Allspice (Pimenta dioica) and Bay Rum (Pimenta racemosa)

The genus Pimenta comprises 14 flowering species, among which are a some of the most interesting and desirable aromatic trees in the world.  But it’s all a mistake . . . a big mistake.  Spanish explorers poking around Mexico in the 16th century found an attractive medium-sized tree whose berry-like fruits resembled black pepper, so they called it pimienta, the Spanish word for pepper.  That error has become preserved in the genus name.  We concentrate below on two of the most significant representatives of Pimenta.

Pimenta dioica, the specific plant mistaken for a new source of black pepper, is better-known to most people as the allspice tree or, in another long-perpetuated error, the Jamaican pepper.  The name allspice was bestowed on it by the English around 1621 because they considered its complex taste a combination of clove, cinnamon and nutmeg.  The first recorded instance of the importation of the spice into Europe came in 1601.

This beautiful tree reaches 30-40 ft. high and features aromatic, leathery, glossy, oblong 4-8 in. leaves.  The bark, whitish-gray in color, peels away in thin sheets.  The tree produces clusters of white flowers which are followed by berry-shaped fruits that mature purple-black.  However, in the commercial production of allspice, the fruit is picked green and dried in the sun.  The major volatile oil responsible for this species’ fame is eugenol.

The allspice tree is native to the Greater Antilles (Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and Cuba), southern Mexico and Central America. While the tree is now cultivated in many tropical areas of the world, it is apparently the only spice processed commercially solely in the New World, particularly Mexico, Honduras, Jamaica, Trinidad and Cuba.  Jamaica was the leading exporter of allspice, at least until the 1990s, but there is now some indication that Mexico has superseded it, and Honduras and Guatemala are becoming major exporters.

Once P. dioica is established, it withstands drought and even has some cold tolerance — 26-28°.  It can be grown nicely as a container specimen, as well as in the ground, and performs best in full sun.  While the allspice tree may not flower and fruit dependably outside native areas, it is still quite desirable; even the bark is aromatic!

Most folks know that the spice is used in a variety of condiments, and also in pies, cakes and candies.  But eugenol is also an important constituent of cosmetics and perfumes.  And it may surprise some to learn that allspice is even found in the liqueurs Benedictine and Chartreuse, as well as in Northern European food staples such as pickled fish and sausages.  Eugenol also has medicinal applications as an aid to digestion and an anesthetic for toothaches.  This would appear to suggest that the pies, cakes and candies which contain allspice must also cure toothaches.  Could there be a more perfect food?

The second tree, Pimenta racemosa, better-known as Bay Rum or West Indian Bay Tree, is variable in height, maturing in the 12-40 ft. range, but generally shorter than P. dioica.  It is native to the West Indies and possibly northern South America.  The tree bears attractive, small white flowers which give way to black ovoid fruits.  This species has about the same cultural requirements as the allspice tree, but is several degrees less cold-hardy.

Bay rum is distilled from the berry-like fruits of P. racemosa, but this essential oil is not used in beverages because in that concentration ingestion is toxic.  Instead, it is used as a constituent of colognes, perfumes and soaps.  On the other hand, the leaves of this species are fine for consumption as a syrup or herbal tea, or in cooking.  Leaves are sold fresh or dried.  Medicinally, bay rum has long been employed to treat sore muscles and various strains and sprains.  Scientists later discovered that the essential bay oil contains a constituent possessing anti-bacterial properties.  And even more recently, at least one study has characterized bay oil as a potent antioxidant.

Richard Lyons’ Nursery sells both species of these desirable Pimentas in 3-gal. and 15-gal. containers.

Pimenta dioica (Allspice Fruit)

Pimenta dioica (Allspice Tree with Fruit Forming)

Pimenta dioica (Mature Allspice Tree)

Pimenta dioica (Allspice Tree Beginning to Flower)

Pimenta racemosa (Bay Rum Tree)

Pimenta racemosa (Young Bay Rum Tree)


March Music in the Gifford Arboretum

The Music in the Arboretum event for this month will be held on Thursday,
21st of March 2013 at the stone bench of the arboretum. Featured group for
this month is The Ibis String Trio, from the Frost School of Music. Please
note that with the recent switch to daylight saving time, we will commence
at 6:00 PM and end at 7:00 PM.
This event is free and open to public. Therefore, feel free to invite your
friends and to distribute the attached flyer to anyone/any group, that may
be interested.
Hope to see you all there!


Jaboticaba for only $3

Myrciaria caulifera (Jaboticaba9)

An interesting feature of Myrciaria caulifera (Jaboticaba) is how the fruit forms directly on the trunk and branches of the tree.

Here’s a wonderful opportunity to bring flavor and beauty to your South Florida garden. Our 4 inch pots of jaboticaba are only $3.00 each. The tasty flesh of these fruits is sweet and juicy. At these prices, you can start your own private orchard. Remember that you can only get this price by mentioning Richard’s Special. Get your’s while we still have them.

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 China Hat)

Holmskioldia sanguinea (Red China Hat)

Holmskioldia sanguinea (Yellow China Hat)


Holmskioldia tettensis (Lavender China Hat)

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

Firespike (Odontonema strictum)

Firespike can really fool you.  You might think that a plant native to Central America would perform poorly in cold weather, but this species is capable of doing quite well along a huge swath of the U.S. running almost uninterrupted from southern South Carolina to southern Washington.  And it’s beautiful to boot!

This evergreen shrub, known botanically as Odontonema strictum, bears stiff, mostly upright, sparse branches that reach about 6 ft. in height.  Its dark, shiny, oblong leaves are pinnate, measuring 4-6 in. in length.  Its native habitat is semi-forested, and so it comes as no great surprise that Firespike has become naturalized in disturbed hammocks around peninsular Florida.  In the coldest places where it is found in the U.S., it dies back to the ground in the winter, but in southern Florida, it grows as an evergreen semi-woody shrub.  This species thrives in moist soils, but they should be well-drained. It can tolerate considerable drought, and in residential settings, watering can be reduced during the winter.  It is not particularly salt-tolerant.

As presentable as it is out of flower, Firespike is really impressive in bloom.  Starting in late summer and extending through the winter, it produces numerous upright 9-12 in. panicles featuring inch-long, tubular, waxy, brilliant red/scarlet, purple, or lavender flowers.  It should be noted that many botanists consider the purple variety to be a seperate species, O. callistachyum.    Although it is at its best in full sun, O. strictum can still put on quite a show in filtered light.  The combination of bright flowers and glossy leaves is eye-catching, especially at the time of year when blooming peaks.  It is particularly effective in mass plantings.

Firespike is not only good-looking, but it also attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.  The plant spreads underground, but can also be propagated easily from softwood cuttings that flower in their first year.  O. strictum is also very amenable to pruning.  You can either cut it back hard or prune it lightly several times during the year to maintain the look that you prefer.  This desirable shrub is available at Richard Lyons’ Nursery in 3 gal. containers.

Odontonema callistachyum (Purple Firespike)

Odontonema callistachyum (Purple Firespike)

Odontonema callistachyum (Purple Firespike)

Odontonema strictum    (Red Firespike)

Odontonema strictum (Lavender Firespike)