Cycads: Life in the Slow Lane


Gardening is an endeavor that can teach us many things about life. Surely one of the obvious lessons is patience: patience to make garden designs become a reality, patience to nurture plants and watch them thrive. Patience is needed when setbacks occur from pests or disease or truly damaging weather events like cold snaps or hurricanes. Unless our gardens are composed of annuals that quickly cycle through blooming and replacement, we learn patience from watching our plants grow in time into beautiful specimens.


Cycads, seed-bearing plants that are frequently mistaken for palms or ferns, are perhaps the ultimate slowpokes in our gardens. They are members of three very closely related families whose nearest relatives are conifers, such as pines, and the Ginkgo, an ancient tree species widely planted in northern landscapes. In books and films, cycads are popularly portrayed as primitive plants that were grazed upon by dinosaurs. The origins of the cycads reach far back in geologic time to the dinosaur period and beyond, but the origins of present-day species are much more recent. Today, cycads are considered relic survivors found in the New World, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Some cycad species are amongst the rarest of plants, with populations that are scattered and highly localized, sometimes to a single hill or mountain. Nevertheless, within their native ranges, certain cycad populations can number in the hundreds of thousands or even millions of individuals. 

Cycads are magnificent garden plants that live on a timescale that can humble us short-lived humans. They often grow slowly, take a while to reach maturity, and have lifespans that can stretch through centuries. Unfortunately, many cycad species numbers are dwindling or threatened with extinction. Human-caused habitat alteration and loss are the great dangers posed to their survival. Changing climate that increases the occurrences of drought and intense fires also plays a part. Due to rarity, slow maturation, and difficulties in propagation, certain species have come under intense illegal collecting pressure, pushing them to the point of disappearance in the wild. Ongoing Cycad conservation efforts focus on research and increasing both the numbers and sustainability of wild populations. An additional benefit of all this attention is that valuable horticultural knowledge has become available to gardeners who are interested in growing cycads.

The fascinating reproductive strategies of cycads could easily be the subject of a dedicated lengthy blog post. Cycads bear cones on separate male and female plants; sometimes odors and heat are generated within the cones  to attract specific insect pollinators, required to produce viable seeds. When habitat pressures eliminate wild pollinators, or when the number of adult plants of reproductive age falls below a certain density to maintain pollinator populations, the cycad population can become functionally extinct. If the unfortunate species is only found in a single location, it's game over. In cultivation, however, male pollen can be stored and female cones can be hand pollinated. Some cycads produce offsets that can be detached and rooted to produce more plants.  


Probably the best known cycad is the Sago, Cycas revoluta, originating in Southern Japan and its offshore islands, but now popular worldwide, even as a houseplant.  Many desirable cycads originate in South Africa, growing in places that are drier and have lower humidity than Florida. There are still many species, however,  that do well in South Florida. Some make superb xeriscape specimens, while others will thrive in irrigated garden settings. Of course, many cycads from Summer- rainfall regions of Africa and Asia as well as from areas of Mexico, Central and South America and Australia are suited to South Florida gardens. Our state even has its own native cycad, Coontie, a quite adaptable species.

A severe threat to the numerous species in the genus Cycas is the Aulacaspis Scale, Aulacaspis yatsumatsui. originally native to Southeastern Asia. The insect has been inadvertently introduced into various locations around the world, where it has no natural predators. In Guam and other Western Pacific islands it has virtually eliminated the native Cycas micronesica. It is a serious horticultural pest in Florida, where its presence has essentially ended the cultivation of Cycas without constant vigilance and treatment of infested plants. 



The Desert Rose

Gardeners in South Florida are succulent-adverse. Some seem to think that all succulents come from deserts and won't grow here, or have undesirable spines, or are basically uninteresting. We are attracted to flashy colors and often don't understand or appreciate the forms and survival strategies of the plants that we grow. Consequently, nurseries and home centers meet the lack of demand by offering few succulents, so the feedback loop continues. In fact, many succulents are well suited to our seasonally dry climate and fast-draining soils. They can have extremely showy flowers, great color, and striking forms. Above all, the survival strategies of succulents are some of the most amazing of any plants.

An interesting genus of Old World succulents, Adenium, is popularly known as Desert Rose. Unlike true roses, adeniums are thornless. Adeniums can be found from the Arabian Peninsula to Southern Africa, as well as the floristically fascinating island of Socotra. The genus is part of the larger Apocynaceae family that includes Plumeria or Frangipani. Indeed, the relationship between Desert Roses and Frangipani is easily seen in the similarity of their flowers. Like Frangipani, Adeniums are the subjects of intensive selection and breeding programs to produce all sorts of horticultural cultivars. Flower color, patterns, and size have been greatly modified from the wild ancestors, often resulting in additional secondary changes to the overall form of the plants.


Adenium obesum is the most widespread species of the genus. In the past, its many geographic forms have generated much taxonomic confusion. Previous assigned species names such as arabicum and somalense have all been subsumed within obesum, despite the morphological differences. Local forms of the species can be found in Kenya, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Oman. Some are small shrubs, others large, and others tend to grow as small trees. No matter the shape, all have similar horticultural needs. All Adenium obesum will thrive in South Florida. 

Grow adeniums outdoors in full sun, in very well drained soil. Adding some none-limestone rough gravel, such as lava rock or expanded shale to the mix is a good idea. Coarse silica or granite sand also helps with drainage without raising the soil alkalinity to an unacceptable level. Adeniums tend to be quite frost sensitive, so preventing them from turning to mush on the coldest South Florida nights will require some protection. They are great in pots, especially those made of terra-cotta that offer quick evaporation and gas exchange for their roots. Use a very porous mix that incorporates much perlite and/or gravel to speed drainage. If the wet potting mix won’t hold together when squeezed in the hand, it’s the correct porosity. Whether planted or potted, mulching adeniums with gravel is a natural and very attractive way of displaying them. Give them a slow or controlled-release fertilizer that contains some microelements and is fairly low in nitrogen, such as 8-2-12. Even 10-10-10 or 7-7-7- will work, as long as the nitrogen isn’t too quickly available for the plants. Water these heat and light loving plants regularly during their active summer growing period. To prevent rot, they must be allowed to dry out completely between watering.

Adeniums tend to go semi-dormant in the winter, losing most or all of their leaves. They don’t need much water during those times, but also don’t appreciate being completely bone dry for months on end. They like an occasional soaking drink, as long as they can dry quickly. Even though the plants might be leafless, they are still actively using sunlight. Lightly scratch a Desert Rose’s silvery-grey stem. Underneath is a thin green layer that continues the job of photosynthesis, even without the presence of leaves.

Horticultural varieties of Desert Roses, especially grafted plants, don’t always produce the same thickening at their base (caudex) that wild forms are famous for. Some greatly resemble their frangipani relatives by not thickening at all. To produce a thick base for display, gradually remove some soil and raise the level of the plant in its pot or replant it in its bed with a portion of its roots exposed. Doing so will not cause harm, as long as any freshly severed roots are kept dry to prevent rot.


The Great Wheel's Turning


Nature deficit disorder is a term used to identify the various negative symptoms of human alienation from the natural world. Like many other conditions, its most profound effects are manifested in children. The malady has been well studied, although not considered a formal medical diagnosis, and is generally accepted in describing the world's highly urbanized societies.

image credit: Morphocode 
By 2009, greater than 50% of humankind were living in cities. For the first time in history, most people were cut off from the intimate environmental associations that are fostered by growing food, hunting and fishing, and living closely with inevitable Nature. It is estimated that three out of every four people will be urban dwellers by 2050, with many of us living in megacities of over 10 million. 
I lived in Montana's second largest city 15 years ago. Comfortably small, it had about as many people as Coral Gables. The whole state's population was the equivalent of Jacksonville, in a place more than twice the size of Florida. Awareness of the natural world came with the territory, just by being there. Environmental issues, often contentiously debated, tended to be front and center in every day's news. Outdoor recreation was just what folks did. Anyone who identified themselves as Montanans, no matter their background, felt an intimate connection to the land, all of the inhabitants thereof, the weather of the Northern Rockies, and of course, the Big Sky.

image credit: Patrick Rasenberg
Like historical Montana, South Florida is a place of recent immigrants. We aren't that far removed from the region's frontier days. By the beginning of the last century the Indian Wars were finished. Both places had experienced their own terrible conflicts. Montana and South Florida were sparsely populated frontiers, similar to what other parts of the country had been like decades earlier; life felt a bit unsettled and raw. In South Florida, the construction of a large network of drainage canals would forever change the region. The original coontie harvesters, small farmers, shipwreck salvagers, Bahamian laborers and craftspeople, and the business dreamers would find nothing recognizable in today's urbanization, hydrological disruption, and profound environmental alteration. Even the beach sand has been pumped up from somewhere else. Successive waves of newcomers have brought their own expectations, based upon memories of the places that they come from and their expectations of what should be.

image credit: Frank Mirbach

Even in their diminished condition, our imperiled natural remnants are deeply moving. They demonstrate that the world functions with or despite us. Beyond providing free essential environmental services and economic benefits, beyond being the great wheel upon which our very lives depend, they lift our spirits and nourish our souls.

Few places in the U.S. can surpass South Florida in biological richness. Unfortunately, there's scarcely a region in this country that is more environmentally threatened. Many residents lack interest in much beyond the human manipulated landscape; environmental awareness seems nearly nonexistent.

The old Florida joke about there being only two local seasons, hot and hotter, is an unwitting commentary on how the glorious subtleties of the natural year are often ignored. We all should try to get out to the Everglades or Big Cypress and appreciate the annual dry down after Summer's tropical rains. Show it to your children. At this time of year, even in town, one notices the abundance of migrant warblers in the shrubs and trees and the raptors in the sky. If the weather turns cold, the manatees will move inshore and up the canals. Who can miss creatures the size of small cars? Very soon, the fine leaves on the bald cypresses will turn a rich russet color and fall, as the trees prepare for our brief, subtropical Winter. Take heart, just a few weeks later, the soft fuzz of leaves will reappear, clothing rough branches with the first golden-green sign of Spring.




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                 


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       


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


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 


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 seed..........in about 4 years....
Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens  


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     


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    


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


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



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


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