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.
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: MorphocodeBy 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.
image credit: Patrick RasenbergLike 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
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.
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.
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.....
In Defense of Home Water Gardens
The Indian Lotus Flower
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
The Nearly Lost Art of Anthurium Hybridizing
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
A Talipot Palm Up Close....
Talipot Palm Continues to Flower at Pinecrest Gardens
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.
Progress of Talipot Palm Flowering
at Pinecrest Gardens
Monstrous Palm Starts to Die
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|
in full flower mode
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 !
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 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'|
"Jewel of Burma"
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|