The Nut That’s Just a Seed

Things are not always as they seem.  Take the popular cashew.  It looks for all the world like a nut, it is used culinarily as a nut, and just about everybody calls it a nut.  But it’s really a seed, and a strange one, at that.

The cashew tree, Anacardium occidentale, is an attractive, mid-sized tree with a broad canopy.  It produces large, leathery green leaves and yellowish-pink flowers.  Native to arid northeastern Brazil, it was discovered in 1578 by Portuguese colonists.  The first sighting by Europeans of the tree in fruit must have raised eyebrows, because what they beheld was a fleshy red or yellow structure with a seed hanging beneath it like a fat arboreal comma.  But the nut seemed to be useless for human consumption, as the poor colonists who ate it tended to end up a in a heap by the side of the road.  Consequently, the initial attraction of the tree was its colorful, fleshy, sweet-tasting receptacle, which looks like a fruit, but is really part of the fruit stalk.  It has come to be called Cashew Apple.  Known formally as an accessory fruit or pseudofruit, it grows on the seed and does not precede it.  Because the skin of the Cashew Apple is thin, it is not a good shipper.  In fact, the Portuguese settlers began the cashew’s pantropical distribution by sending seed from Brazil to their colonies in Mozambique and Goa to plant not for the ‘apple,’ but to control coastal erosion.

Through trial and error, the Europeans learned that the seed was edible if roasted so that the toxic shell could be cracked off.  Nevertheless, commercial trade in cashew ‘nuts’ didn’t start until the 1920s.  After ripe cashews fall from the tree, they are hand-collected and dried in the sun.  They are then roasted, after which they are shelled by machine or by hand.  In the nut trade, the leading cashew producers are widely separated — Viet Nam, Nigeria, India, Brazil and Indonesia.

Cashew trees are quite tolerant of drought; in fact, dry periods are required to stimulate flowering.  In southern Florida, they should be planted on well-drained sites and fed with a fertilizer for acid-loving trees.  You can find this very interesting species in 7-gal. containers at Richard Lyons Nursery.

An Excursion through My Own Wonderland

Once in a while I like to take a leisurely trip through my 10-acre farm, with no ambition other than to enjoy the scenery.  Today was such a day, an exceptional one in my view, and I’d like to tell you a little bit about it.

As you know, this winter has been warmer than normal, and that anomaly has created confusion in the plant world.  For instance, winter vegetables and fruit in southern Florida have not all performed well, and there are signs around that the season is already winding down.  However, leeks, Swiss chard and Malabar spinach are still going strong, and the persistent warmth has pushed our jackfruit and avocado trees into heavy flowering.  On one row, I see the June Plum, Spondias dulcis, producing lots of fruit; on another, I spot the Alano sapodilla in fruit; and further along I find tropical pumpkin about to be harvested, wild coffee setting beans and jaboticaba nearing fruiting time.

Some trees are beginning to awaken from winter dormancy.  I detect leaves on Baobabs and Gumbo Limbos.  An array of pleasant fragrances also captures my attention as I travel around the farm, but the one that pleases me the most is that of the Sweet Almond, Aloysia virgata.  Along the way I see the occasional hummingbird, but every part of the farm abounds with butterflies.

However, the most amazing feature of my excursion through Wonderland is color!  Everywhere I look, something beautiful is in bloom:  Brazilian Red Cloak; Jamaican Poinsettia; Gold Trumpet Tree, Tabebuia chrysotricha; Milky Way Tree, Stemmadenia litoralis; Firespike; Bougainvillea; Red Silk-Cotton Tree, Bombax ceiba; Pink Shaving Brush, Pseudobombax ellipticum; Hong Kong Orchid; Bush Pentas; Butterfly Sage, Cordia globosa; Popcorn Cassia; Calliandra; Texas Sage.  Last, but not least, my eyes feast on the unique color of the Jade Vine, a finicky but mesmerizing performer.




Did you know that the flowers of Bougainvillea are small and inconspicuous?  That’s because the features that produce the spectacular colors found in this genus are actually bracts, modified leaves located at the point from which flowers develop.  Thus bracts are an integral part of the flowering process, though they are not flowers themselves.
Did you know that the first woman to circumnavigate the earth was also possibly the first European to discover Bougainvillea?  It is reported in some accounts that in 1766 Jeanne Baré (or Baret) was snuck aboard a ship of exploration by her botanist boyfriend, Philibert Commerçon.  In order to flout ship rules, she was disguised as a man.  We at Richard Lyons’ Nursery try to maintain a high degree of dignity and civility, so we shall not comment further about this aspect of the three-year expedition except to say that advances were made . . . in the name of science.
The spiny woody vine discovered not long after reaching Rio de Janeiro in 1767 was not described botanically until 1789, when it was named for Louis Antoine de Bougainville, the French admiral and explorer who had commanded the voyage.  The genus Bougainvillea is native to Peru, Brazil and southern Argentina.  There is still some uncertainty about the total number of species; depending on the source consulted, there are somewhere between four and 18.  What is certain is that the 1930s ushered in an active period of natural and intentional hybridization, and we are now flush with a whole panoply of bright colors.  There are over 300 cultivars (cultivated varieties) of Bougainvillea!
Bougainvillea produces sprawling, arching branches, but can be trained to grow as a standard.  Often used in the ground as an impenetrable screening material, it can also be grown in containers or hanging baskets, where pruning following bloom will keep the plant compact and encourage side-branching.  And as a container specimen, Bougainvillea is particularly amenable to thriving on high-rise balconies, because it is highly-resistant to winds.  Although not extremely cold-hardy, the genus can stand enough frost to be widely grown as an ornamental in southern Switzerland near the foot of the Alps.
The best color production occurs in full sun.   The genus is very salt-tolerant, so coastal exposures are no problem.  Bougainvillea is also quite drought-tolerant, and once a plant installed in the ground becomes acclimated, it will require little supplemental watering.  In fact, the rainy and very hot summers of southern Florida inhibit color displays, so in our region Bougainvillea flourishes best during the dry season.  It responds well to light applications of fertilizers, but use of a high-nitrogen formula will produce rampant vegetative growth without much color.  A balanced formula is a better bet, and some experts recommend fertilizers formulated for roses or other flowering plants.
The cultivar ‘Pixie’ deserves special mention.  Not only is it almost thornless, but it also produces color later into the summer than many other cultivars.
Richard Lyons’ Nursery offers Bougainvillea in shrub form in 3- and 15-gal. containers and as standards in 7- and 15-gal. sizes.

Bougainvillea ‘Pixie’ Bonsai

Bougainvillea ‘Pixie’ Standard

Bougainvillea ‘Pixie’ Close Up of Flowers

Bougainvillea ‘Pink and White Surprise’

Red Bougainvillea

Orange Bougainvillea

Purple Bougainvillea

Yellow-Orange Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea in 3gal. Pots

Jujube Tree (Zizyphus jujuba)

The Jujube tree is a fruit tree in the Rhamnaceae, or Buckthorn Family, that grows very well in S. Florida.  Its origin is southern Asia and has been cultivated in China for 4000 years where there are 400 known varieties.  It can attain a height of 20′ and 12′ wide with shiny green foliage, and bears a small oval fruit in late November – January.  The fruit is eaten fresh when it is still smooth and green.  It has the consistency and taste of an apple.  It later matures to a purplish-black.  It is at this stage when it is dried and becomes chewy with a date-like consistency, giving it the common name of Red Dates.  This tree is extremely cold tolerant, surviving temperatures down to about 5 degrees F.

In China, jujube tea can be found along with 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 1800′s, 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 1990′s that a variety was introduced, 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: ‘Sugar Cane’, ‘Li’, ‘Sherwood’, ‘Chico’, and ‘Honey Jar’ are the best ones for eating fresh, with ‘Honey Jar’ being the smallest and juiciest.  ‘Lang’ and ‘Shanxi Li’ are best for drying and eating like dates.  One thing is clear though, this tiny fruit has 20x more vitamin C than citrus fruit.

Richard Lyons’ Nursery sells the fresh fruit in season, as well as trees in 3gal. and 7gal. 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)

Mid-Winter Tropical Plant Report

After an abnormally-warm fall and early winter, southern Florida finally experienced some significant cold fronts in January.  For most locations in the region, the coldest readings were recorded on Sunday, January 18, when widely-scattered frost was reported.  While chilly weather can prompt flowering in some fruit species, we remain pessimistic that lychees will produce significant quantities this year.  And we have yet to observe the kind of flowering in mangos that we hoped the low temperatures would trigger.

But, as we know, cold weather more often has a dark side.  While vegetable and fruit crops were spared significant damage this month, that does not mean that tropical ornamental plants uniformly fared so well.  Even where temperatures fell no lower than the upper 30s, a number of species suffered damage that merits monitoring and perhaps some treatment.  Here are a few suggestions:

Don’t be in a hurry to remove leaves affected by the cold temperatures and high winds.  They will provide an extra measure of protection if there is another outbreak of winter weather.  Remove the brown leaves when temperatures become reliably warmer and new growth can be observed.

Don’t assume that your plant came through unscathed just because it exhibits no outward signs of damage.  Palms in particular may look fine even though they have suffered internal damage to the bud that may lead to the plant’s death months later.  To be on the safe side if you own a species known to be cold-sensitive, pour or spray a fungicide (diluted according to label instructions) directly into the bud at the spot where new leaves emerge, and administer a second dose 7-10 days later.  Alternatively, you may apply 3% Hydrogen peroxide, a bacteriacide, into the bud.  But avoid the temptation to treat your palm with both types of chemicals; they are not compatible.

Maintain standard watering habits.  Ample rainfall the last week of the January relieved homeowners of the need for supplemental water, but you should stay alert for the sudden onset of dry weather that requires intervention on your part.