Mandarin Hat Plant (Holmskioldia sanguinea)

The management and staff of Richard Lyons’ Nursery always make a sincere effort to urge customers to use both scientific and common names of plants. But considering how hard it is to say Holmskioldia sanguinea, we’ll forgive you if you favor the common names, Mandarin Hat Plant (the name preferred in southern Florida), Chinese Hat Plant or Cup-and-Saucer Plant.

This Asian shrub belongs to the Lamiaceae, an interesting family — comprising about 3,200 species — which includes not only herbs such as rosemary, oregano, lavender, thyme, basil, sage, catnip and mint, but also trees such as teak. H. sanguinea is a climbing shrub native to the lowlands of the Himalayas. The plant grows fairly rapidly to about 6-10 ft. high and about as wide. It can exist unsupported, but can also be grown on a trellis or fence. It occupies a niche in the landscape both as a hedge and as a specimen plant.

H. sanguinea flowers most heavily between October and May. Each hat- or saucer-shaped flower features orange-to-scarlet petals and a red, orange or yellow calyx. If you want to maintain the plant’s compactness, do some selective pruning after it flowers.

The Chinese Hat Plant should be grown in full to partial sun. It prefers a well-drained soil. Once established, it is reasonably drought-tolerant, and, in fact, its moisture demands are not as great during the winter. It is moderately salt-tolerant and can handle some frost.

In addition to the red, orange and yellow forms of H. sanguinea, we also recommend a related species, H. tettensis, a blue-flowering species which blooms in the summer. Both of these Holmskioldia species are available at the nursery in 3-gal. containers.  We also grow them as standards.

Holmskioldia sanguinea (Orange Mandarin Hat)

Holmskioldia sanguinea (Orange Mandarin Hat Plant) Grown as a Standard

Holmskioldia sanguinea (Yellow Mandarin Hat)

Holmskioldia tettensis (Lavender Mandarin Hat)

News About Citrus Greening Remains Grim

From time to time in this space, we report on the course of citrus greening in Florida. Citrus greening is a bacterial disease spread primarily by an insect known as a psyllid, and its presence in the state has been documented since 2005. The disease has had a devastating effect on commercial production here.

Unfortunately, the news continues to be discouraging. On March 9 U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasters predicted that orange production for the 2016-17 season would yield 67 million boxes. (A box weighs 90 lbs.) That figure represents not only a significant drop from the January forecast of 71 million boxes, but a drastic decline from the record of 244 million boxes in 1997-98.

In recent years federal and state funds have been spent in the effort to eradicate, or at least control, citrus greening, but nothing that is both effective and economically feasible has been found so far.

One of the startling by-products of citrus greening is the abandonment of citrus groves. Farmers have walked away from an estimated 125,000 acres of citrus trees killed or rendered unproductive by citrus greening. The problem with that development is that the abandoned orchards function as grounds for the psyllids to breed and spread into healthy groves.

In each of the last couple of years, the federal government allocated $1 million to cut and burn abandoned trees, but the program has now expired. In its place, the State of Florida has just appropriated $4 million to dig up and burn abandoned citrus trees. The head of the project says that her goal is to burn trees on nearly 18,000 acres before the end of June. That, of course, will still leave more than 85% of the abandoned trees in place.

Because of the lack of a breakthrough in the treatment of citrus greening, Richard Lyons’ Nursery continues to recommend against purchasing citrus trees.

What’s in a name? Thanks for asking.

From time to time on this website we mention the confusion that can occur from using common names. What happens often is that a single species may have multiple common names, and that condition can develop even in a relatively small geographic area, particularly where mountains or forests historically have limited access by one human population to another.

More rarely, unrelated species have been accorded common names that are so similar that bewilderment reigns. Such is the case with what we call mamey / mammee / mamee sapote / mamey sapote / zapote mamey / mammee apple / mamey amarillo / mamey colorado / zapote rojo / mamey sapote / zapote grande / mamey de Cartagena / zapote de Santo Domingo. These common names – and many more – are found around the Americas, but, perhaps surprisingly, they are attached to just two species. Both are fruit trees, but that is where the similarity ends, because they are members of distinctly different families.

There’s actually no mystery behind the source of the confusion: The word sapote/zapote is derived from Nahuatl (Aztec), the language of the Nahua people, who live primarily in Central Mexico. In Nahuatl, the word ‘tzapotl’ refers to all soft, sweet fruit. Over time, settlers in the New World came to apply the term sapote or zapote to local tree species that produce soft, sweet fruit. Thus, for example, Colombians and Cubans have equal standing to claim that they grow the true sapote, but they’re talking about unrelated species of fruiting trees. (Chris Rollins, now retired from a long career as manager of the Fruit & Spice Park in the Redland, has said that at least seven distinct fruit tree species go by the name sapote or zapote around the Americas.)

Let’s try to slog through the Swamp of Confusion and come out the other end with our wits intact.

The tree known as sapote/zapote in Colombia is Mammea americana, of the family Calophyllaceae. It bears a resemblance to its well-known relative in the southern U.S., Magnolia grandiflora. Capable of reaching a height of 59-69 ft. in its native range, M. americana bears dark green, glossy, leathery leaves measuring about 4 X 8 in. and fragrant white flowers. Its fruit has a hard, roundish, brown rind about 4-8 in. in diameter. The edible flesh of the fruit, colored orange or yellow, is wrapped in a dry, white membrane that should be peeled away. The fruit is always fiberless, but its texture varies in softness and juiciness.

Native to South America, M. americana is now cultivated as far away as western Africa and Hawaii. Its gateway to southern Florida was probably the Bahamas. Though the tree prefers deep, rich soils, it has proven adaptable to our limestone soils. Various parts of M. americana are reputed to have medicinal qualities, as well as the capacity to kill or repel a number of insect pests.

Among the many common names applied to this species are mammee, zapote mamey, mammee apple, mamey amarillo (yellow mamey), mamey de Cartagena, and zapote de Santo Domingo.

The tree known as sapote/zapote in Cuba is Pouteria sapota, of the family Sapotaceae. It is native to Mexico, Central America, and Cuba, but began to be carried to other New World sites hundreds of years ago. Distribution was probably slowed because the seeds of P. sapota have short viability. As far as can be determined, P. sapota was introduced into Florida in the mid-1880s. The fruit is now quite popular in southern Florida, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. It is not well-known outside those places, but there is some evidence that interest is developing in various Old World countries.

P. sapota possesses a stout trunk and a small number of large scaffold branches that support a spreading crown. While capable of reaching more than 140 ft. in its native range, this species tops out at about 40 ft. in southern Florida. It produces leaves as large as 4 X 8 in. Leaf undersides are light green or brown, and are fuzzy when young. Its small white flowers tend to cluster at the ends of small branches. The thick, woody fruit of P. sapota, covered by a reddish-brown skin, is elongated, measuring as much as 3 X 8 in. The flesh of the fruit, smooth and usually fiberless, varies is colored in a range from dark red through salmon pink and features a distinctive, sweet, almond-like flavor. In addition to being good to eat out of hand, P. sapota is frequently used to flavor ice cream, milkshakes or jellies.

There are lots of cultivars of P. sapota in southern Florida. IFAS reports that the cultivars ‘Pantin’ and ‘Magana’ account for close to 100% of the sapotes grown commercially in the state. Fruiting periods vary greatly among the cultivars, so it’s possible by careful selection to have trees in fruit year-round; and these trees fruit prolifically.

P. sapota does have one important similarity to M. americana: It tolerates a large range of soils, so long as they are well-drained. It is particularly important with P. sapota to avoid buying a rootbound specimen.

Among the many common names applied to this species are mamey, mamee sapote, mamey sapote, mamey colorado (red mamey), zapote rojo, and zapote grande.

Richard Lyons Nursery carries Mammea americana and Pouteria sapota in various sizes.

Jujube Tree (Zizyphus jujuba)

The Jujube tree is a fruit tree in the Rhamnaceae, or Buckthorn Family, that grows very well in southern Florida. Its origin is southern Asia and for 4,000 years it has been cultivated in China, where there are 400 known varieties. It can attain a height of 20 ft. and a width of 12 ft., and features  shiny green foliage. It bears a small oval fruit from late November through January. The fruit, eaten fresh while still smooth and green, has the consistency and taste of an apple. It later matures to a purplish-black coloration. It is at this stage that the fruits are dried and become chewy, with a date-like consistency, giving them the common name Red Dates. This species is extremely cold tolerant, surviving temperatures down to about 5º F.

In China, its products include jujube tea, as well as juice and a vinegar used to make pickles. A wine is also made from the fruit. Chinese medicine uses the fruit to kill internal parasites, promote liver function, and improve the pulmonary system. In Iranian cuisine, the dried fruits are eaten as a snack.

Jujubes were first introduced into the United States in the late 1800s, but quickly fell out of favor due to the fact that the variety introduced was best suited for drying and not eaten fresh. It wasn’t until the 1990s that growers introduced a variety cultivated for eating fresh off the tree. Most recently, in 2007, two more varieties were introduced for fresh fruit. It seems unclear which cultivars are being sold in the nursery trade today; however, it is known that the following named cultivars are the best for eating fresh: ‘Sugar Cane’, ‘Li’, ‘Sherwood’, ‘Chico’, and ‘Honey Jar’. Of those, ‘Honey Jar’ is the smallest and juiciest. ‘Lang’ and ‘Shanxi Li’ are best for drying and eating like dates. One thing is clear, though: Each tiny fruit has 20 times more vitamin C than does citrus.

Richard Lyons’ Nursery sells fresh jujube fruit in season, as well as trees in 3-gal. and 7-gal. containers.

Zizyphus jujuba (Jujube Tree)

Zizyphus jujuba (Jujube Tree)

Zizyphus jujuba (Jujube Tree)

Zizyphus jujuba (Jujube Tree)

Zizyphus jujuba (Jujube Tree)

Zizyphus jujuba (Jujube Tree)

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.