Winter in the Florida garden: A feast of color and berries for birds


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Posted January 4, 2024 | By Judy Greenberg
Daffodil Circle Pioneer Garden Club

Researchers estimate that most humans can see around 1 million different colors. In a state best known for its unfailing sunshine and moderate winter temperatures, Florida winter gardens provide visual pleasure for outdoor living and a feast for the birds.

Sir Isaac Newton influenced our understanding about color when he discovered that white light combines all colors of the visible spectrum. Sunlight is composed of the visible colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. This magical mixture of colors is known as white light. When white light strikes a white object, it appears white to the human eye.  A red object absorbs all other colors from the sunlight and reflects only red.

Shades of red are traditional colors used for winter decorating and poinsettia and amaryllis are the most popular.  Although not native to Florida, the traditional bright red poinsettia can easily thrive in the Florida garden. University of Florida researchers began experimenting with poinsettia plants in 1996 as part of their annual Poinsettia Variety Trial. The variety of colors and textures from these trials are not always found at your big box retailer and when the plants are offered for sale, it helps continue the research by horticulture students.

Dahoon holly

The Pioneer Garden Club of Ocala sells the traditional red poinsettia as a fundraiser for annual scholarships awarded to the College of Central Florida through the Marge Hendon Scholarship Fund. This also supports local students who are interested in further studies of horticulture and environmental sciences. 


Amaryllis are a common holiday gift that keeps on giving in the garden year after year. The Victorians attributed strength and determination to the plant due to its tall height and sturdiness. The plant is a living symbol of love; an ideal gift for those you love and care for. Amaryllis performs best in the Florida garden if planted in a location with well-draining soil and partial sun. The trumpet shaped flowers can be found in a variety of reds, orange, pink and white; striped and multi-colored are available but not as common. The natural bloom time for Amaryllis is between December and March.

Birds see four colors: Ultraviolet, blue, green and red. The majority of birds avoid white. The Florida landscape around Marion County offers a multitude of berries for birds during the winter. The blue colored berries of the Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) are a favorite winter food for birds, especially cedar waxwing, bluebirds and turkeys. 

People flock to Florida in patterns similar to birds. Florida’s population growth, according to the 2020 Census, is mostly attributed to migration from other states in recent years. 


Hollies in Florida say welcome to our state because of their wide range as a native around the United States and the world. The American holly (Ilex opaca) is native to the eastern and south-central United States, from coastal Massachusetts south to central Florida and west to southeastern Missouri and eastern Texas. Florida native hollies, like all of the hollies, are generally dioecious, with male and female flowers of separate trees and can be grown in a wide range of light and soil conditions. The foliage can be used for indoor arrangements and the bright red berries attract resident and migrating winter birds. Florida boasts four natives that are evergreen with red berries: American, yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) the source of the wonderful, caffeinated yaupon tea, dahoon holly (Ilex casino) and a hybrid of the American and dahoon called “East Palatka” (Ilex attenuate) that was discovered growing in the wild east of Palatka Florida in 1927.

The ripening of Florida native persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) during the fall and early winter brings the color orange to the garden and attracts wildlife. The plum sized fruit is sweet and slightly tangy and relished by children and small animals. The cultural significance, brilliant burnt orange or brick red fall leaves and food source for wildlife makes it an excellent addition to any garden.

Sources: University of Florida/IFAS, Florida Native Plant Society, National Audubon Society and Pioneer Garden Club Members; with additions by Deborah Curry.

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