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