Coastal Plant & Landscape Guide

It started many years ago; not as a formal plan or study, but rather a casual observation of tropical plants. Interestingly, the Florida Keys are the only tropical location within the continental United States.

Since the early 60’s D’Asign Source has landscaped at private homes, resorts, park and schools in the Keys and other tropical areas. At first, we used only natives since that was all that was available and known. By the 80s we began to appreciate the other palms and plants that were suitable to our environment and thus began our diversification into whatever would grow in our hot, humid, and somewhat salty environment. Then came Hurricane Andrew.

Hurricane Andrew did not directly affect most of the Florida Keys, but it gave us ample opportunity to experience and note the devastation that this category 5 storm unleased on South Florida. Since that time our interest and experience in palms has blossomed to include over 500 different species of palms and plants grown at our own nurseries in Palm Beach and Monroe County.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and hurricane alley. Dozens of hurricanes have ravagedthe state of Florida. Now that we have a nursery in Palm Beach County our palms and plants are spread out all over the state and we have had a chance to observe them in depth from Key West to Gainesville, which pretty much covers the majority of this lengthy state.

The storms in the last 25 years have varied from the inconvenience and mild damage of a category 1 with winds of 75 mph, all the way up to category 5. These monsters bring winds in excess of 145 mph, tornadoes, lightening and extensive salt water flooding resulting in the devastation of nearly everything in their path.

The data that follows is the culmination of 25 years of detailed notes and personal observations from the outdoor environments staff at D’Asign Source. Our full report covers over 500 species of plants, which is far too many for the scope of this article, so we have limited this report to the top plants. We have rated each plant on its wind tolerance 0-5; making the big winners perfect 10’s.

Our thanks go out to the D’Asign Source and D’Asign Source Botanicals staff that have worked for decades to bring everyone this valuable information.

Top 10 Hurricane Landscaping Tips

Drought Tolerance: There is a direct correlation of drought tolerance to salt tolerance. Typically, the more drought tolerant the plant species the more salt tolerant it will be.

Silver: Plants with silver or blue waxy coatings typically endure salt spray very well.

Maturity: Size is important. Typically, small plants of even highly tolerant plant species are not as durable as mature specimens. Except that extreme height is not an advantage.

Containerized: Pot grown plants establish quicker than field grown and dug plants, typically resulting in a more durable plant in a shorter period of time.

Health: Plants in good condition handle all threats, much better than weaker plants.

Irrigation: After heavy amounts of salt spray and/or saltwater inundation, quick and thorough irrigation/watering is strongly recommended.

Buffers: Planting buffers of wind tolerant plant species around more delicate plants will help protect them from wind damage. Plants in groups typically survive better than solitary plantings.

Berming: Increasing the height of the planting bed above the surrounding grade, will typically decrease the amount of salt reaching the roots minimizing salt damage.

Natives: Plants that are native to the Keys and other Caribbean coastal areas, typically endure wind and salt better than inland species.

Balance: Landscapes should be designed with durability and longevity in mind, but there are many beautiful plants that still deserve to be included in your garden even if they are not completely hurricane tolerant. Many shrubs and colorful plants are inexpensive and should be considered disposable, but well worth the effort and cost in between hurricanes.

Most Tolerant Native Plants

  1. Buccaneer Palm: Psuedophoenix sargentii
  2. Thatch Palms: Thrinax morrissii, radiata & Coccothrinax argentata
  3. Jamaican Caper: Capparis cynophallophora
  4. Silver Buttonwood: Conocarpus erectus var sericeus
  5. Lignum Vitea: Guaiacum sanctum

Least Tolerant Native Plants

  1. Golden dewdrop: Duranta repens
  2. Everglades Palm: Acoelorrhaphe wrightii
  3. Florida Royal Palm: Roystonea regia
  4. Cocoplum: Chrysobalanus icaco
  5. Satin Leaf: Chrysophyllum oliviforme

Wind Tolerance
How durable is a plant is to high winds.
Scale: 0-5 (5 being extremely high, 0 being very low)

Salt Tolerance 
How durable is plant to salt spray & immersion.
Scale: 0-5 (5 being extremely high, 0 being very low)

Coastal Hurricane Tolerances
Combination of 0-5 wind and 0-5 salt tolerances.

Top 10 Palms

These represent top palms out of 227 species observed. Palms in general rate between 3 and 10 for hurricane tolerance.
 Scientific NameCommon NameCountry of OriginTypeSizeWind
Tol.
Salt
Tol.
Hurricane
Tol.
Chamaerops humillisEuropean Fan PalmMediterraneanPalmMedium5510
Cocos nucifera maypanCoconut PalmHybridPalmLarge5510
Copernicia ekmanilWax PalmHaitiPalmMedium5510
Dictyosperma album furfuraceaPrincess PalmMauritiusPalmMedium5510
Latania loddegesiiBlue Latan PalmMascarenesPalmMedium5510
Phoenix dactyliferaTrue Date PalmAfricaPalmLarge5510
Pseudophoenix sargentillBuccaneer PalmNativePalmSmall5510
Allagoptera arenariaSeashore PalmBrazilPalmSmall5510
Pritchardia thurstoniiFiji Fan PalmFijiPalmMedium5510
Phoenix canariensisCanary Island Date PalmCanary IslandsPalmLarge5510

Top 5 Cyads

These represent top cycads out of 28 species observed. Cycads in general rate between 7 and 10 for hurricane tolerance.
 Scientific NameCommon NameCountry of OriginTypeSizeWind
Tol.
Salt
Tol.
Hurricane
Tol.
Encephalartos horridusEastern Cape Blue CycadSouth AfricaCycadSmall5510
Encephalartos trispinosusBushmans River CycadSouth AfricaCycadSmall5510
Encephalartos princepsKel CycadSouth AfricaCycadSmall459
Encephalartos feroxZululand CycadSouth AfricaCycadSmall459
Dioon eduleSilver DioonMexicoCycadSmall459

Top 5 Trees

These represent top trees out of 42 species observed. Trees in general rate between 2 and 10 for hurricane tolerance.
 Scientific NameCommon NameCountry of OriginTypeSizeWind
Tol.
Salt
Tol.
Hurricane
Tol.
Conocarpus erectus var.Silver ButtonwoodNativeTreeMedium5510
Jacquinia keyensisJoewoodNativeTreeSmall5510
Manlikara zapotaSapodillaCaribbeanFruitLarge5510
Nolina recurvataPonytailMexicoTreeMedium549
Pandanus utilisScrew PineMadagascarTreeLarge5510

Top 5 Ornamentals

These represent top trees out of 42 species observed. Trees in general rate between 2 and 10 for hurricane tolerance.
 Scientific NameCommon NameCountry of OriginTypeSizeWind
Tol.
Salt
Tol.
Hurricane
Tol.
Alcantarea imperiaiisPurple BromeliadSouth AfricaFlowering ShrubSmall42.56.5
Aechmea blue tangoBlue Tango BromeliadHybridFlowering ShrubSmall426
Breynia distichaSnow on the MountainShrubMedium336
Codiaeum sp.CrotonSouth AsiaShrubSmall426
Cordyline sp.TI PlantIndo-PacificShrubSmall325

Top 5 Succulents

These represent the top succulents out of 20 species observed. Succulents in general rate between 8 and 10 for hurricane tolerance.
 Scientific NameCommon NameCountry of OriginTypeSizeWind
Tol.
Salt
Tol.
Hurricane
Tol.
Adenlum obesumDesert RoseSouth AfricaFlowering ShrubSmall5510
Agave americanaCentury PlantMexicoShrubMedium5510
Agave desmeitiana variegateCentury PlantMexicoShrubSmall5510
Yucca rigidaBlue YuccaMexicoShrubMedium5510
Yucca rostrataBeaked YuccaNorth AmericaShrubMedium5510

5 Least Tolerant Natives

These represent the most vulnerable natives out of 42 species observed. Natives in general rate between 2.5 and 10 for hurricane tolerance.
 Scientific NameCommon NameCountry of OriginTypeSizeWind
Tol.
Salt
Tol.
Hurricane
Tol.
Duranta repens std.Golden Dew Drop NativeShrubMedium336
Acoelorraphe wrightii Everglades Palm NativePalmMedium3.525.5
Roystonea regia Florida Royal PalmNativePalmLarge3.51.55
Chrysobalanus icaco CocoplumNativeShrubMedium3.514.5
Chrysophyilum oliviforme Satin Leaf NativeTreeSmall22.54.5

Top 5 Most Colorful

These represent the top colorful plants out of 38 species observed. Trees in general rate between 2 and 10 for hurricane tolerance.
 Scientific NameCommon NameCountry of OriginTypeSizeWind
Tol.
Salt
Tol.
Hurricane
Tol.
Adenium obesum Desert Rose South Africa Flowering ShrubSmall5510
Crinum asiaticum Queen Emma Tropical Indo-PacificFlowering ShrubSmall459
Strelltzia reginea Orange Bird of ParadiseSouth AfricaFlowering ShrubSmall549
Cassia bahamensisBahama Cassia NativeTreeMedium448
PlumeriaFranji Pani NaturalizedFlowering TreeMedium347

10 Best Natives

These represent the top natives out of 42 species observed. Trees in general rate between 2.5 and 10 for hurricane tolerance.
 Scientific NameCommon NameCountry of OriginTypeSizeWind
Tol.
Salt
Tol.
Hurricane
Tol.
Conocarpus erectus var. Silver ButtonwoodNativeTreeMedium5510
Jacquinla keyensis JoewoodNativeTreeSmall5510
Pseudophoenix sargentill Buccaneer Palm NativePalmSmall5510
Unioia paniculata Sea Oates NativeGround CoverSmall5510
Coccothrinax argentata Florida Silver PalmNativePalmSmall549
Guaiacum sanctum Lignum Vitae NativeTreeSmall459
Serenoa repens (silver) Saw PalmettoNativePalmSmall549
Thrinax morrisii Key Thatch Palm NativePalmMedium549
Thrinax radiataFlorida Thatch PalmNativePalmMedium549
Zamia floridana CoontieNativeCycadSmall549