your way to plant longleaf pines by the pool, and not every backyard patch of saw palmettos must be preserved. However, we do encourage our fellow Floridians to incorporate native vegetation into their landscaping, and if these native plants are already present on your property, it could be in your interest to keep them around.

Sure, scrub plants may not be as striking as brightly-colored tropicals, but they are beautiful in their own way. Besides, replacing everything on your lot with exotics and invasive plants will increase your irrigation costs and require regular fertilizing and pruning. By contrast, scrub plants have adapted to withstand Florida’s salty, humid conditions and sandy soil, so they won’t need much upkeep. In fact, the only naturally occurring events that can knock them out are hurricane-force winds and fires, so there’s no need to feel bad about neglecting them or even trimming them harshly – they’re made to bounce back after the toughest hits.

Resources for Homeowners

Floridayards.org has a Florida Friendly Plant Database that lets you search for different categories of native florida vegetation, such as flowers, shrubs, trees, etc. Plant Real Florida allows you to search for plants that are native to Volusia County and see what kind of ecosystems occur naturally here.

Just because Florida natives aren’t always showy doesn’t mean they can’t be styled in an interesting way that accentuates your home and property.

Florida native landscaping - using cocoplum
Mackay Gardens and Lakeside Preserve - Indian Blanket Flower
Messy/Orderly - Wildflowers and native grasses combined with a fence and mowed lawn
Front yard with palmettos and native oaks
Landscaping inspiration for native Florida plants. Images via Florida Native Plant Society Blog, Polk County Florida Friendly Landscapes, and Turf Magazine.

Neatly styled and trimmed native plants can look purposeful and lovely while also reducing irrigation costs and providing a habitat for native florida birds, butterflies, and insects.

Make It Happen

Need help trimming up your scrub plants? SB Tree Service has the professional equipment for even the prickliest palmettos and toughest trees. See how we trimmed up scrub and brush at a beachside property in New Smyrna Beach, FL. Get in touch with us to discuss what to do with scrub that borders your property or for help keeping landscaped scrub plants neat and attractive.

link to Our Professional Services