Gainesville is full of fun flora, but do you know what these plants are? Here are some tips and tricks to identifying a few native plants.

Illustrations by Eva Sailly.

You’ve walked the same path to work or school a dozen times, but have you ever stopped to inquire about the nature that grows along it?

“I think it’s extremely important to learn about nature in a world that is so focused on technology and cell phones and being connected to the internet all the time, that we kind of forget about the importance of being with what it once was,” said Anastasia Valamaki, a member of the Collegiate Plant Initiative.

The Collegiate Plant Initiative is a student organization at UF for “people who love plants.” The organization has chapters across the country, and its goal is to connect students with nature by introducing them to photosynthetic friends  On Oct. 13, the organization handed out 1,000 free plants to UF students in Turlington Plaza in only six minutes.

“I think while you’re learning about nature, you learn about yourself in the sense that if you’re out hiking in the woods you’re doing some of the more introspective, reflective thinking,” Valamaki. “And it can really help you evaluate where you are, and where you want to be as a person.”

It’s worth your while to take a look at the local greenery on your usual walk to work or class, especially since you can see it bloom practically year-round. We’re lucky to have a wide array of plant species unique to  Florida, and should note such. Below are just a few of the many wonderful native plants in Gainesville, and some helpful tips for identifying them. •

Star Anise

illicium floridanum

The star anise is a dense shrub usually found in wetlands. It is a common spice, often used to flavor teas, and is referred to as a “healing herb” due to its rich antioxidant content. A biology textbook will tell you that the wavy edges and oval shape of its leaves are “simple,” but crush one in your hand and you’ll smell licorice. 

Milkweed Bush

asclepias tuberosa

The Milkweed Bush is dubbed the “Butterfly Weed” due to its ability to attract just that, specifically Monarch butterflies. This beauty blooms during late summer and early fall, with red and orange “tubular” flowers. In bloom, these flowers grow in natural bouquets, making it easy to identify. These bushes usually grow in wet flatlands, so there is no shortage of them here in The Swamp.


jon jon’ magnolia

Though magnolias as a species have existed since before the bees, this particular breed is a scientific hybrid introduced in the mid-1980s. ‘Jon Jon’ has large waxy leaves—which can yellow in the fall—and even larger flowers, with diameters that can reach over 12 inches. The flowers are white with a reddish center. From a distance, the tree looks pink. 

Chanterelle Mushroom

cantharellus cibarius

Most mushrooms have a gill-like structure, folds underneath the cap that resemble pages in a book. But the chanterelle mushroom has “false gills,” which look like the wrinkled pads of your fingers after a long bath. If correctly identified, your mushroom should smell like apricots. While the Chanterelle mushroom is edible, it is worth noting there are poisonous imposters that look very similar to the Chanterelle. They are affectionately called the false chanterelle.

 Live Oak

quercus virginiana


This classic southern beauty is known for its low hanging branches. A quick tip to aid in identifying the Live Oak is to look for Spanish Moss hanging off its branches. Its bark is also very distinct, “gray to reddish brown, scaly, and vertically furrowed.” While these trees offer acorns, which were traditionally harvested for their oil, the shade the Live Oak offers is a hotter commodity. •