The Imperial Bromeliad (Alcantarea imperialis)

Alcantarea imperialis is endemic to Brazil and is one of the largest terrestrial bromeliads. Its leaf color is very variable, ranging from all green to deep purple and various combinations in between.  You may recognize this bromeliad as Vriesea imperialis, its former botanic name.  At 5′ across it can take up to ten years to attain this size.  The flower spike is also of a spectacular size as it can reach upwards of 6-8′ and flower for 5 months or more.  The spike can produce 400-600 flowers for the potential of 80,000-200,000 seeds.  As with all bromeliads, once the plant flowers, the main plant dies and pups or offsets are produced along the base of the dying plant to begin the process all over again.

Richard Lyons’ Nursery sells these bromeliads in 15 gallon containers.


Strawberry Tree (Muntingia calabura)

Strawberries growing on trees?  Well, not exactly. But there is something called the Strawberry Tree, and it does produce a nice, edible red fruit. Just to add to the confusion, the common name doesn’t refer to the plant’s fruit, but to its flowers, which resemble those of the traditional strawberry.

We’re talking about Muntingia calabura, a fast-growing shrub or small tree native over a large range from southern Mexico through the Caribbean and Central America, and into South America as far south as Argentina. It exists at elevations from sea level to 3,300 ft. Where native it may reach 35 ft. or so in height, but in southern Florida 12-15 ft. is more likely. It bears oblong or lanceolate leaves on spreading, almost horizontal branches. The Strawberry Tree is amenable to poor soils, whether alkaline or acidic and, once established, capable of withstanding drought and neglect. It can also be planted next to fresh water bodies, but will not tolerate salt. It has a reputation for holding up well to polluted air. For best results, plant this species in full sun.

The fruit of M. calabura is round and smooth, up to 1/2 in. or so in diameter. Those characteristics account for some of its other common names: Jamaica Cherry, Panama Berry, and West Indian Cherry. It has lots of other common names, a tribute to its distribution around both New World and Old World tropics, where it has picked up local appellations. The flesh of the fruit is soft and quite sweet, somewhat fig-like in taste, and can be eaten out of hand or made into jams or tarts.

The Strawberry Tree has a number of interesting features besides the eating quality of its fruit. Its flowers provide a source of nectar and pollen for beekeepers. Its wood serves as a source of fuel, as well as of timber for interior locations. Its bark contains fibers that can be fabricated into twine and rope. And it is reputed to possess various medicinal properties, including antispasmodic, antifungal, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective, analgesic, antibacterial, and antipyretic.

M. calabura should not be confused with Arbutus unedo, another species also commonly known as Strawberry Tree. The latter will not grow sastisfactorily in southern Florida.

M. calabura is available at Richard Lyons’ Nursery in 3-gal. containers.

Mysore Raspberry (Rubus niveus)

As you know, we in the subtropical region of Florida are fortunate to be able to grow many, many different plants, both tropical and temperate. But, try as we might, we have found only one species of raspberry that has proven dependable here. It is the Mysore Raspberry, Rubus niveus.

Some sources state that the Mysore Raspberry is native to India and Myanmar (Burma), while others believe that it occurs naturally over a much larger swath of southern Asia. In any event, it is found over a fairly large altitude range, conferring some temperature hardiness to it, certainly enough to handle the typical readings experienced in southern Florida year-round.

R. niveus is a fairly large, sprawling shrub that can reach 10 ft. or more in height. Its cylindrical stems are pubescent (downy) when young, and bear hooked thorns. Its compound leaves possess serrated leaflets that are dark green on top and whitish and fuzzy on the undersides. The flowers of the Mysore Raspberry are pink to reddish-purple, about a half inch across, and clustered.

But, of course, the most desirable feature of the Mysore Raspberry is its fruit. Shaped much like that of the red raspberry, that is, rounded-conical, with a flat base, it is considerably larger, 1/2 to 3/4 in. in diameter. It is red when immature, but darkens to purple-black upon ripening. The ‘bumps’ typical of raspberry fruit are more accurately known as drupelets. Luckily, the small seeds of R. niveus are inoffensive. And the taste is wonderful — sweet and juicy. Not only is the fruit a good source of Vitamin C, but one researcher considers it to be “a valuable natural antioxidant that has an immense scope as an effective source to cure skin diseases, wounds, and tumors.”

The Mysore Raspberry made its way into Florida by a rather circuitous route. First, it was introduced to Kenya many years ago. Then, in 1947, a South African, F.B. Harrington, obtained seeds, and a year later he supplied seeds to the University of Florida’s Tropical Research and Education Center (TREC) in Homestead. By 1952, many nurseries in Florida were offering the plant for sale.

Fortunately, R. niveus seems to be tailor-made for the soils of southern Florida; it thrives in alkaline limestone or in acidic sand. Supplemental irrigation should be supplied during the dry season. The best fruiting occurs when plants are grown in less than full sunlight. And while this species fruits all year long, the best combination of quality and size occurs in the winter and spring. Accordingly, a homeowner may want to prune plants significantly in late spring. On the other hand, if left alone, R. niveus, with its thorns, makes a formidable barrier planting that discourages both animal and human intruders.

Mysore Raspberry can be found at Richard Lyons’ Nursery in 3-gal. containers.

Brownea ariza a Crowd-Pleaser

You might say that Brownea ariza comes from a good family. That family is the Fabaceae, or legumes, whose edible representatives include beans and peas. Browneas, though, are known for their beauty, and B. ariza is a standout in that group. Native to northern South America, this small tree first catches one’s eye with its unusual habit of foliation: New leaves emerge pale and droopy, but soon harden to a more vigorous look. Some botanists speculate that this habit is a mechanism to discourage predation of tender new growth.

Commonly known as Scarlet Flame Bean or Mountain Rose, B. ariza is a medium-sized tree, maturing to 20-25 ft. It is happiest in soils that range from mildly alkaline to mildly acidic, and it appreciates abundant moisture, although it can handle drying out between waterings during the cooler months. The wood of this species is quite dense and therefore termite-resistant. A chemical found in the bark of B. ariza is said to have medicinal properties, particularly the ability to slow or stop bleeding.

Ornamentally, the big payoff of B. ariza is its flowers. Often appearing when the plants are just 3-4 years old, the flowers emanate directly from the stem or woody branches, a trait known as cauliflory. Each inflorescence is not only large, a 4-5 in. head, but also intensely colorful in the orange-red range, making it attractive to butterflies and bees. Stamens protruding (exserting) from the inflorescences give them a bit of a starburst appearance. Though the flowering is fairly short-lived, it is spectacular.

This tree is available at Richard Lyons Nursery in 15 gal. containers

Citrus Greening Update

As has been stated in this space periodically over the past several years, Richard Lyons’ Nursery has ceased selling citrus. That’s because of the continuing incidence of citrus greening (or Huanglongbing), a disease that so far has no cure. A news story published May 31 in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune focuses attention on the subject in a new way: the effect of citrus greening on packing houses instead of on growers. It reports that the number of citrus packing facilities in Florida has decreased drastically because of the disease. The most startling revelation in the article is the news that Ben Hill Griffin, Inc., longtime megastar in the state’s agricultural industry, will not even open its packing house in Frostproof for the 2017-18 season. Read on for more details about the state of affairs of Florida citrus, including news that offers a slight glimmer of hope in an otherwise sad situation.

http://Florida’s fruitpacking houses struggle to survive