Caricature Plant (Graptophyllum pictum)

If you’re looking for a colorful variegated shrub, you would do well to consider the Caricature Plant. Native to southeast Asia, most likely New Guinea, the plant features glossy, variegated leaves which display a splash of pink/peach coloration in the center. Richard Lyons’ Nursery carries two foliar color forms, one with a green background and one with a brownish background. The plants produce red or red-purple tubular flowers.

G. pictum will mature to a height of 6-9 ft. in our region. It can be made bushier by pinching out new growth, but the plant will flower more prolifically the less it is pruned. This species performs best in a moist, well-drained soil, particularly if organic matter is worked in. It prefers sunny to partly-shaded exposures.

The Caricature Plant is valued in the folk medicine of Indonesia, where it is used to treat a variety of problems, including rheumatism, urinary infections, constipation, dermatitis, and wounds. It also appears to have some promise in the broader medical community. One study confirmed that an extract from the leaves of the plant has anti-inflammatory properties, and another study found that a different extract appeared to alleviate symptoms of diabetes. Of course, as with a lot of desirable substances, too much can produce toxic effects.

Richard Lyons’ Nursery carries G. pictum in 3-gal. containers.

The Many Charms of Guava

If your only familiarity with guava fruit is its use as a jelly, you need to put that out of your mind. At least that’s the advice of Brooks Tropicals, which recently published suggestions for better ways to appreciate the fruit. Here are some of the highlights:
• Add sliced guava to a meal by including it in a fruit or green salad.
• Make a sauce to brush on an entrée or vegetable.
• Use on bread by blending it into the batter or spreading it on.
• Incorporate guava in a dessert.
• Make a guava dip for shrimp cocktail.
• Eat the small seeds, which contain many of the nutrients found in the fruit. They are small enough to leave in a smoothie.
• Consumers who don’t want the seeds can just scoop them out of the center of a fruit sliced in half. And poaching for 10 minutes makes seeds just pop out.
• Guava should be ripened at room temperature. The fruit is ready when it’s slightly soft to the touch.
• The fruit is a good source of Vitamins A and C, as well as fiber. And guavas contain more potassium than bananas.
• The lycopene which is responsible for the fruit’s red color is a significant antioxidant.
For more detail about guava, including recipes, please see
Richard Lyons’ Nursery stocks guava plants in 3-gal. containers.

Autograph Tree or Pitch Apple (Clusia rosea)

In 1898, the United States became embroiled in the Spanish-American War. President William McKinley, eager to assess the relative strengths of the Spanish forces and Cuban insurgents, wanted to send a message to General Calixto Garcia, who was somewhere in the mountains of eastern Cuba. Col. Arthur Wagner, head of the Bureau of Military Intelligence, recommended a lieutenant named Andrew S. Rowan for the task. Rowan was soon dispatched by ship with the message, and, following a quick, harrowing trip through Jamaica and the eastern end of Cuba, he reached Gen. Garcia with the letter. Rowan returned to Washington with invaluable intelligence disclosed by Garcia that enabled the U.S. to end the conflict in just 10 weeks.

Legend has it that the famed Message to Garcia was scratched onto a leaf of a tree called Clusia rosea. (One would have thought that by 1898 the president of the United States might be writing letters on paper instead of tree leaves, but I digress.) Whether the account is true or not, C. rosea is a very interesting, desirable plant for subtropical gardens. Native to southern Florida, the Bahamas, and into the Caribbean, this relative of mangosteen reaches 25-50 ft. It produces a fairly stout trunk and features a dense canopy of leathery, dark green, paddle-shaped leaves. Messages can, in fact, be written on Clusia leaves; the sap exuded through scraped surfaces is visible for the life of the leaf. That’s why the best-known common name for this plant is Autograph Tree. Another name is Pitch Apple, a reference to the one-time practice of caulking the seams of boats with the resinous black substance found in seed pods.

The 2-3 in. white-to-pink summertime flowers of C. rosea give way to woody pods, or capsules, that split open as they turn brown, revealing black seeds wrapped in soft red flesh. The fruit attracts birds, along with squirrels and other mammals. As an ornamental plant, the Autograph Tree has many appealing attributes—tolerance to drought, saltwater, and variable light conditions, as well as strong resistance to disease and insects. Grown as a tree, there are few maintenance demands, although occasional trimming of aerial roots helps manage size. C. rosea grows at a moderate rate and may be pruned from multiple stems into a single trunk to transform it into a standard. That trait is particularly valuable to its use as a street tree. On the other hand, left as a multi-stemmed shrub, it makes a wonderful screening material, with the following caveat:

We at Richard Lyons’ Nursery believe that the use of C. rosea as a shrub, while very satisfying in the short term, leads to frustration over time. That’s because this species always wants to be a tree. The repetitive pruning necessary to maintain Clusia as a shrub ultimately leads to a woody, unleafy plant. No less an authority than Julia Morton, longtime professor of biology at the University of Miami, weighed in on this matter thirty years ago in the Proceedings of the Florida State Horticultural Society. In an article titled “Pity the Pitch Apple – Treat It as a Spreading Tree,” she contended that “This handsome tree…is a prime example of misuse in Florida landscaping. Where do we see it in South Florida? Usually placed as though it were a shrub in foundation plantings, in pots on terraces, or, if in the ground, in small patios and very close to houses or other buildings….The result, in time, is obvious unsuitability for the location…and increasing ugliness….It’s time for the landscaper and the client to understand the pitch apple and use it wisely and artistically according to its merits.”

With those thoughts in mind, this attractive tree is available at Richard Lyons’ Nursery in 3-gal. containers. We have a quartet of species: C. rosea variegatawhose leaves feature green and yellow marbling; C. lanceolata, with a beautiful small white flower with a red center; C. orthoneura, with a small pinkish red flower; and C. guttifera ‘Nana’, a small-leafed species excellent for bonsai culture.  This name has been around a long time, but this Clusia is probably C. fluminensis ‘Pedra Azul’.


Ylang-Ylang Tree (Cananga odorata)

If you haven’t discovered the source of Chanel No. 5 perfume, allow us to introduce you to the Ylang-Ylang Tree. Native from island chains of Southeast Asia into northern Australia, this tropical evergreen produces oils that are steam-distilled from its aromatic flowers to create the world-famous women’s fragrance.

The story goes that Russian-born perfumer Ernest Beaux presented French coutourier Coco Chanel a series of sample fragrances in 1920. The fifth sample piqued her interest, and because of the coincidence that her clothing line was introduced on the fifth day of the fifth month every year, she dubbed the new product Chanel No. 5. Its major component is the oil of Ylang-Ylang (pronounced EE-lang – EE-lang), augmented by oils of a jasmine and a rose.

Ylang-Ylang (Cananga odorata) belongs to the Annonaceae family, which includes custard-apple, sugar-apple and soursop. On drooping branches it produces greenish flowers that mature to chartreuse shades and eventually to a fairly dark yellow. In warmer months in southern Florida, its heavenly fragrance permeates the evening and nighttime air for a significant distance. Where it is native, the fast-growing C. odorata can reach 100 ft., but in the thin soils of our region, mature heights of 30 ft. are the norm. This species is amenable to exposures from full sun to light shade, and in placing the plant, we recommend a site where other trees provide a wind break.

Some medicinal uses, including aromatherapy, are attributed to Ylang-Ylang. It is also said that in Indonesia, the tree was historically valued as an aphrodisiac, its flowers strewn about the beds of newlyweds. We here at Richard Lyons’ Nursery suspect that providing an aphrodisiac to the newly-married is like carrying coals to Newcastle.

But no matter what use you have in mind for Ylang-Ylang, you will find it available at the nursery in 1-gal., 3-gal. and 15-gal. sizes.

We Finally Approach the Dry Season! – Part II

In September we talked about the much-anticipated arrival of the dry season and offered a few suggestions for how to prepare—in a horticultural sense—for winter. Today we continue to address some of the conditions we will need to deal with to make our vegetable, fruiting, or ornamental plants perform at their best over the winter.

October is an interesting month climate-wise. Until about 35-40 years ago, it was the third-rainiest month of the year in most of southern Florida, behind June and September. But according to statistics provided by the Weather Channel, in the intervening years October has slipped to the fifth position across most of the region, having been overtaken by July and August. This means that in October homeowners must be more sensitive to the potential for an early end to the rainy season, a factor that’s important to timing the final application of fertilizer for the year.

The consensus recommendation is that plants should be fertilized no later than the middle of October. But because rainfall at that time of the month has become less dependable, homeowners must be willing to irrigate newly-fertilized plants to achieve the best outcome.

But there is an apparent dilemma to deal with: At the same time that October has been turning drier, winters have been getting warmer. One might well wonder if the final application of fertilizer can be delayed beyond mid-October. The answer is no. That’s because despite the increasingly warm winters, southern Florida is not exempt from incursions of cold weather. To fertilize plants after mid-October runs the risk of encouraging a flush of tender new leaves, which can be devastated by cold weather. The safest policy is to continue to observe the traditional deadline for fertilization so that plants can harden off and better resist damage from cold fronts.

Richard Lyons’ Nursery has designated an area of the farm for growing winter crops, including carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, sugar peas, green beans, daikon, and tomatillos. Herbs, both seasonal and year-round species, are doing well. After three months, we still have jackfruit on the trees, and sapodillas will ripen soon. Jujube and star apple trees are loaded with buds and developing fruit, so we anticipate a big crop in a few months.

Come out to the farm and see what’s ready to take home. In addition to vegetables and fruit, we have ornamental trees and shrubs, as well as palms, and many of them play a role in butterfly and hummingbird gardens.