Florida’s horticulture industry is the second-largest in the nation. From palms to magnolias, tropical bromeliads and crotons to azaleas, manicured lawns to natural landscaping or delicate and soft flowers to bright and flashy foliage, the variety of garden styles and plants is astounding.
“Florida horticulture is a small-business industry with a big-business impact on our state’s economic engine,” Florida Nursery, Growers & Landscape Association’s (FNGLA) Chief Executive Officer Ben Bolusky says.
FNGLA is the largest state nursery and landscape association in the nation. It promotes and protects the interests of Florida’s nursery and landscape businesses through advocacy, communication, professional certifications and education.
An Economic Overview
Although the lion’s share of nurseries and landscape operations are small, family-owned businesses, these thriving operations contribute more to the state than an upgrade in aesthetics. An economic impact study conducted by the University of Florida/ Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences on behalf of FNGLA found that the nursery and landscape industry generated $21 billion in total output and directly employed 232,000 people in 2015.
“Florida is the nation’s second-largest nursery-crop-production state,” Bolusky says. “Yet, we’re far and away the nation’s largest producer of tropical foliage and houseplants, with 75 to 80 percent produced right here in Florida.”
All Shapes and Sizes
The list of plants that thrive in Florida’s climate is a lengthy one. Native plants include everything from the dazzling beautyberry and striking coral honeysuckle to a host of carnivorous plants – like the otherworldly sundew and the mysterious butterwort.
Equal parts beautiful and functional, many of Florida’s iconic tropical plants can be found all around the world in homes, offices, restaurants and hotels. Many also play an instrumental role in residential and commercial landscape design.
“Landscapes and plants add value to residential and commercial properties,” Bolusky says. “They help create a backyard oasis, act as pollinators for birds and butterflies, contribute to wildlife habitats, mitigate soil erosion, clean stormwater runoff and relieve emotional stress.”
From A to Z
Plant hobbyists have no shortage of options when it comes time to pick out a few tropical plants of their own. Florida boasts a long list of retailers and suppliers, including Deroose Plants, LiveTrends, Heart of Florida Greenhouses and Excelsa Gardens.
One of the state’s cornerstone suppliers is Mercer Botanicals in Zellwood.
“We grow a large selection of mostly indoor tropical foliage such as Aglaonema, Ivy, Pothos, Philodendron, Calatheas, Dieffenbachia, Dracaena, Aralia, Syngonium, Crotons, Neanthe Bella Palms and many more,” founder Wayne Mercer says.
Formed by Wayne and Chris Mercer in 1989, Mercer Botanicals started on just three acres with a few falling-down greenhouses. Today, their operation includes 19 acres of covered production space, totaling nearly one million square feet, and houses upward of two million plants and more than 100 different tropical varieties at any given time.
“Florida’s horticulture industry is a driving force of the state’s economy,” Mercer says. “Our industry not only provides food for people in our state, country and around the world, but also provides air-purifying plants that bring color and joy into homes, yards and city parks.”
Style and Substance
“Would Florida be a world-class tourist destination without the trees, palms, shrubs, flowers and tropical plants that make it such an attractive place to live and visit?” Bolusky asks.
It’s hard to say, but one thing is for sure. Whether in a theme park, resort, neighborhood, shopping center or one of the state’s many expansive natural habitats, the vast diversity of flowers and plants offer a whole lot of color and life to the beautiful state.