Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Blog About a Blog

Colvillea racemosa
courtesy of Richard Lyons' Nursery, Miami, Florida
flowering near Halloween

Recently, the question arose about how I write a blog about so many different topics ( over 200), and what initiates and sparks the information needed to write such a blog. I choose to write about topics with currency or education. Rather than write of anything that pops into mind, I select the topics primarily based on something tactical or current here at Pinecrest Gardens. The recent flowering cycle of our venerated Talipot Palm is a good example, or the Spring flowering of our Baker's Cassia trees and so on. In some instances, if I visit another garden, inspiration strikes me when I see a great tree or palm or flowering plant, worth promoting to the readers respective to the season. My hope is that a few readers will start to ask for the more unusual plants, learn a few new tactics, reconnect with their plants and gardens, and maybe enjoy their plants once again, not treat them as chores.  

Chorisia speciosa
flowering now in Miami

My overall idea is to promote plant diversity and promulgate some skills needed to make the plants grow well, most are based on personal experiences. In the most general sense, I try to show readers that there is a stunning and nearly endless spectrum of plants from which to choose. Further, there are myriad ways to grow plants. Many techniques are well known, but only to an older generation, lost to the newer generations, other than reading (perhaps on a blog) on the internet how gardening should be done. The tactile connections between gardeners, learned skills, and long term plant growth are definitely on the wane; replaced by cheap "disposable" plants with replacement guarantees from big-box stores.

Lagerstroemia speciosa
Queen's Crepe Myrtle- flowering now in Miami
courtesy of Richard Lyons' Nursery, Miami, Florida

Unquestionably and irrevocably, I am a plant addict. One wise friend summed it up rather starkly, albeit correctly: 'You'd live out of your vehicle, if your plants were well tended.' I try to pass on the skills I acquired over the last 4 decades. Often baffled by how little people know of their gardens and landscapes, I try to show off something new or revisit a heritage technique.  In the monthly workshops at Pinecrest Gardens, I often ask the question "what happened to people who tended to their gardens every weekend ?" The most frequent answer was surprising: "we have a landscape company do that now". The advent of disposable plants, inexpensive landscape services, and the digital age have moved gardening for food and pleasure and aesthetics to a darker section of our pastimes. There are so many wonderful plant and design options, so much good information available from experienced gardeners, and so much to be derived from growing your own plants with your own skills. I lament the war-cry of "Google it....", and prefer the idea of "try it yourself".

One favorite expression among the horticulturists I know is that 'plants are illiterate, and didn't read the book that said that plant was difficult to grow...' I suggest people try 'real' gardening, and perhaps see that even a well-tended container garden on  a balcony or patio deck has real benefits, if you take the time to allow yourself to enjoy it.....

Pinecrest Gardens                 

Monday, August 31, 2015

In Defense of Water Gardens

In Defense of Home Water Gardens

Nelumbo nucifera
The Indian Lotus Flower
'Juno' Waterlily
photo courtesy of Craig Morell

I believe more people should have water gardens in their home landscapes. There is a misconception that such gardens are no more than mosquito attractors, an idea especially held in South Florida. With a vast array of water plants available to the home gardener, especially those that are available online, I feel we as home gardeners should revisit water gardens. There is, of course, a caveat: water gardens do indeed require some maintenance, and more than a fair measure of planning. I suggest that water gardens should be started small in scale, and as "natural" as possible, without fancy pumps and excavations. Even a half barrel can make a rewarding water garden, especially if you add an interesting accent plant, a few inexpensive guppies to consume mosquitoes, and some plants to cover the water's surface. The old adage of "just add water" is especially true in this scenario. Watching water lily flowers open at dusk or just after dawn is worth all the effort.
I feel that too many people have often taken a troublesome approach to their first water gardens. People  buy a large preformed pond, excavate an area of the garden in which to sink the pond, add inappropriate plants for the size of the pond, and assume the system will be in equilibrium all by itself. This is rarely the case ! I suggest a far smaller initial approach, and once a gardener is comfortable with the time and details needed to design and maintain aquatic gardens, then increase the size of the water body.
The balance of your available time, sunlight, plants appropriate for the pond, and aquatic life suitable for your climate are all factors to consider before buying anything. In the same fashion that large aquariums look great when well maintained, such is true of aquatic gardens, where a small increase in the pond size means a geometric increase in maintenance and in your knowledge to design it.
The rewards for such gardens are handsome, with a diversity of wildlife attracted to aquatic gardens combined with stunning symmetry and colors from the plants. Large water gardens, with moving water and multiple levels, are a sight to behold when they are well designed and maintained. I suggest that novice "water gardeners" get a good feel for container gardens or "tub" gardens first, then step up to larger facilities. There are small-statured plants in just about every venue of aquatic plants, including lotus, water lilies, emergent and submerged plants. A case in point: the flower in this photo is about 8 inches across, and the plants is almost 7 feet across, hardly a miniature !  
For those who wish high diversity in a small area, or even on a patio deck, consider water gardens in a decorative container. There are fantastic resources available online to help design such gardens, and it may open your mind a bit to see what can be done, as you "leave the ground below" for the water above.....
Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens       

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Talipot Palm seed development

Talipot Palm at Pinecrest Gardens Continues its Seed Production

Talipot Palm at Pinecrest Gardens
photo courtesy of Craig Morell

Our venerable Talipot Palm is midway through its seed production cycle. The massive inflorescence has already shed thousands of immature or unfertilized seeds, leaving many thousands of seed to continue to full maturation. The prospect is both exciting and cause for a bit of concern; the thousands of seeds will mature to the size of golf balls. The question to answer is: what are we going to do with hundred of pounds of Talipot Palm seeds ? The answer may be to distribute them to any and every garden which could grow them, as well as any nursery which wants them. The long-range possibility of seeing hundreds more Talipot Palms in South Florida in a decade or more is exciting.
We have a small Corypha umbraculifera donated to us by the benevolent people at the Montgomery Botanical Center nearby. Executive Director Patrick Griffith and outstanding nursery manager Vicki Murphy were kind to give us a robust young Corypha for our efforts to continue the heritage of this magnificent palm in our area. Although it will be 5-8 years before we see the beginning grandeur for this little palm, it is a noble cause worth doing.  

Talipot Palm seeds
photo courtesy of Craig Morell

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Anthurium hybridizing--a Nearly Lost Art

The Nearly Lost Art of Anthurium Hybridizing

Anthurium 'Wonder Boy'
photo courtesy of Craig Morell
Twenty or thirty years ago, there were more people trying to hybridize anthuriums in South Florida, but many of the great aroid collectors and "plantsmiths" have left us. Further, the fervor for new aroids ( members of the Araceae Family) has also passed, largely in favor of cute, flowering anthuriums for the container plant market, or for the larger birdnest type landscape species.
Long ago when I started working with tropical plants, there were eye-catching foliage-type Anthuriums which I occasionally saw in conservatories or in catalogs, plants with magnificent silver veins set onto rich, jade-colored foliage which often had a microcrystalline look to it. In the right lighting, the foliage looked as if it were made of crystal velvet. The foliage could be larger than a serving platter, and to a novice plantsman, it was the stuff of dreams. Many aroid-ophiles know the hybridizers who made marvelous hybrids, such as John Banta in Alva, Florida; Denis and Bill Rotolante of Homestead, Florida; Enid Offolter of Davie, Florida and Dr. Jake Henny of the University of Florida.          
Moving forward to the local nursery world in the modern day, I recall seeing such plants at local plant shows, and on sales tables. Grown in large baskets of sphagnum moss, the plants grew quite well in our climate if given lots of water. These plants are now fairly rare except in the hands of plant collectors, and the demand has waned. Many years ago I had the good fortune to meet Tim Anderson from Palm Hammock Orchid Estate who started a number of plant breeding programs, notable in one program was a beautiful Anthurium  hybrid with an exceptional reddish hue overlaid onto jade, and also with rich reddish petioles. The foliage grew quite large and the plants grew robustly. Self-pollination of the plants was successful, and the resulting seedlings also grew well and fairly close to type. Tim called this hybrid selection 'Wonder Boy', and a number of plants have been distributed in the last 8-10 years. Just yesterday, I saw and photographed the propagation work of  local grower, horticulturist and hybridizer, Dr. Jeff Block at his garden, Nurturing Nature in South Miami. He has grown out several populations of 'Wonder Boy', and is selecting those with the best leaf color and leaf size. Grown in an epiphytic potting mix in large perforated pots, the plants grow quickly and to great size. Dr. Block is also making new hybrids, and we can look forward to seeing them in the coming years.  

Anthurium seedlings 2-3 months old
photo courtesy of Craig Morell

Anthurium seedlings 4-5 months old
photo courtesy of Craig Morell
This is encouraging news, since rather few growers want to spend the time on plant hybridizing anymore. There is more interest in making money in the nursery business than making great new plants, albeit a perfectly understandable point of business. So many of the "new" introductions seen at trade shows are trending to more compact plants, with uniform foliage for the potted plant market. The grand, imposing and inspiring plants of a generation ago are largely sequestered in private collections, plant society shows are growing smaller every year, and the interest in new species and hybrids in on the wane. It is heartening to see these trays of seedlings at Nurturing Nature, and he has been diligent in distributing plants to the local horticulture community. I can hope that soon we will see a resurgence in this group of gorgeous species, and maybe even a swell in demand for such plants which make such a statement in the landscape. With some fairly recent introductions of species with foliage that can reach 5 feet or more in length, there is much promise to the future of pattern-leaf Anthuriums, renewing a trend largely lost from the 1970s and 1980s. 

Anthurium newly transplanted
photo courtesy of Craig Morell

There is plenty of room in the horticulture world for new plants, or re-introductions of plants seen decades ago. We should expand our purchasing horizons and take a new look at the vast variety of plants available to us.

Anthurium 6-8 months from seed
photo courtesy of Craig Morell

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Talipot Palm--Up Close

A Talipot Palm Up Close....
VERY Close


Getting Up Close to a Talipot Palm
photo courtesy of Craig Morell


Last week, staff members from Pinecrest Gardens and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden had the rare opportunity to see a Talipot Palm up close. With the generous support of a well-equipped tree company, we got a chance to get into the crown of the palm, yielding photos and data that would otherwise be difficult to get. What we saw was a rare view of the largest plant inflorescence in the world, a giant bloom stem containing hundreds of thousands of flowers. What I saw was both amazing and of concern; most of the flowers had been pollinatedHorticulturists usually celebrate good pollination on a rare plant, but in this case, since the seeds are the size of golf balls, the prospect of having many thousands of large seeds gives me some concern ! The blizzard of small flowers was quite a sight to see, and the complexity of the inflorescence was equally amazing, with a magnitude of size unlike anything in our environment.     

The Talipot Palm crown from 20 feet away
photo courtesy:  Craig Morell
The palm has a huge inflorescence, over 20 feet tall, but it will die off in the next year or two. We would expect the palm to die completely in 2-3 years, but in the short term, we will look to harvest hundreds or thousands of seeds for distribution.    


                                                                                photo courtesy:  Craig Morell
                      Talipot Palm flower stem,
          with thousands of pollinated flowers 

 As we moved closer and closer to the palm crown, we could see the extraordinary activity of pollinators still searching for open flowers. There are still a few flowers open on the flower stem, but most of the flowers were pollinated, ready for the next step in life--maturing into seed. The seeds will take several months to germinate, and up to 3 years to grow enough large enough with sufficient foliage to transplant into the ground. We hope that residents, land owners and landscape companies might take advantage of this bounty of about 4 years....
Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens  

Friday, April 24, 2015

Talipot Palm Flowering Continues at Pinecrest Garden

Talipot Palm Continues to Flower at Pinecrest Gardens
Talipot Palm
Corypha umbraculifera
at Pinecrest Gardens, Florida
photo courtesy: Craig Morell
The giant Talipot Palm at Pinecrest Gardens is in full flower now, and the inflorescence is larger than the crown of the palm, quite a spectacle indeed. From the close-up photograph, it is easy to see why there is a common belief that the palm might have one million flowers on one inflorescence, which can easily be 25 feet tall and almost as wide. In the next few months we expect to see the early formation of seeds. When the seeds develop, the inflorescence will become a giant Christmas tree, with the seeds in the role of green ornaments the size of golf balls. The palm was planted in 1965, and started flowering in December 2014. It remains one of the few Talipot Palms to flower in the United States, making this rare event bittersweet for the staff of Pinecrest Gardens who have maintained this palm for many years. 
close-up photograph
of Talipot Palm inflorescence
photo courtesy of Craig Morell

We expect the palm will continue to bloom for another 2-6 months, and begin the long process of seed production for another 8-12 months after flowering is finished. The seeds will be distributed to palm growers, plant enthusiasts and gardens in South Florida, so that this palm may carry on its genetic heritage in many gardens for the next 50 years.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens     

Friday, February 13, 2015

Progress of Talipot Palm Flowering at Pinecrest Gardens

Progress of Talipot Palm Flowering
at Pinecrest Gardens
Talipot Palm at Pinecrest Gardens;
started to flower December 2014

Our venerable Talipot Palm is proceeding nicely with its flowering cycle, setting out hundreds of small branchlets on its 12 foot tall flower stem. The expansion of the secondary and tertiary branches should continue for another month, perhaps longer if our "winter" weather continues in this period of pleasant days and cool-ish nights. We anticipate a good crop of seeds on this impressive palm, and will begin to clear the area underneath the palm in the next few months, to make way for the slow rain of flowers.
As we get into the warmer months, I expect we will have a great congregation of honeybees, attracted to the myriad flowers. For the bees, this flower stem would represent a Mother Lode of food, with a virtually unlimited supply of pollen available as the flowers open up. We expect a lot of seeds, but since each seed is larger than a golf ball, the expectation comes with a degree of caution, since the entire crop of seed could weigh in at 2000 pounds or more !
I will post more updates on our big palm as it moves through its Swan Song of life. 
Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens    

Friday, January 16, 2015

Talipot Palm flowering progress

Talipot Palm at Pinecrest Gardens
1 month after flower stem initiation
photo courtesy of Craig Morell

One month after we saw the flower stem of our magnificent Talipot Palm emerge from the crown, the inflorescence has grown to an impressive 12 feet tall, and is growing quickly each week. Just visible in this photograph is the emergence of the first sets of small white flowers. It is likely that within a month most of the flowers will be open, and the real show will begin. Once the flowering stem completes its flower production of thousands of flowers, we will wait for seeds to develop. There is potential for the palm to "set" hundreds and possibly thousands of seeds, each the size of a golf ball.
Seeing a Talipot Palm through the flowering cycle is both exciting and saddening, since this venerable tree has been such a big part of our landscape for over 50 years. The southern part of Florida is the only place in the United States where Talipot Palms can be grown outdoors, and there have only been a small number of Talipot Palms which have flowered in the last century, perhaps as few as 10 incidents. 
One of the other questions that would weigh on the mind of any public garden horticulturist is what to do with several thousand Talipot Palm seeds ????  This may become quite problematic, since South Florida is the only  small area in the USA where the palm can grow, hence there are rather few gardeners in the country who have the land space to grow this enormous palm. I will continue to document the progress of this remarkable event, month by month, until the grand palm has perished, having spent its last energy on seed production.      
Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Monstrous Palm Starts to Die

Monstrous Palm Starts to Die
Corypha umbraculifera
Talipot Palm
(photo: Craig Morell)
Our iconic and long-lived Talipot Palm at Pinecrest Gardens is starting its flowering cycle and will die completely in the next 15-18 months. This palm, Corypha umbraculifera, is one species which has but one life to give its visitors, a trait that is called monocarpism. The species is well known to grow for 40-80 years, and somewhere in that time frame the palm will mature, flower, then die. In the flowering process, the palm will produce one of the largest and most spectacular inflorescences in the plant world, producing as many as 200,000 flowers, which in turn will set several thousand single-seeded fruits. There are urban myths that the palm can produce millions of fruits; a curious idea because if the palm did so, the resulting mass of fruit would weigh something on the order of 200,000 pounds ! The well-branched inflorescence will grow 20-25 feet tall in the next 6-12 months, and when mature will rain down a slow-motion snowstorm of white flowers. The local honeybee population would likely regard the cloud of nectar-rich flowers as the grandest Mother Lode of all flower stems, and they will be busy at work pollinating the flowers. The fruits are round and the size of a golf ball or a bit larger. One of the sad parts of the life story of our Talipot Palm is that there is a well-established landscape underneath this massive palm's great leaves, and the plants will need to be relocated to make way for the falling fronds, flowers and seeds. We will re-plant a new Talipot seedling in the place of the fallen one, to make sure we carry on the heritage of this incredible species in our garden, one of the few places in the USA where Talipot palms can be grown.   

Young Talipot Palm leaf

Talipot Palm
in full flower mode

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Plants We Love to Grow-Flowering Gingers

Flowering Gingers 

Etlingera speciosa
photo courtesy of Dr. Scott Zona- FIU
the true Torch Ginger
an imposing plant with flowers to 10" in diameter
and plants that grow to 12 feet or more in height
 Gingers are a staple in the art of tropical landscaping, or should be, if they are not already used in your garden. There are dozens of varieties from dwarf to giant, and many are undemanding. Flower colors range from pure white to deep burgundy, there are species for just about every landscape site except bone dry, and in some cases, the blooms are edible and fragrant at the same time ! 
Alpinia purpurata

Hedychium gardnerianum
Kahili Ginger

Hedychium coronarium
Butterfly or Mariposa Ginger
with edible and richly perfumed flowers

There are such beautiful gingers that can be grown in South Florida that I wonder why people don't grow them more often. In most cases, the plants require rather little special maintenance, but do appreciate consistent watering and monthly fertilizing. The plants are mostly from tropical areas, but tolerate our climate well. Given the variety available at local nurseries and from mail-order / Internet sources, consider a few gingers to make your garden more tropical.   

Renealmia cernua

Renealmia alpinia

Diversity is a key component in a great garden, and few plant groups have such color and plant diversity as the flowering gingers do. The next blog will deal with the patter-leaved Hidden Gingers, and their surreal foliage.
Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Plants We Love to Grow-Hidden Gingers-Part 1

 Hidden Gingers- Part 1-Curcuma

Hidden Gingers are a fascinating group of fast-growing plants with spectacular flowers. The genus Curcuma is one of the most popular genera of Hidden Gingers, and the flowering stems are both spectacular and surreal. Recently, several Miami nurseries have released a number of varieties of Hidden Gingers, named as such for the group's habit of going leafless when dormant, and when dormancy is over, the flowers and foliage often arise together. 

Curcuma alismatifolia
"Thai Tulip"

Curcuma cut flowers

Many of these plants are rather new in cultivation, courtesy of both tissue culture labs and via bulk importation of rhizomes from Asia. The plants are quite easy to grow, provided they get plenty of bright light ( up to all day sunlight), are constantly moist and well fertilized during their rapid growth period, and are allowed to go rather dry and warm when dormant.  

Curcuma cordata cultivar

Curcuma 'Burgundy Ice'
Curcuma roscoeana
"Jewel of Burma"
    Many of the Curcuma group can be ordered as rhizomes through the Internet, and the rhizomes can be grown in almost any area where there is ample warmth during the long days of the year, taking care to keep the rhizomes warm and DRY during the wintertime. The entire potted plant can be stored intact without need to "lift" the rhizomes, as is done with many flowering bulbs. the keys to success are abundant water, light and fertilizer during growth, warmth and drought during dormancy. The results are well worth the effort, especially since very little attention is paid to the plant for several months ! 

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens       

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Plants We Love- Double Orange Shrimp Plant

Sid's Double Orange Shrimp Plant

Justicia spicigera 'Sidicaro' bush form
Some plants just have charisma, and this species is one of them. Some years ago, Sid Gardino from Gardino Nursery in Delray Beach, Florida brought this plant to plant sales. He is widely accorded as being the "originator" of the plant, but its true provenance is a bit fuzzy. Usually considered the double form of the nearly-weedy single-flowered J.spicigera, this variety is much more manageable. It has been in cultivation for some 20 years or more, yet is still fairly uncommon.  This plant has been such a good performer in our gardens, whether in light shade or strong sunlight, that I started planting them in many other gardens. I recommend them to other gardeners locally, and with few complaints, the responses have been quite positive. The only negatives I hear about the plant is that it can grow quite large, therefore it needs to be pruned every few months. The plant tolerates pruning very well, and quickly make a bushy specimen. Hummingbirds and butterflies both enjoy the bright orange tubular flowers, and the plant is in bloom much of the year. This is one member of the shrimp plant family that is robust, not too demanding about its diet, and can grow effortlessly from cuttings. Why then, with all these attributes, is it not more common ?     
'Sidicaro' up close

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens



Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Small Flowering Tree with Promise

The Kunming Tree Jasmine
Radermachera yunnanensis
The Kunming Tree Jasmine
This small and densely branched tree produces its 2-inch pale pink  flowers almost all year, but with especially abundant flowering after heavy rains in the warmest months here in Miami. The flowers are produced in bunches on the tips of the branches, and have a pleasant sweet fragrance, but never overpowering. 
I see this species from China in landscapes more frequently than ever before, but not nearly as often as I believe we should see. The tree has few problems,  requires only moderate  fertilization and watering, and grows in a wide variety of soil conditions. As yet, I have heard few reports of it being especially cold-sensitive in South Florida, and it prunes nicely to a small rounded bush or as a well-branched small tree. In the last 10 years, this species has gained popularity, and I have high hopes for it to become a staple in the landscape architecture trade.
In my own home garden, this little tree graces my front door, and rarely disappoints me with just plain foliage. A close relative of a more common genus-Tabebuia- I look forward to seeing it and its relatives such as R. ignea  come into our local landscapes. Growing to about 15 feet, but comfortably grown as short as 6 feet, this fairly new addition to our plant palette deserves more trial and attention. The plant world is endlessly diverse, use your options... 
Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Beautiful Butterfly Tree

The Amazing Erblichia Tree

Erblichia odorata
As the old saying goes, "good things come to those who wait". Fortunately, after waiting for nearly a decade, the amazing Butterfly Tree, Erblichia odorata is becoming more available in the landscape trade. What makes this tree amazing is the combination of bright orange-colored flowers, surprisingly large blooms measuring over 7" across on a mature tree, and a tree size small enough to allow the owner of it to see the blooms without using a telescope. 

I recall seeing this flower at a Flowering Tree Society meeting a decade ago, and IF seedlings were available, they were quite expensive and were quickly sold. Now that some of those original trees have borne seed, small plants are becoming reasonably priced, and can be obtained without too much trouble, although far from common just yet. The tree grows easily in a sunny spot in the garden, and doesn't get TOO tall, about 30 feet when mature. The flowers are almost unusually large for the tree, and small trees can bloom when just 7 or 8 feet tall. Our trees are only a few years old, and have shown no particular special needs, but do appreciate extra iron in their fertilizer diet every few months, especially in our nutritionally bankrupt limestone "soil". The tree has a modest canopy of narrow leaves similar to an Oleander, but thinner and more susceptible to wind burn or drought conditions. 

Our plants are growing in a section which gets several hours of direct sun, but afternoon shade; the plants are growing well and we hope for flowers in a year or two. I do not know how cold-hardy this species is, but since it hails from Costa Rica, my feeling is that it won't take much more than a light frost. In a modest amount of space, and with a little judicious pruning, I believe this tree can be a stand-out choice for a residential garden. The only thing standing in the way of this species becoming a major player in the commercial landscape market is its high cost / low availability at the moment. Regarding its cost, one of the important points to remember about this tree is that it is fairly new in cultivation ( compared to many other flowering trees). As with many new introductions, demand exceeds supply for a long time before supply can meet demand.

Someone had the foresight to introduce the plant into the country, spend years growing the plants, distribute it through plant sales and sales to collectors, hope it grows well enough to make subsequent generations and then declare it a success only after decades of trial. The initial money you spend on the tree is more of an homage to the people who ventured the capital and time to grow it for you. We are fortunate indeed to have adventurous nursery owners who bring in such extraordinary plants to satisfy the requests of skilled collectors and home gardeners.              

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

Friday, April 11, 2014

Stromanthe 'Charlie'

Charlie's Stromanthe

About a dozen years ago, a really interesting plant showed up in a collection of a plant collector in West Palm Beach, Florida. It is believed that Charlie McDaniels collected the plant in Peru and Ecuador , and it grew quite well in southern Florida. In the last few years, the plant has been released from Silver Krome Gardens in Miami, and is beginning to show up in landscapes, including ours here at Pinecrest Gardens. In the world of colorful plants for shade gardens, this plant has a LOT of potential, if grown only for its foliage. I was quite pleasantly surprised to see the bright orange flower stems showing off above the foliage.      

'Charlie' flowers


The plants have grown quite nicely for us over the last 6 months, with no evidence of pest problems, nor even a touch of damage from snails or slugs. It will be interesting to see how the plants fare through the coming years of storms, dry winter winds, near-freezing temperatures or occasional droughts. I know some members of the Maranta family are surprisingly cold-hardy, re-growing foliage from underground rhizomes or tubers. I would be most interested to hear how this plant fares in cooler climates. In the world of "new" foliage plants, where a plant is introduced with a slight variation on an old theme, this plant has few predecessors, save for the old-fashioned Ctenanthe lubbersiana 'Tricolor'.

This plant deserves a try in the sub-tropical landscape, and I hope to see more of it soon.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Colonel Sumawong's Fabulous Fan Palm

Licuala peltata var. 'Sumawong'
About 30 years ago, Thai plant collector Colonel Watana Sumawong introduced this palm into American horticulture, especially in the palm world of Florida. It would be safe to say that the palm has made quite a hit, and is more commonly available than ever before. The palm has a lot of good qualities, and most growers who cultivate this species would accord it a better status than its oft-used relative, Licuala grandis. 

On a personal note, the plant in the photo is one growing in Pinecrest Gardens, and which I planted about 5 years ago as a small plant in a 10 inch pot. It grows near a stream, and is surrounded by tall trees, rhizomatous begonias, heliconias and a substantial bamboo. These provide wind protection and serve also to boost humidity, both of which this palm enjoys. The palm is now over 7 feet tall and 8 feet wide, has withstood low temperatures just a few degrees above freezing, and has shown no special needs for fertilizer, nor tendencies toward pest problems. Although we have several species of Licuala, this species gets more attention than most of the others, likely due to its elegant vertical carriage of "ridged" fronds and its standout presence near a water area.

Having grown both this species and L. grandis, I would much prefer growing the Sumawong Fan Palm; it is faster growing, far less prone to cold or wind damage than L. grandis,  and has far larger fronds, up to 7 feet across on a mature plant. It grows beautifully in very bright light, with moist acid soil and frequent watering. It can reach a mature height of 15 feet with an equal width, best planted in the landscape with 3 or more plants of varying heights. The resulting visual effect is stunning, even more deisrable since the palms are fairly carefree once established. I see specimens planted outdoors in rather sunny areas in many Miami neighborhoods,  which conditions would be too intense for other Licuala species.

 Now available at many palm vendors, this species deserves some space in more landscapes than is currently seen, and given more respect as a landscape plant than it currently gets.          

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens