WAY Off the Beaten Path............

I read so many blogs about Impatiens and Wax Begonias and annual plants, but we live in a great spot in the country where we can grow something really DIFFERENT. I see thousands of unimaginative houses with equally unimaginative landscapes, yet once in a while I see some really cool and unusual tree on someone's property. I want to knock on the owner's door and ask a few questions, including "what inspiration made you plant THAT ? And where did you get it ? Thanks for doing something different. !"

One such tree is Gustavia, rare in most any place, but occasionally available at plant and tree sales. Seed has become available from Asian and  South American sources. Until recently, the rare-plant people said it was hard to grow, and that it needed to be planted in a swamp. I know the tree comes from flooded areas in South America, but the tree can be grown successfully as a "regular" landscape plant. There are sizable trees at Fairchild Tropical Garden growing in the coral rock we are cursed with, and there are several trees here at Pinecrest Gardens growing in varying landscape situations. Our best specimen is only a few years old, but is growing happily in a small sink-hole that is always wet.  

This is, in any analysis, an unusual tree with the unwelcome common name of Stinkwood. I know several plant collectors who have smelled the cut wood of this tree, and they report no good reason for the common name. The genus belongs to the highly ornamental and fascinating Brazil Nut family, the Lecythidaceae. There are numerous interesting plants in this family, including one of my most favored trees, the Cannonball Tree, Couroupita guianensis. There are several Gustavia species, all of which are ornamental to some degree, but G. superba  is the most common. The trees enjoy a lot of sunlight, warm or hot weather, and plenty of water. The only problem I experienced in growing this genus of plants is that they like a lot of iron in their fertilizer. This is an easy problem to fix, using any chelated iron product, applied every 2 or 3 months as a soil drench. 

On occasions, mail order companies sell this plant. It is a true tropical, and needs a greenhouse or conservatory to grow it well outside of South Florida. I have heard that it can be grown as a container plant for several years, but most of the species will get to several meters in height, necessitating in-ground culture. In flower, the tree's 3 inch flowers will always stop visitors, who marvel at the color and complexity of the flowers, sometimes buried under 2 foot long glossy leaves. ! It is a tree of both grace and grandeur, with an enchanting fragrance, and a fascinating heritage. 

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens       

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