The Versatile Crotons

While Richard Lyons’ Nursery is known for its tremendous variety of flowering trees and shrubs, blossoms aren’t the only way to color up a landscape. Leaves can also be used to great advantage, and tropical plants ‘leave’ temperate species in the dust when it comes to colorful foliage.

Among the most successful and popular plants grown for their chromatic leaves are crotons (Codiaeum variegatum). The genus is native to Malaysia, Indonesia, western Pacific islands and, according to some authorities, southern India, Sri Lanka and northern Australia. But they have become ubiquitous around the humid tropics for their ornamental appeal.

Crotons have been featured in this space before (“Looking for Shady Friends,” July 12, 1913), but that was with respect to one of the few cultivars, Mrs. Iceton, that does well in low light. Most crotons produce their best coloration in much sunnier exposures. Over the years, zealous growers have developed hundreds of cultivars with endless mixes of shades and hues. Even on a single plant, upper leaves and lower leaves may exhibit differing colorations.

But crotons’ diversity doesn’t end there. Leaf shapes also vary over a wide range, from broad to narrow, long to short, linear to ovate – and even lobed like maple leaves! The combinations are seemingly inexhaustible.

Finally, crotons are versatile in their applications in the landscape. Taller cultivars may be showcased as stand-alone specimens, while shorter-growing types lend themselves well to use as hedges or mass plantings. As hedges, they’re probably best-exhibited when trimmed into informal, rather than boxy, shapes. (Take care when pruning not to have prolonged contact with the plants’ irritating milky latex.) And don’t overlook crotons’ ability to thrive in containers.

There is a nice selection of crotons at the nursery. Stop by to determine the ones that will work for you.

Bauhinia divaricata (Butterfly Orchid Tree)

The genus Bauhinia, is named after 16th century Swiss-French identical twin brothers who were botanists, Johann and Caspar Bauhin.  Appropriately named, because the leaves of Bauhinia, are two-lobed and perfectly symmetrical.

This particular species blooms year round with pink and white whispy flowers, and is an excellent nectar source for butterflies, especially, the Giant Swallowtail.  As a bonus, in the winter, the ruby-throated hummingbird also finds it an excellent nectar source.  The tree has a nice umbrella crown shape and grows to about 20 feet.

Richard Lyons’ Nursery has this tree in various sizes.




Fragrance for Your Yard, Part IV

Here is the final installment in our series on fragrant shrubs and trees growing at Richard Lyons’ Nursery.

Brugmansia sp. (Angel’s Trumpet) – In bloom, this genus of seven species is hard to forget. It bears large, pendant, trumpet-shaped flowers that emit a pleasing fragrance that is strongest during evening hours. Brugmansias, related to peppers, potatoes and tomatoes, are native from western South America into southeastern Brazil. They can be grown as multi-stemmed shrubs or pruned into single-trunked small trees that mature from 10-36 ft. tall. For best results, plant in a sunny site and provide regular watering.

Capparis cynophallophora (Jamaican Caper) – The sweet-smelling flowers of this small, long-lived tree are enjoyed natively in a vast range from Florida to the Caribbean and through Mexico and Central America into northern Argentina. The flowers are not only fragrant, but showy, produced in terminal clusters highlighted by white petals and purple stamens. Glossy oval leaves also contribute to the beauty of this species, which is a larval host to butterflies. Jamaican Caper matures in the 6-20 ft. range and is known for its great drought tolerance and resistance to hurricanes.

Cornutia grandifolia (Jamaican Lilac, Tropical Lilac, African Lilac) – This fast-growing species produces prominent purple-blue blossoms on stalklike inflorescences, but the flowers are not responsible for the plant’s distinctive aroma. Rather, it emanates from its velvety leaves and is enhanced by anything that rubs the leaves. It is a butterfly attractant. Despite two of its common names, the plant is endemic to Costa Rica. It reaches 10-12 ft. at maturity and performs well in sun to partial shade. Average watering practices are sufficient for C. grandifolia.

Eriobotrya japonica (Loquat) – This is a very versatile plant in the landscape. It not only develops into an attractive small tree and produces a tasty fruit, but also its white flowers emit a pleasant scent during the fall and winter months, when lots of other plants have stopped flowering. For those reasons, Loquat has been distributed widely from its origins in south-central China. Left unpruned, the tree will reach 16-25 ft., but it can also be managed as a shrub. In the spring, its small fruits ripen to a yellowy-orange color. Depending on the cultivar, the fruit flavor ranges from sweet to subacid to acid, with hints of peach, citrus and mango. Best of all for growers in southern Florida, the Loquat is unfazed by alkaline soils.

Exothea paniculata (Inkwood) – A long-lived perennial, Inkwood is native over an extensive range from east central Florida into the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and northern South America. It grows slowly to 20-30 ft., and sometimes even 50 ft., developing a dense, slender form. Inkwood handles highly alkaline soils easily. Its fragrant small flowers are white, with a yellow to orange ring or disc in the center. Leaves are a glossy, dark green color. Its red berries, which later turn deep purple, are appealing to birds. The trees’ bark and berries have been used in the Bahamas to make an inklike fluid.

Randia aculeata (White Indigoberry) – Here is another Florida native whose range extends into the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and northern South America. It is fairly small and slow-growing, maturing to 3-10 ft., but sometimes taller. The plant produces small, white, pleasantly-scented flowers year-round. Its glossy, spiny foliage and dense branching are also part of its appeal. Randia’s strong and extensive root system makes it hurricane-resistant. It is able to handle dry to moist conditions and is undemanding about soil types, as long as they are well-drained. It should be planted in full sun. This interesting species is a bird and butterfly attractant.

Zanthoxylum fagara (Wild Lime) – This citrus relative — its bark even emanates a citrusy odor — is a rounded shrub or small tree that can reach 23 ft. It is native over a vast range in the New World: Florida, the Caribbean, Texas, Mexico, Central America, and South America as far south as Paraguay! It features a fairly rough bark and spiny branches. Wild Lime is commonly used in butterfly and bird gardens. Its greenish-yellow flowers are fragrant and occur year-round, and its crushed leaves emit a limelike aroma. The wood of Wild Lime is dense, and has been used in the manufacture of cabinetry. This species should be planted in a sunny to partly shaded exposure.