December 14, 2012

 Curcuma--The "Hidden" Ginger

C. roscoeana

Curcumas are interesting plants, and most of them are easy to grow, once you understand their growing cycle. Curiously, the complaint I hear most often is that the plants go dormant. My opinion is that for several months of the year, you don't have to do anything to maintain them ! Several of the species are widely used as a spice, such as C. domestica and C. longa, also known as Turmeric. Most of the cultivated species and selections have attractive flowers, many of which can be used as cut flowers.One of several orange species used to be popular, but has fallen out of favor for unknown reasons.

C. cordata

There are dozens of species in the genus, from petite species under a foot tall to semi-giant species over 7 feet tall. One of them, C. alismatifolia, has made it to the mass flowering plant market in many areas, erroneously called a "Thai Tulip" . More than a few people think it is indeed a tropical tulip, not a ginger. It has been produced in mass quantities by local So. Florida growers, and shows up for sale in early Summer.

The plants need abundant water and fertilizer combined with bright filtered light to grow their best. When the plants drop their leaves, the plants should be left dry for as long as possible. In containers, this is easy, but in ground beds, many species won't tolerate errant rainfall or irrigation, so a rainproof cover may be needed. The rhizomes will sprout when there is enough heat, usually May or even June in cooler climates. The plants will grow in most parts of the Gulf South, and in all of Florida.  They can be grown in containers anywhere that is frost-free in the wintertime, with warmth and sunshine in the summertime. As conservatory or tropical garden-window plants, they lend a great tropical flair in a small area.

C. alismatifolia
The Thai Tulip Ginger

C. aurantiaca

One of the problems faced by collectors is trying to find different species to purchase. There are mail order firms which can ship rhizomes almost anywhere. A comprehensive plant search on eBay or Amazon would like have some good contacts for such plants.

The species and varieties are worth a try in a subtropical garden or in a large window where there is ample light and humidity./ Choose a soil mix suitable for African Violets, mix in a controlled release fertilizer such as Dynamite or Osmocote, and keep the plants well watered. The inflorescences are of rich color and interesting true flowers. The rhizomes of turmeric ginger can be harvested  fresh for use in the kitchen. All of these species propagate readily via rhizome divisions, as with most gingers or irises. Propagate them after they have gone dormant, keep the plants dry after the foliage goes dormant, and give them plenty of resources when in active growth. The effort is well rewarded....

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

December 10, 2012

A Private Pet Peeve: Unlabeled Plants

Plant marker at Pinecrest Gardens
One of my biggest irritations in going to some public gardens or to someone's orchid or bromeliad collection is the lack of plant labels. There has been a brewing debate for years in public gardens whether to label or not label plants. The sentiment for and against the visibility of plant signs is an equal argument. In private collections I feel there should be no argument at all: label the plants because in 20 or 30 years you may not remember the details of the plant. If you give the plant to someone else or divide the plant for distribution, the new owner should have a name from which he can get more information. There are numerous ways to label plants, ranging from utilitarian to beautiful, inexpensive to pricey, simple to ornate. Unquestionably, there is a method for your needs and budget.

soft aluminum plant tags,
written with a ball-point pen

I have posited this argument at speeches in local plant societies, and have heard that labels are little use to a private grower because he can remember the names of his plants. I should ask that same person if he remembers the source, cultivar, and repotting schedule of the plant, as well all the propagations he may have made to give to friends. Multiply those data points by the number of plants in the collection, and the resulting amount of data becomes quite a burden for a memory. In the case of seedlings or tissue-cultured plants, it is impossible to discern the names of plants when they are very small. This is especially true with hybrids, where all data are important. 

orchid community pot,
requires a label !
courtesy of
In a public garden, the debate over the aesthetics of plant labeling is won over by the idea of educating the public about which plant is which. In the case of Pinecrest Gardens and its position between 2 other world-class botanical gardens, we felt we should step up into the world of public garden plant labels. Both Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden and the Montgomery Botanical Center use metal labels of various constructions, with Fairchild using some highly decorative interpretive signs as well. In visiting other public gardens, the plant signage may be very visible and informative, or it may be just a small metal tag with an accession number on it. In any scenario, the educated and interested consumer can get more information about almost any plant in a labeled collection, private or otherwise. 

a well-detailed plant label,
courtesy of the Arnold Arboretum
 In most cases in a public garden, there is someone who will be readily interested to get you the information about a plant, and may be able to arrange for propagation material from that plant if it's available and easy to ship to you. One of the primary functions in almost any public garden is to educate people about the garden and its plants. In a private collection, the owner may not be so interested to give out information as in a public garden, but most growers I know have an interest to talk about their plants, their history, and their potentials and problems. 

In your own home plant collection, I suggest a simple and effective system, tried and true for the last 50 years or more. I tried a dozen "permanent" markers, and almost every kind of plant label material. I still work with an ordinary # 2 pencil and a white styrene-plastic label. When written with firm pressure on a plastic label, the graphite from the pencil will remain for decades, especially in the depression left by the pencil tip. If you press the label into the soil or medium, the label will not degrade in sunlight. I've had plant labels last over 30 years using this method. 

polystyrene plant label
                                                       Whether you have a few dozen plants in your own collection, own a country estate with a formal garden, or work in a public garden, labeling is an important part of growing plants. I used to trust my memory with all things botanical, but with a 14 acre botanical garden and thousands of plants in hundreds of species, I rely on labels more and more. 
In a public garden setting, plant labels can be an integrated part of the garden experience, with the knowledge of the plant now coupled with the beauty of its place in a garden. 

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

a permanent, hard aluminum plant
marker for a public garden or private estate

The not-so-secret tool for writing
long-duration labels