June 21, 2013

The Rose of the Mountain Trees

The Rose of the Mountain Tree
Brownea grandiceps
Brownea is the genus of a group of trees that I like a lot. The trees have a graceful character to them and they don't grow very large, at least not in South Florida. Of special interest are the flower clusters, which in some species can be a foot across, in a range of colors from light orange to scarlet-red.

Brownea macrophylla
flower clusters to over 1 foot across
photo courtesy of Fairchild Tropical Garden

The trees are in the Legume family, and are from the New World. They are becoming more available in South Florida, and several species are available at every Tropical Flowering Tree Society sale in Miami, as well as through mail order sources. The species are easier to grow than once thought; our trees at Pinecrest Gardens routinely set seed, and grow in more sunlight than the landscape books tell you. I have not seen any cold damage on the trees here, even at near-frost conditions. I know of several trees 50-70 miles further north and they grow well in a range of climate conditions, although the cultivated species like frequent applications of fertilizer as well as quarterly applications of liquid iron.    

      Brownea coccinea
                   photo courtesy Flowers of India

This group of trees is well suited for tropical gardens, has a nice weeping growth habit to the branches, and is fairly pest-free, at least in our climate. The seeds are easy to sprout if fresh, but in my experience the seeds can take many months to germinate. In one case years ago, I tossed out a pot of unsprouted seeds after 2 years of no results. The seeds sprouted 2 months later in the compost pile ! We have 4 species on site at Pinecrest Gardens, and I await the flowers on them every year. They often show themselves under the branches, so we either prop up the branches when the trees are in flower or prune off the lowermost branches every year to get some added clear trunk space. When well fertilized and consistently moist, the Rose of Venezuela trees grow fairly fast, and are worth the initial investment. 

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens