Shrubbery Recommendations for Screening

With winter quickly receding into the background, we turn our attention to a subject of perennial interest: how to develop foliar barriers. You may want to cover up a fence or a building, create the illusion of size by installing circuitous pathways, or simply enhance privacy. In our subtropical world, there are many species that help achieve those goals. Here’s a survey of a just a few of the choices available for those purposes at Richard Lyons’ Nursery.

Hamelia patens (Firebush): H. patens is a native shrub that is remarkably amenable to various soil types, from the alkaline rockland of southern Florida to the deep acidic soils of the temperate South. It flowers best in full sun, but performs well even in some shade. The species is reasonably drought-tolerant, but can handle plenty of water, so long as good drainage is ensured. Once established, it is quite easy to maintain; cutting it back periodically will promote compactness and encourage blooming. And it doesn’t even require much fertilizer!

Firebush has a huge native range, from north central Florida and Bermuda in the north through the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and into Paraguay in the south. In southern Florida it is a semi-woody evergreen shrub or small tree that reaches about 12 ft. high. Its leaves are oval to elliptical, up to 6 in. long, featuring reddish veins and leafstems. It produces clusters of ¾-in. red-orange or scarlet tubular flowers throughout the year. Its berries are also attractive, developing through a range of colors from green to yellow to red to glossy black. In the ground, Hamelia can be used as a solid hedge or can be mixed with other materials, but it can also be featured to great advantage as a stand-alone specimen. It is quite popular in hummingbird and butterfly gardens. In colder locations that experience a distinct winter, Firebush makes an outstanding container plant that can be brought indoors and kept in a bright location until the return of warm weather.

Jasminum sambac (Arabian Jasmine): This popular species, while native to a confined region of the eastern Himalayas, has become naturalized in many places around the world, due largely to its very nice fragrance. In fact, the flowers are the source of an oil which is incorporated in perfumes and Jasmine tea. Somewhere along the way it took on the common name Arabian Jasmine, but that is misleading, since it does not like arid climates. It grows as a small, informal shrub or vine, with glossy, dark green leaves, and matures somewhere between 1½ and 10 ft. in height. It bears sweet-smelling waxy white flowers about an inch across. The cultivar ‘Grand Duke of Tuscany’ is especially appealing, since its blossoms grow as doubles which resemble miniature gardenias.

J. sambac performs well in sunny to partially-shaded exposures. It likes abundant water, provided that there is also good drainage. Once cooler weather arrives, its moisture requirements diminish.

Aloysia virgata (Sweet Almond): Plant lovers appreciate the vast array of fragrances encountered in tropical and subtropical species. One of the best of them introduced to our region is the Sweet Almond, Aloysia virgata. Its strong fragrance is optimally enjoyed at a distance from the plant, where breezes easily carry it. Native to fairly dry subtropical areas of Argentina, Sweet Almond can be grown in the ground all the way into Climate Zone 8, where it is treated as a perennial. But in southern Florida, it is an evergreen capable of reaching 15 ft. in height. It has an upright, informal habit with some horizontal branching, and is amenable to hard pruning for owners preferring to maintain it as a shorter shrub.

A. virgata blooms in flushes on and off most of the year with spikes of tiny white flowers. The leaves are dark green to gray-green and feel sandpapery to the touch. Happily, the plant is not very demanding. It tolerates average soils and, once established, is sufficiently drought-tolerant to perform well in a xeriscape. Sweet Almond provides more than just an appealing fragrance, as it also attracts bees and butterflies. In particular, it is popular with the Atala Butterfly, Eumaeus atala, which is still in recovery from near-extinction.

Bougainvillea spp. (Bougainvillea): Maybe you’ve noticed lately that knowing what is true has become rather elusive. For instance, can both of the following statements be true? (1) Bougainvillea is one of the most colorful vines in the world. (2) The flowers of Bougainvillea are small and inconspicuous. The answer is yes. 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.

There are over 300 cultivars (cultivated varieties) of Bougainvillea! Plants produce 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 very 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 highly 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 very rainy and 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.

Thunbergia erecta (Bush Clock Vine or King’s Mantle): Here is yet another plant recommendation that adds color on the purple and white side of the palette to the parts of your garden where lighting is muted. Thunbergia erecta, a native of western Africa, is a woody shrub that reaches about 6 ft. high and wide, bearing small glossy green leaves.  It produces tubular yellow-throated, deep purple flowers 2-3 in. across which may appear singly or in clusters. There is also a white flowering cultivar with similar growth habits as the purple variety.  In addition to their beauty, the blooms are also mildly fragrant. Flowering occurs throughout the year, but most profusely in the summer months.

The fast-growing Bush Clock Vine—‘vine’ being a misnomer borrowed from this species’ climbing relatives—makes an outstanding hedge for foundation plantings or borders. Left to its own devices, it will develop a sprawling habit, but it is very amenable to pruning. This desirable plant is also seldom affected by insect pests.

Myrcianthes fragrans (Simpson’s Stopper): This species commemorates Charles Torrey Simpson, botanist, conservationist and Sage of Biscayne Bay, for whom Simpson Park just south of downtown Miami is also named. Its species name refers to the sweet aroma of the flowers, but the leaves also produce an aromatic smell when crushed. This stopper grows as a large shrub or small- to medium-sized tree with reddish peeling bark. It usually matures in the 10-20 ft. range, but 50 ft. is not unheard of in southern Florida. The growth rate is slow to moderate.

M. fragrans is native from Lee, Okeechobee and St. Johns Counties southward through the Keys and into the West Indies, Mexico, Central America and South America. Leaves are 1-2½ in. long and semi-glossy on the upper surface. Dots on the leaf surfaces contain the aromatic substances which are released when the leaves are crushed. Simpson’s Stopper produces clusters of white flowers year-round, but most heavily during the spring and summer. The flowers are followed by orange to red globose berries that provide a food source to a variety of wildlife.

The species is native to moist, well-drained limestone or sandy soils. Like the other stoppers, it does not like long exposures to salt air or salty or brackish water. Drought tolerance is moderate once a plant is established in a new site. For best results, grow Simpson’s Stopper in full sun to light shade.

Polyalthia longifolia (Mast Tree)

About 40 years ago, a Miami couple fresh from a long trip to Asia brought seeds of an attractive Indian evergreen tree to Fairchild Tropical Garden. Over time this species, Polyalthia longifolia (a/k/a P. longifolia var. pendula), has proven to be a very successful introduction to the landscape of southern Florida. Commonly known as the Mast Tree––ship masts are among the products manufactured from its wood––it is pyramidal, or spindle-shaped, and capable of reaching 30+ ft. in height. It features long drooping branches and dark green, lance-shaped, glossy leaves with undulating margins.

Polyalthia provides an excellent alternative to Italian Cypress, which in southern Florida is prone to spider mites and fungal disorders. Another advantage of the Mast Tree is its cleanliness; it does not shed. Needing light pruning just every 1-3 years, this species fits the definition of low-maintenance. Not surprisingly, P. longifolia trees in southern Florida have recovered well from Hurricane Irma.

The Mast Tree is classified in the same family as Ylang-Ylang, Custard Apple and Soursop, which were introduced to our area much earlier.

In the landscape of bustling Asian cities, the Mast Tree is often used to soften noise. Aside from its ornamental appeal, Polyalthia is said to contain medicinal properties. (In fact, the genus name itself is derived from the Greek words for ‘many cures.’) Studies reputedly confirm antifungal and antibacterial capacities, as well as usefulness in combating ulcers, fever, hypertension, diabetes, and certain cancers. At Richard Lyons’ Nursery, these handsome trees are available in 3-, 7- and 15-gal. sizes.

Our Trees Six Months After Hurricane Irma

It’s a little bit hard to believe that Hurricane Irma occurred six months ago. Many trees in southern Florida, including some in the ground at Richard Lyons’ Nursery, took a walloping thanks to a number of factors previously addressed in this space (see “Lessons Learned from Irma,” September 30, 2017). Now, half a year later, the bad news is that if you have not staked up a downed tree, it is too late. But there’s also good news: You still may be able to salvage the tree.

Provided that your toppled tree remains partially rooted, the first step in attempting to save it is to cover any exposed roots with soil. Then prune the tree back to a much shorter height. Even without a full root system, the tree may leaf out and, over time, develop new stems. Since sprouting may take until May or June to begin, do not be in a hurry to dig up a tree that appears dead.

While waiting for the tree to begin showing signs of recovery, make sure to provide regular watering. After some time has elapsed, you can select the most vigorous and upright of the stems to become the new trunk of the tree. However, you may still want to leave some of the formerly upright, but now supine, branches in place to contribute to the new, unusual – and perhaps even artistic – shape of the tree.

As we head into warmer weather, it would be helpful to fertilize your storm-damaged trees lightly to promote more vigorous growth. As is always true when applying fertilizer, water it in well. A palm special fertilizer is recommended, because the better formulations contain a number of elements in trace quantities that benefit trees and other plants growing in our nutrient-poor soils.

Tropical Fruit Recipe Suggestions – Sapodilla

This installment of tropical fruit recipes concentrates on sapodilla, which is not only a fine fruit, but the product of a beautiful ornamental tree, Manilkara zapota. Richard Lyons’ Nursery sells the fresh fruit of sapodilla for several months starting roughly at the beginning of March. It’s not hard to see from the recipes below that sapodilla is a terrific dessert fruit.

Sapodilla Shake #1
1 ripe sapodilla fruit (cut in half and de-seeded)
1 cup ice cubes
1 cup unsweetened chocolate almond milk
6 whole strawberries (frozen)
¼ cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk


Sapodilla Shake #2
2 cups milk (chilled)
4 chikoo (sapodilla)
1 tablespoon sugar (or as required)


Sapodilla Spirulina Chia Pudding
1 tablespoon Chia Seeds
¾ cup Water
¾ cup Chopped Sapodilla
½ teaspoon Spirulina Powder
2 teaspoons Liquid Sweetener of Choice
1 teaspoon Coconut Oil
½ teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 pinches Salt


Chikoo(Sapodilla) Ice cream
1 cup whipping heavy cream
4 big Ripe Chikoo
2 tablespoons more condensed milk (or)
2 tablespoons dry roasted almonds (sliced)


Sapodilla Crumble

2 ½ cups seeded sapodilla (peeled and)
¾ cup flour
½ cup oats
½ cup raw cashew pieces (lightly toasted)
? cup melted butter
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg


Sapodilla Collada

2 ripe sapodilla (skin and seeds removed)
½ banana
¼ cup orange juice (fresh squeezed)
¼ teaspoon orange zest
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup almond milk
3 ounces coconut rum (2 jiggers)
½ cup ice
add coconut flakes (for garnish)


Tropical Fruit Recipe Suggestions

For the past two weeks, Richard Lyons’ Nursery has been describing several of the most interesting tropical fruits being grown around southern Florida. Now it’s time to take a look at tasty recipes – gleaned from the Internet – using some of those fruits. You can find out the details of preparation by clicking on the link for each recipe’s source.


Classic Barbecue Jackfruit Sandwiches
3 20-ounces cans jackfruit (in water)
1 tablespoon canola oil
½ cup onion (diced)
2 garlic cloves (minced)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons smoked paprika and chili powder (each)
½ teaspoon cumin (black pepper, oregano, and thyme, each)
1 ½ cups low sodium vegetable broth
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
1 cup prepared barbecue sauce (divided, plus extra for serving)
8 whole wheat sandwich buns


Vegan Jackfruit Tacos
1 cup dairy-free pepperjack cheese (preferably daiya pepperjack shreds)
2 20-ounces cans green jackfruit (in brine)
1 onion (chopped)
½ cup lettuce
2 chipotle peppers (in adobo sauce)
2 tablespoons adobo sauce
10 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons ketchup
1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 ¼ cups water
to taste salt
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon oregano
8 soft corn tortillas

Jackfruit/kathal Biryani
2 cups basmati rice (biryani/soaked for 30 minutes)
1 tablespoon oil (cooking)
4 green cardamoms (elaichi)
2 black cardamoms (badi elaichi)
5 cloves (laung)
1 stick cinnamon (dalchini)
2 bay leaves (tej patta)
2 mace (javitri)
500 grams triangles (or jackfruit– peeled and cut into cubes)
2 cups yogurt
2 cups yogurt
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 tablespoons ginger-garlic paste
1 tablespoon green chili paste
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon ghee
2 teaspoons biryani masala (garam masala)
1 ½ teaspoons cardamom powder (elaichi)
1 teaspoon black cumin seeds (shahi jeera)
2 cups crisp fried onions


Lemon Pepper Jackfruit
1 20-ounce can young green jackfruit (in brine or water)
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
½ tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon pepper
¼ teaspoon basil
1 ¼ teaspoons Italian seasoning (or 1/4 tsp each: basil, marjoram, oregano,
rosemary, thyme)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup vegetable broth


Jackfruit Muffins
1 cup wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 cup jackfruit pulp
1 large egg
½ cup oil
¾ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon salt
¼ cup cocoa powder



Star Fruit Cocktail
9 star fruit
125 milliliters vodka
2 tablespoons cointreau
2 limes (juiced)
750 milliliters sparkling wine (chilled)
add handful fresh mint leaves


Star Fruit & Mango Smoothie
4 ounces vanilla yogurt (or plain, I prefer vanilla)
½ cup orange juice
2 star fruit
1 mangoes


Gingered Grouper with Star Fruit
2 ripe star fruit
½ cup mango (diced)
¼ cup green onion (sliced)
¼ cup red bell pepper (diced)
1 jalapeno pepper (seeded and diced)
1 tablespoon lime juice
¼ cup fresh breadcrumbs
¼ cup pecans (finely chopped)
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon seasoned salt
¼ teaspoon lemon pepper
¼ cup milk
4 (6 oz.) skinless grouper fillets


Cheesecake Tart with Star Fruit
100 grams butter (cut into pieces)
200 grams flour
50 grams icing sugar
25 grams cocoa powder
4 medium eggs
400 grams full fat cream cheese
200 grams soured cream
1 tablespoon custard powder
100 grams caster sugar
2 star fruit (cut into slices and cored)
3 tablespoons apricot jam


Star Fruit Chutney
2 cups star fruit (diced)
¼ cup sugar
½ cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon ginger (minced)
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar


Star Fruit Upside-Down Cake
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (plus more for greasing the pan)
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
½ lemon (juice of)
4 small starfruit (cut into 1/4-inch-thick stars and seeds removed)
½ cup pecans
1 ¼ cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (at room temperature)
2/3 cup light brown sugar (packed)
2 large eggs
½ cup low-fat yogurt


You may have noticed that several of the jackfruit recipes call for canned fruit. That’s where we in southern Florida have a decided advantage over the rest of the country. Since jackfruit is grown here, we can obtain fresh fruit locally to prepare these recipes and improve over what comes out of a can. In fact, Richard Lyons’ Nursery sells fresh jackfruit and star fruit seasonally. Right now green jackfruit is ready to be picked for use in preparing Vegan Jackfruit Tacos and Lemon Pepper Jackfruit. Ripe jackfruit may be available at the farm as early as May, and the season will continue into the September/October range.

Star fruit in our region can bloom any time of the year, but typically has two major flowering periods:  April-May and September-October.  Ripe fruit can be harvested from June through February, with dual peaks in August-September and December-February.