The Little-Known Link Between France and Florida

How can a street a mere block long connect Paris and Miami? The idea seems preposterous. Clue: Take a peek into the botanical world.

Victor Jacquemont (1801-1832) was a well-known and well-connected French biologist who has been described as “the most charismatic, tragic, and energetic natural historian of his generation.” During a brief stay in New York, he got into an argument with a former general in the French army over his dislike for Napoleon, who had once imprisoned Jacquemont’s father. The scientist challenged the general to a duel. Alas, duels were illegal in New York State, so he suggested that the challenge be transferred to Haiti, which had no such prohibition. The general ultimately apologized, but Jacquemont still moved on to Haiti, albeit briefly. He returned to New York and did some botanizing in the eastern U.S. and Canada.

Jacquemont liked the democratic institutions of the U.S., as well as its relatively muted class consciousness. However, he detested slavery and presciently predicted that it would lead to civil war. In 1828 he undertook a nine-month journey to India, where he died just a few months after his 31st birthday. For someone so young, he left a prolific body of scientific work, as well as letters, which were later compiled and published. In 1869 a short street in Paris was renamed Rue Jacquemont in his honor.

Jacquemont has been memorialized in the name of a genus of vines – Jacquemontia – which comprises about 80 species. And therein lies the connection between France and Florida.

Jacquemontia pentanthos is a Florida species native to Collier, Miami-Dade, Monroe and (perhaps) Broward Counties. It is considered endangered in Florida, but is apparently abundant in the rest of its large range, which extends into the West Indies, Mexico, Central America and South America.

Known commonly as Skyblue Clustervine, it produces ¾-in. flowers on coiling stems that reach 6-10 ft. in length. Like other members of the Morning Glory family, its flowers open in the morning and close in the afternoon. Its most prolific flowering occurs during the cooler months, when the stems can be covered in hundreds of blooms. It can be grown as a groundcover or on a fence, trellis or other support. The vine attracts both butterflies and bees.  For best results, plant this beautiful species in full sun and moist, well-drained soil. J. pentanthos is also amenable to container culture. To avoid leaf tip burn, do not expose it to salt breezes.

Skyblue Clustervine is available at Richard Lyons’ Nursery in 3-gal. containers. We have recently started growing the white clustervine as well.

Spondias dulcis: A Master of Aliases Exposed!

The investigative staff at Richard Lyons’ Nursery has never seen anything like it. Spondias dulcis has more names than an art thief on the run from Interpol: Pomme cythere in Trinidad and Tobago, cas mango in Cameroon and the Maldive Islands, juplón in Costa Rica, buah long long among the Chinese in Singapore, cajá manga in Brazil, kedondong in Indonesia and Malaysia, ambarella among the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, golden plum in Belize, mangotín in Panama, and jobo indio in Venezuela. Closer to southern Florida, it goes by June plum in Jamaica and Bermuda. The last name gets the nod at our nursery.

In truth, Spondias dulcis is not a fugitive at all. It has lots of common names because of its multifaceted popularity as a fruit source. Originally native to Polynesia and Melanesia, the species’ reputation has led to its distribution throughout the tropics. It was introduced to Jamaica in 1782, and started to be grown more widely there years later when Captain Bligh brought plants from Hawaii. In 1909 a source in Liberia sent seed to the USDA, but it did not catch on as a money crop in the US, possibly because its cold tolerance is just a few degrees below freezing.

The June plum is fairly fast-growing, maturing to the 30-40 ft. range in southern Florida, though more likely to grow 25 ft. taller in its native range. Pollination of its inconspicuous white flowers yields a hard green fruit which often falls off the tree and ripens to a yellow-golden color on the ground. Inside the fruit is a fibrous seed.

Eaten raw, June plum fruits are crunchy, possessed of a pineapple-mango flavor with a bit of tartness. As they get further along in ripeness, they become softer. The fruit’s versatility has led to its being incorporated into a number of food dishes around the world. It is, for instance, made into jams and preserves and used to flavor stews, sauces and soups. It may be eaten with a shrimp paste or combined with chiles and other spices into a snack food. Elsewhere, the fruit is made into a drink in the company of ginger and sugar. It is also used in curries and, when dried, rendered into a spicy chutney.

But the story doesn’t end there. The fruits of Spondias dulcis are reputed to contain a wealth of qualities that promote good health. Among them are Vitamin A to maintain retinal sharpness and to improve wounds, Vitamin B1 and iron to prevent or treat anemia, calcium to fortify the cardiovascular system, sucrose to increase endurance, and antioxidants to counter free radicals. Leaves and bark of the June plum are also said to possess medicinal properties.

This interesting species can grow in alkaline or acidic soils and, so long as a sunny exposure and good drainage are provided, is not demanding. Finally, don’t let the name June plum mislead you; the species fruits almost all year. Richard Lyons’ Nursery carries the trees in 7-gal. containers.

Under Any Name, You’ll Like Blackberry Jam Fruit

In the ideal world, when a plant name is changed, you’d prefer for the new moniker to be simpler than the old one. But life isn’t always fair, and there’s no better example than that of the plant commonly called Blackberry Jam Fruit. Long known as Randia formosa, the species is now named, alas, Rosenbergiodendron formosum.

Fortunately, the species is as desirable as ever! A native of Central and South America, the Blackberry Jam Fruit is a small evergreen shrub – trainable as a small tree – that matures to 4-5 ft. tall. As a member of the family Rubiaceae, it is a gardenia relative, and its 1½-2 in. white, tubular, star-shaped flowers produce a nice fragrance.

And that’s not the end of the show. After pollination, olive-shaped yellow fruits develop. Inside each mature fruit are two cells containing a seed wrapped in soft, black pulp. Eaten out of hand, the pulp is sweet, a virtual match to blackberry jam.

R. formosum has other attributes, too. It begins blooming at a fairly early age, 12-18 months, and flowers and fruits in the fall/winter season, when other fruit trees are barren. New blossoms appear as the earliest fruits are maturing. Even a small specimen can yield a couple of dozen fruits. The species can flower and fruit in filtered light in addition to full sun. As a slow grower, it is quite amenable to container culture. It is also fairly hardy – down to 28-29º.

R. formosum is not difficult to grow, but it’s important to keep a couple of cultural requirements in mind: (1) Provide ample moisture and good drainage, but reduce watering during the coldest times of the winter. (2) Apply acidic fertilizers for optimum appearance and growth.

Richard Lyons’ Nursery keeps a good supply of the Blackberry Jam Fruit on hand. Come take a look.

U.S. Consumers ‘Discover’ Jackfruit

Fresh Plaza is an online publisher of news concerning the global fresh produce industry. An article it ran this week reports that consumers around the U.S. are discovering what we in southern Florida have known for a long time: Jackfruit is really good to eat! Richard Lyons’ Nursery has been growing jackfruit for over a decade, and we look forward to the upcoming season. Normally production in our area begins in May, but this year’s warmer-than-normal winter may mean an earlier start. Meanwhile, enjoy Fresh Plaza’s article on the burgeoning interest in jackfruit.

Increase in demand as a meat substitute and good nutritional value

Jackfruit trend is good news for Mexican growers importing into the USA

Good news for jackfruit growers in Mexico. Not only does their proximity mean better pricing than overseas imports, but it seems like it’s approaching trend status, with many types of customers in North America.
Within the last few weeks several articles have been published, including Kansascity.com’s recent piece about the “jackfruit craze”. It has great applications as a meat substitute for vegetarians and those in foodservice who cater to them.
Last Friday Luis Enrique Garcia of It’s Montse Fruit Inc. was in Nayarit on the Pacific Coast of Mexico negotiating prices for jackfruit. “Right now the prices are a little higher because it’s the beginning of the season and supply is low,” he said. “All of the growers seem to be happy with the import projections for this year. The jackfruit market keeps going up. There’s more demand every year.” He says US customers are learning more about its nutritional value and since it’s proving to be a good meat substitute he says, “The market will only get bigger every year.”
It’s already meant that growers have been increasing their acreages of jackfruit, some at the expense of other commodities. “A lot of the growers in Mexico are taking down other fruit trees and replacing with jackfruit because it makes more business sense.” This is a huge jackfruit success, considering that just recently, in the late 80’s, Mr. Robert Brown introduced the first jackfruit trees in this region and Carlos Sanchez exported the first truckload of jackfruit in 1992.
Over the next few weeks Garcia will be importing two to three truckloads from Mexico each week, and similar load quantities will also arrive from other businesses and he estimates an overall 20- 30 truckloads will be coming into the USA during the peak season.
For more information:
Luis Enrique Garcia
It’s Montse Fruits Inc.
Tel: 956-559-8030

Lipstick Tree (Bixa orellana)

Bixa orellana, the Lipstick Tree, has to be one of the most fascinating plants found anywhere. It has been valuable, versatile and popular for so long that no one knows exactly where in the New World Tropics it originated.

The species name honors Francisco de Orellana, a Spanish conquistador of the 16th century, who, according to one commentator, accidentally discovered the Amazon. But, honestly, isn’t any discovery accidental? That’s really a metaphysical question, worthy of separate debate, perhaps at the next Richard Lyons Philosophy Week and Chutney Festival. At any rate, Mr. Orellana was the first European known to have navigated the entire Amazon River, and that’s worthy of some recognition. We hope he reveled in the feat, because, regrettably, his ship capsized at the mouth of the Amazon a few years later, and he ended up swimming with the fishes.

Also known as the annatto dye plant, achiote, bijol or urucu, B. orellana grows into a shrub or small tree 6-20 ft. tall. Its pinkish-white flowers are followed by a bright red, heart-shaped, very bristly and inedible fruit capsule. When ripe, the capsule turns brown, hardens and splits open, revealing a large quantity of seeds embedded in orange-red pulp. An individual plant can produce lots of fruit: up to 270 kg. (nearly 600 lb.).

But the Lipstick Tree is not just another pretty face. In addition to having great ornamental value, Bixa possesses many other desirable properties. Historically, the Aztecs and Maya had a high regard for B. orellana, and not just as an aphrodisiac. The crushed seeds contain a reddish dye — the so-called annatto juice — whose main constituents, bixin and norbixin, are carotenoids. Practically all Mayan scriptures were written in annatto juice. It should come as no surprise, then, that research is being conducted on the potential for incorporating annatto in printer inks. The dye has also long been used by indigenous peoples as body paint, on textiles and, of course, for lipstick.

Annatto is also employed as a color additive in foods all the way from Latin America to the Philip-pines. The dye is used as a less expensive alternative to saffron in coloring and flavoring rice.  In addition it is arguably a much less costly substitute for beta carotene, though it appears to lack a concerted marketing push toward that end.

Take a look at grocery product labels, and you will discover that annatto is among the most popular of food dyes in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration places it in the category of colorings known as GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe), and domestic products containing annatto include butter, cheeses, custards, candies and spreads. Elsewhere, the dye appears in pop- corn, breads, chicken and pork. Seeds are separated from the pulp and used as a mild spice. (While some individuals report an allergic reaction to annatto, what they actually may be sensitive to is chemicals involved in the commercial extraction of the dye.)

Aside from foods, annatto dye appears as a coloring agent in fingernail polish, shoe polish, floor wax, hair oil, lacquer, varnish, soap, cosmetics, furniture, ointments and leather. The pulp is also used to repel insects.

From ancient times, medicinal uses for annatto have been well known, and they have covered an impressive range of maladies: dermatological problems, high cholesterol, heartburn, malaria, fevers, liver disorders, burns, dysentery, digestive ailments, snakebites, coughs, prostate disorders, hyperten- sion, obesity, vaginitis, eye infections, and epilepsy. While historically roots, shoots, bark, leaves and seeds of B. orellana have all proven to possess medicinal properties, today scientists concentrate  only on the benefits derived from seeds and seed paste. The high anti-oxidant properties of bixin and norbixin appear to be receiving a lot of attention, and the same two carotenoids have been found to lower blood sugar levels.

Richard Lyons’ Nursery has these exceptional trees in various sizes. Heads-up:  If you intend to leave the plant in the container for a while, separate it from the soil underneath the pot, because it roots out readily.

Bixa orellana (Lipstick Tree)

Bixa orellana (Lipstick Tree)

Bixa orellana (Lipstick Tree)