December 16, 2014

Monstrous Palm Starts to Die

Monstrous Palm Starts to Die
Corypha umbraculifera
Talipot Palm
(photo: Craig Morell)
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

Talipot Palm
in full flower mode

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens


November 13, 2014

Plants We Love to Grow-Flowering Gingers

Flowering Gingers 

Etlingera speciosa
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 ! 
Alpinia purpurata

Hedychium gardnerianum
Kahili Ginger

Hedychium coronarium
Butterfly or Mariposa Ginger
with edible and richly perfumed flowers

There are such beautiful gingers that can be grown in South Florida that I wonder why people don't grow them more often. In most cases, the plants require rather little special maintenance, but do appreciate consistent watering and monthly fertilizing. The plants are mostly from tropical areas, but tolerate our climate well. Given the variety available at local nurseries and from mail-order / Internet sources, consider a few gingers to make your garden more tropical.   

Renealmia cernua

Renealmia alpinia

Diversity is a key component in a great garden, and few plant groups have such color and plant diversity as the flowering gingers do. The next blog will deal with the patter-leaved Hidden Gingers, and their surreal foliage.
Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

October 26, 2014

Plants We Love to Grow-Hidden Gingers-Part 1

 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 alismatifolia
"Thai Tulip"

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'
Curcuma roscoeana
"Jewel of Burma"
    Many of the Curcuma group can be ordered as rhizomes through the Internet, and the rhizomes can be grown in almost any area where there is ample warmth during the long days of the year, taking care to keep the rhizomes warm and DRY during the wintertime. The entire potted plant can be stored intact without need to "lift" the rhizomes, as is done with many flowering bulbs. the keys to success are abundant water, light and fertilizer during growth, warmth and drought during dormancy. The results are well worth the effort, especially since very little attention is paid to the plant for several months ! 

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens       

July 24, 2014

Plants We Love- Double Orange Shrimp Plant

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

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens



July 10, 2014

A Small Flowering Tree with Promise

The Kunming Tree Jasmine
Radermachera yunnanensis
The Kunming Tree Jasmine
This small and densely branched tree produces its 2-inch pale pink  flowers almost all year, but with especially abundant flowering after heavy rains in the warmest months here in Miami. The flowers are produced in bunches on the tips of the branches, and have a pleasant sweet fragrance, but never overpowering. 
I see this species from China in landscapes more frequently than ever before, but not nearly as often as I believe we should see. The tree has few problems,  requires only moderate  fertilization and watering, and grows in a wide variety of soil conditions. As yet, I have heard few reports of it being especially cold-sensitive in South Florida, and it prunes nicely to a small rounded bush or as a well-branched small tree. In the last 10 years, this species has gained popularity, and I have high hopes for it to become a staple in the landscape architecture trade.
In my own home garden, this little tree graces my front door, and rarely disappoints me with just plain foliage. A close relative of a more common genus-Tabebuia- I look forward to seeing it and its relatives such as R. ignea  come into our local landscapes. Growing to about 15 feet, but comfortably grown as short as 6 feet, this fairly new addition to our plant palette deserves more trial and attention. The plant world is endlessly diverse, use your options... 
Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

April 15, 2014

The Beautiful Butterfly Tree

The Amazing Erblichia Tree

Erblichia odorata
As the old saying goes, "good things come to those who wait". Fortunately, after waiting for nearly a decade, the amazing Butterfly Tree, Erblichia odorata is becoming more available in the landscape trade. What makes this tree amazing is the combination of bright orange-colored flowers, surprisingly large blooms measuring over 7" across on a mature tree, and a tree size small enough to allow the owner of it to see the blooms without using a telescope. 

I recall seeing this flower at a Flowering Tree Society meeting a decade ago, and IF seedlings were available, they were quite expensive and were quickly sold. Now that some of those original trees have borne seed, small plants are becoming reasonably priced, and can be obtained without too much trouble, although far from common just yet. The tree grows easily in a sunny spot in the garden, and doesn't get TOO tall, about 30 feet when mature. The flowers are almost unusually large for the tree, and small trees can bloom when just 7 or 8 feet tall. Our trees are only a few years old, and have shown no particular special needs, but do appreciate extra iron in their fertilizer diet every few months, especially in our nutritionally bankrupt limestone "soil". The tree has a modest canopy of narrow leaves similar to an Oleander, but thinner and more susceptible to wind burn or drought conditions. 

Our plants are growing in a section which gets several hours of direct sun, but afternoon shade; the plants are growing well and we hope for flowers in a year or two. I do not know how cold-hardy this species is, but since it hails from Costa Rica, my feeling is that it won't take much more than a light frost. In a modest amount of space, and with a little judicious pruning, I believe this tree can be a stand-out choice for a residential garden. The only thing standing in the way of this species becoming a major player in the commercial landscape market is its high cost / low availability at the moment. Regarding its cost, one of the important points to remember about this tree is that it is fairly new in cultivation ( compared to many other flowering trees). As with many new introductions, demand exceeds supply for a long time before supply can meet demand.

Someone had the foresight to introduce the plant into the country, spend years growing the plants, distribute it through plant sales and sales to collectors, hope it grows well enough to make subsequent generations and then declare it a success only after decades of trial. The initial money you spend on the tree is more of an homage to the people who ventured the capital and time to grow it for you. We are fortunate indeed to have adventurous nursery owners who bring in such extraordinary plants to satisfy the requests of skilled collectors and home gardeners.              

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

April 11, 2014

Stromanthe 'Charlie'

Charlie's Stromanthe

About a dozen years ago, a really interesting plant showed up in a collection of a plant collector in West Palm Beach, Florida. It is believed that Charlie McDaniels collected the plant in Peru and Ecuador , and it grew quite well in southern Florida. In the last few years, the plant has been released from Silver Krome Gardens in Miami, and is beginning to show up in landscapes, including ours here at Pinecrest Gardens. In the world of colorful plants for shade gardens, this plant has a LOT of potential, if grown only for its foliage. I was quite pleasantly surprised to see the bright orange flower stems showing off above the foliage.      

'Charlie' flowers


The plants have grown quite nicely for us over the last 6 months, with no evidence of pest problems, nor even a touch of damage from snails or slugs. It will be interesting to see how the plants fare through the coming years of storms, dry winter winds, near-freezing temperatures or occasional droughts. I know some members of the Maranta family are surprisingly cold-hardy, re-growing foliage from underground rhizomes or tubers. I would be most interested to hear how this plant fares in cooler climates. In the world of "new" foliage plants, where a plant is introduced with a slight variation on an old theme, this plant has few predecessors, save for the old-fashioned Ctenanthe lubbersiana 'Tricolor'.

This plant deserves a try in the sub-tropical landscape, and I hope to see more of it soon.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

April 3, 2014

Colonel Sumawong's Fabulous Fan Palm

Licuala peltata var. 'Sumawong'
About 30 years ago, Thai plant collector Colonel Watana Sumawong introduced this palm into American horticulture, especially in the palm world of Florida. It would be safe to say that the palm has made quite a hit, and is more commonly available than ever before. The palm has a lot of good qualities, and most growers who cultivate this species would accord it a better status than its oft-used relative, Licuala grandis. 

On a personal note, the plant in the photo is one growing in Pinecrest Gardens, and which I planted about 5 years ago as a small plant in a 10 inch pot. It grows near a stream, and is surrounded by tall trees, rhizomatous begonias, heliconias and a substantial bamboo. These provide wind protection and serve also to boost humidity, both of which this palm enjoys. The palm is now over 7 feet tall and 8 feet wide, has withstood low temperatures just a few degrees above freezing, and has shown no special needs for fertilizer, nor tendencies toward pest problems. Although we have several species of Licuala, this species gets more attention than most of the others, likely due to its elegant vertical carriage of "ridged" fronds and its standout presence near a water area.

Having grown both this species and L. grandis, I would much prefer growing the Sumawong Fan Palm; it is faster growing, far less prone to cold or wind damage than L. grandis,  and has far larger fronds, up to 7 feet across on a mature plant. It grows beautifully in very bright light, with moist acid soil and frequent watering. It can reach a mature height of 15 feet with an equal width, best planted in the landscape with 3 or more plants of varying heights. The resulting visual effect is stunning, even more deisrable since the palms are fairly carefree once established. I see specimens planted outdoors in rather sunny areas in many Miami neighborhoods,  which conditions would be too intense for other Licuala species.

 Now available at many palm vendors, this species deserves some space in more landscapes than is currently seen, and given more respect as a landscape plant than it currently gets.          

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens