There are cold-blooded stalkers among us, watching everything we do, knowing when we’re not around, taunting us with their teeth and tails. “They” are iguanas, and as many of you know, they and they’re insatiable appetites are a constant battle for my garden and me.
Think I’m kidding? The plant at the top of this post is croton, a tropical shrub bursting with colorful foliage in the front yard, which — so far — is a sort of iguana-free space. Here is a photo of the same plant in the backyard.
My backyard and those of my neighbors are prime real estate for iguanas because we’re on a canal. They can often be seen sunbathing on seawalls, sliding down from the tree canopy, and using the canal as a super-highway to get from one buffet to the next. Although awkward on land, they are amazing swimmers.
Maybe — maybe — my creatures in the canal aren’t exactly like The Creature From The Black Lagoon, but there is little doubt that this iguana season has been more extreme. Because there wasn’t a cold snap last winter and because they have no predators, iguanas are everywhere. They’ve even started to cross streets and venture into gardens and yards that aren’t even close to water.
My only pleasure in this is that I’m no longer the only homeowner amusing the neighbors on the other side of the canal with my wild-stomping-towel-waving-iguana-startling dance. More of us are now putting on iguana-scaring shows and talking about the iguana invasion — and we are all hoping a cold snap will arrive this winter.
They’re also wondering what to plant, since iguanas are famous for eating flowers. Local cooperative extension websites offer suggestions, but I’ve found that my particular iguanas have never read the “Iguanas Won’t Eat” list of plants.
The result is that I have very few flowers in my backyard. No hibiscus. No bougainvillea. No mandevilla. No colorful blooms that scream tropical wonderland.
Through trial-and-error plantings and foliage choices, though, I’ve managed to create a space with color. Here, then, is a glimpse at what’s growing because iguanas have no interest in them.
Bromeliads are my go-to plant. They’re easy to grow, provide color, and come in all sizes. Some grow low the the ground, while others send up tall blades of tough leaves. Some have flowers deep in the cup, while others send up towering flower spikes.
They’re also drought tolerant, holding water deep in the cup — and this also happens to be the major concern for gardeners in the Age of Zika. Many are hesitant to plant bromeliads because the cup water is often a breeding swamp for mosquitoes. To combat this, I regularly flush out the old water with a burst from the hose.
Bridal bouquet is a type of plumeria, and I planted several between our shed and fence so the neighbor wouldn’t have to look at our shed. Once the plant grew upward into the sunlight, its crown filled with clusters of white flowers. Here’s a closeup.
Purple queen is a low-growing plant, often used as a ground cover. It’s an easy way to add a mass of color, especially when the plant takes hold. Iguanas nibble at it, but they quickly lose interest. The only real damage is the broken stems when iguanas sit among them — but these can easily be rooted and then planted.
The color is a great complement to bright green. Here, I let it mingle with clusia or autograph plant, a shrub with leathery leaves that iguanas completely avoid. Clusia can be pruned and shaped to keep it in bounds.
A South Florida native, coco plum is often used as a hedge. It’s fast growing, and new growth has a reddish blush that fades to green — and it makes fruit, which everything but iguanas seem to enjoy.
This is sansevieria, also known as snake plant, also known as mother-in-law’s tongue, also known as an indoor plant in most parts of the country. In South Florida, it does great outside — too great, in fact. This is actually a shoot from my neighbor’s plant that traveled under the fence and popped up on my side. I’m a greater danger to the plant than iguanas. They leave it alone, but I’m always removing any wanderers.
Iguanas tend to avoid leaves that are thick and tough, and few plants are as thick and tough as agave. While walking around the yard, I spotted this sword-like blade of a blue agave piercing through a clerodendrum leaf.
Pineapples, technically, are bromeliads, but they deserve a special mention. In addition to some edible pineapples that I have growing — no fruit yet — I also have some decorative pineapples. Although inedible, they are flowers.
Not only do the plants produce pups, or off-shoots, that can be separate and planted, the tops of the pineapples can also be removed to make more plants.
Besides, the stiff foliage provides a nice resting place for the lizards I like, the ones that eat insects.
Finally, there are the succulents, and this is a constant learning process for me. Some that I’ve planted have been devoured, while others have done beautifully.
And some, like the echeveria below, will even produce flowers.
Whether I like it or not, iguanas are not going away. I doubt there will be an organized hunting season to lower their numbers, and cold snaps are not a guarantee during South Florida winters.
As a gardener, I’ve had to adapt — as we’ve all had to do as a result of whatever is thrown our way — and I, for one, refuse to be bullied out of the garden by The Iguanas That Ate Florida.