Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinea)

When Dr. Edwin Menninger bemoaned the “solid green” of Florida’s native flora, he must have forgotten about Salvia coccinea.  If you want to add brilliant color to your home landscape, please consider this striking native shrub.  Commonly known as Scarlet Sage, this herbaceous perennial from the family of lamiaceae is native to a huge range from South Carolina to Texas, then south into Central America and southeast into the Caribbean Basin.  It attains a height of 2-4 ft. and produces triangular leaves on long leafstems.  Bright red flowers roughly an inch long are borne in loose whorls on upright stems.  Over time cultivars have been developed to produce pink, white and bicolored flowers.  In southern Florida the plant blooms most of the year, but in the mid-south, flowering lasts until first frost.  Seeds overwinter in the ground and germinate when warm weather returns.

Scarlet Sage is not a very demanding plant, occurring naturally in dry soils.  However, during sustained rainless spells, flowering is not as prolific.  It performs best in sunny positions, but can tolerate intermittent shade.  S. coccinea makes a good, durable bedding plant and is particularly desirable as a butterfly and hummingbird attractant.  This plant is grown at Richard Lyons’ Nursery in 1-gal. containers.

Salvia coccinea (Scarlet Sage)

Salvia coccinea (Scarlet Sage)

Salvia coccinea (Red and Pink Sage)

Blue Porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis)

Names are so confusing sometimes.  I mean, we seem to have trouble with directions.  How did Cleveland, Ohio end up in the midwest?  Probably not from continental drift.  And we certainly can’t tell verbs from adjectives from nouns, so in football we play contain defense instead of containment defense, and in Congress we lock in the sequester instead of sequestration.  Perhaps the explanation is simple:  Our political leaders probably played football without helmets a few too many times.

Alas, even plant names have been afflicted with the language malaise.  Take the blue porterweed, a beautiful small shrub native to Florida.  Naturally, it is known as . . . Jamaican Porterweed, Stachytarpheta jamaicensis.  And to make matters worse, over the years several exotic species have mistakenly been identified, photographed and sold as blue porterweed.  True S. jamaicensis has a decumbent, i.e., sprawling, growth habit, and reaches a height of just a foot or so.  The lowermost parts of the plant are lignified, or woody, and only the newer growth is flexible.  There may be some mounding in blue porterweed, particularly in cultivated specimens.

The horizontally-spreading branches of this species bear dull leaves that are generally gray-green or light green in color, although a purple blush appears on some plants.  The upper surface of the leaves is usually smooth, and the leaf margin is strongly serrated.  Green flower spikes up to a foot long produce small blue flowers, starting at the bottom and working their way to the top each day.  Each flower stays open for just a day, and there are usually 3-4 flowers open at the same time on each spike.

Among the other species of Stachytarpheta that have made their way into Florida are an upright, trunking representative from Asia and a large, pink-flowering shrub from South America.  Neither is remotely like S. jamaicensis, but that hasn’t stopped confusion from reigning.  Moreover, some hybrids have developed, and that has only deepened the morass.  We’re afraid that misapplication of the name may persist long after the sequester stumbles over the fiscal cliff.  However, we know for certain that Richard Lyons’ Nursery carries the true blue porterweed in 1-gal. containers.

Stachytarpheta jamaicensis (Native Blue Porterweed)

Stachytarpheta jamaicensis (Native Blue Porterweed)

Stachytarpheta jamaicensis (Native Blue Porterweed)

Walter Judd at The Gifford Arboretum

I thought our readers would like to know about this upcoming event.

Dear Friends of the Gifford Arboretum,

It is with great pleasure that I invite you to attend the 25th Annual
Gifford Arboretum Lecture by Dr. Walter S. Judd. This event will occur
on Thursday, April 4, 2013 in the University of Miami’s Cox Science
Center Room 145. There will also be a reception to follow Dr. Judd’s
lecture.

Dr. Judd is a long time professor at the University of Florida and one
of the world’s premier authorities on plant taxonomy. He is also a
great educator who cares deeply about his students as well as his
work. We are indeed privileged to have this opportunity to learn from
such a great scientist, and I hope that you will make every effort to
attend.

As always, this Gifford Arboretum event is free and open to the
public. Please park in the small parking lot that intrudes into the
Arboretum or the “Purple” Lot adjacent to the south end of the
Arboretum.

Thanks and regards,
Steve


Stephen D. Pearson
Director, John C. Gifford Arboretum
Department of Biology
University of Miami
1301 Memorial Drive, Room 231
Coral Gables, FL 33143

Various Palm Seedlings At The Nursery

We’ve certainly had our share of strange winters in recent years.  For instance, 2009-10 was remarkable for sustained cold.  After an abnormally warm December 2009, January ushered in the coldest two-month period since 1940.  There wasn’t much frost, except in the most interior districts of southern Florida, but persistent very cool days and nights eventually took a toll on many tropical plant species.  Even large, mature specimens of Kapok (Ceiba pentrandra) and Tropical Almond (Terminalia catappa), including those near the coast, were so badly shocked that they did not leaf out until May.  The Live Oak (Quercus virginiana), a mostly temperate zone native, reacted to the aberrant weather by fruiting profusely; the sound of acorns falling mimicked rainfall in some yards.

The winter of 2012-13 has proven unpredictable in its own way.  November 2012 was cooler than normal, but the next three months were the third-warmest for that period in Miami’s recorded history.  And following nearly the wettest summer in local history, the rain gauges ran nearly dry during that quarter.  In likely reaction to those conditions, the white Shaving Brush Tree (Pseudobombax ellipticum) was seen beginning to flower as early as mid-December, about two months early, and at least one Royal Poinciana (Delonix regia) was observed flowering in January, presumably an act of perseverance from the preceding season.

But in March the atmospheric system that had been blocking cold fronts from reaching southern Florida shifted, and brisk winter weather invaded our region several times.  As a result of the early- and late-season cool snaps, Tropical Almonds were tricked into producing beautiful red foliage twice in one season, a phenomenon that few people recall having seen before.  A poem may not be as lovely as a tree, but, alas, some trees are very gullible.

But notwithstanding recent lurches, spring is inexorably on the way, and the folks at Richard Lyons’ Nursery are starting to look ahead by surveying some of the youngest plants on the property.  Most are still in community pots, to be separated and repotted when soil temperatures become dependably warmer, but we want to present a few of them to the public.  We start with palms.

Gaussia maya — This native of Mexico, Guatemala and Belize is a single-trunked, pinnate species.  When young, it prefers protection from the sun, but as it matures, it can handle considerable exposure to light.  It differs from most palm species in that it simultaneously produces flower stalks (inflorescences) up and down the trunk that ultimately bear attractive scarlet seed.

Coccothrinax cupularis — Many Coccothrinax species are noted for the fibers that surround the trunk, and that feature is particulary striking in this palm.  The fibers tend to be fairly heavy and stiff and appear to be almost woven.  They persist on the trunk for a number of years.  This species is a reasonably fast-growing representative of the genus, too.

Coccothrinax guantanamensis — There is some uncertainty of the exact identity of this species, but the important ornamental fact is that it features a substantially thicker trunk than most other Coccothrinax species.  Its dark green leaves and drought tolerance make it a very desirable plant for the landscape.

Pseudophoenix vinifera — This extraordinarily ornamental, slow-growing pinnate species is native to Hispaniola and was once used in the production of wine, but the process required the destruction of the tree.  The palm features a graceful swollen trunk bearing ‘rings’ exposed whenever an old leaf falls off.  It is quite drought-tolerant.

Copernicia berteroana — Copernicias are noted for very slow growth, but this species is considered one of the faster members of the genus.  A mid-sized palmate species from Hispaniola, it is one of the few Copernicias not native to Cuba or South America.  It should be grown in full sun, and while it appreciates moisture, it should be afforded good drainage.  This is the only palm in our survey which has been in one-gallon containers since last summer.

Gaussia maya (Maya Palm)

Gaussia maya (Maya Palm)

Gaussia maya (Maya Palm)

Pink Shower Tree (Cassia bakeriana)

An alternative to the more widely planted Cassia javanica (Apple Blossom Shower Tree), C. bakeriana, is smaller in stature, attaining a height of 20-30′, with a 10-15′ canopy spread.  However, what it lacks in overall height, it more than makes up for in bloom size and quantity of flowers.  Its long arching branches are completely covered in pink blossoms from mid-March to April, shedding older leaves prior to blooming.  The blossoms attract bees as well as butterflies, and the flexible branches resist breaking in heavy winds, which is highly desirable in south Florida.

This fast growing tree native to Thailand and SE Asia, is gaining in popularity as it becomes more readily available in the nursery trade.  Richard Lyons’ Nursery has this tree in 7gal. pots approximately 3-5′ in height.

Cassia bakeriana (Pink Shower Tree)

Cassia bakeriana (Pink Shower Tree)

Cassia bakeriana (Pink Shower Tree)

Cassia bakeriana (Pink Shower Tree)

Cassia bakeriana (Pink Shower Tree)

Cassia bakeriana (Pink Shower Tree)