The Hunt for New Plants

As a life-long plant collector in 2 disparate states, I have plenty of tales to tell about hunting down some fabled plant, acquiring it at some expense, and watching it die, sometimes quickly. I've seen this fervor in other people, and am now old enough to coach the new collectors on what problems to steer clear of. One of the biggest mistakes I see in people with "plant-hunter's disease" is the belief that plants acquired from tropical countries will automatically grow here. Vendors with exotic plants from Peru or Thailand or Africa will occasionally tell unknowing buyers that the country of origin "is just like Florida". Not true, I say, since few countries are like Florida except the Bahamas or Cuba. Some semi-tropical savannah plants come from Florida-like conditions, and these plants often do well here. Many tropical plants come from areas of even, predictable rainfall, acid or clay soil, and stable temperatures all year long.Many rainforest plants are sensitive to soil conditions, weather extremes, and cold dry winds.

In Miami, we have very alkaline rocky soil, dry winters, uneven rain periods in the summer interrupted by scorching drought, and near-freezing weather every winter. Be wary of "new" species recently introduced into this area, and research them before you buy them. There are a dozen top-notch plant societies here, loaded with expert growers in their fields. Use the societies as brain trusts or as consultants, available at a very reasonable cost. Very likely, these growers have experience in your field of interest and are quite willing to coach you. Knowing some of the flaws in a plant before you buy can save you money and grief. The allure of new plants is powerful, but I strongly suggest you do some homework before shelling out the money for an expensive exotic plant which may or may not grow well for you. I've grown fond of buying plants from local growers, with plants born and grown outdoors in our conditions. Ask growers at plant sales if they have such "local produce", and you'll have less grief with your landscape.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

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