Palms to Herald the Rainy Season, Part III

Here is the third installment of our survey of palms you should consider planting at the start of the rainy season:

Copernicia macroglossa, the Cuban Petticoat Palm, is noted for the distinctive skirt of old leaves that persists around the trunk of the plant for many years. Like many species in its genus, C. macroglossa accommodates copious amounts of water very well, but also handles drought extremely well once established. It reaches 20-25 ft. in southern Florida.

Dypsis cabadae is a water-loving species that was almost unknown here 30 years ago. Its dark green stems with white rings marking where leaves once were gives this palm a bamboo-like appearance. A water-loving species, it reaches 30-40 ft. at maturity and can be grown in light shade to sun. It is native to islands off the coast of Madagascar.

Gaussia maya is one of a small number of palms which flowers from several sites up and down the trunk.  The payoff is lots of bright red fruit. Native to Mexico, Belize and Guatemala, it should be grown in shade when young, but can later tolerate more sun. It reaches 20-30 ft. in southern Florida. Provide ample water for best results.

Heterospathe elata, the Sagisi Palm, is native to several southeast Asian island chains. It bears a very full crown of feather-shaped leaves, the newest of which emerges a reddish-brown color before turning green. Requiring shade when young, this species tolerates full sun when older, and it matures in the 30-40 ft. range. Provide ample water.

Licuala grandis, the Ruffled Fan Palm, is native to Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. It is a striking small palm featuring nearly circular leaves that look as if they’ve been cut out by pinking shears. Best grown in shade when young, this species tolerates more sun later. Given generous amounts of water, it will reach 15 ft. slowly in southern Florida.

Richard Lyons’ Nursery carries all these species, in varying sizes.

Palms to Herald the Rainy Season, Part II

We continue with our survey of palms you should consider planting at the start of the rainy season:

Chelyocarpus chuco, a native of Bolivia and Brazil, is still uncommon locally. It produces glossy, circular palmate leaves and grow to 30-40 ft. in southern Florida. Seedlings need light shade, but older plants handle full sun. This species thrives in moist soils and can withstand 30-32 degrees.

Coccothrinax crinita, the popular Old Man Palm, is endemic to Cuba. The undersides of its palmate leaves are silvery. In our region, this sun-loving species can reach 25 ft. slowly. It requires moderate water and good drainage, but is drought-tolerant once established.

Coccothrinax miraguama, another palm endemic to Cuba, is noted not only for the silvery undersides of its palmate leaves, but also for the interesting pattern of fibers on its trunk. It encompasses four subspecies. Mature height is 15-20 ft. Provide a sunny setting, moderate water, and good drainage.

Coccothrinax proctorii, endemic to the Cayman Islands, is another member of its genus to feature leaves which are silvery on the undersides. Plant it in a sunny exposure. It requires moderate water and good drainage, but once established, it is drought-tolerant. Mature height is 15-25 ft.

Coccothrinax spissa differs from most other species in the genus: 1) Seedlings require some shade and 2) The trunk is fairly stout and often swollen in the middle. Native to Hispaniola, it reaches 15-20 ft. in our region. Provide sun and moderate watering. Once established, it tolerates drought well.

All these species are available, in various sizes, at Richard Lyons’ Nursery.

Palms to Herald the Rainy Season

The rainy season is just around the corner. We know that in southern Florida May 20 marks the usual beginning of the rainiest part of the year, but why? Heat and humidity build throughout the spring until they reach the point of generating rainfall without the intervention of a cold front. The dew point is a key indicator in that process. It is the temperature at which air can no longer hold water vapor, so some of that moisture has to be condensed into liquid water. The closer the dew point approaches the air temperature, the higher the relative humidity becomes. For most people the summer “feel” begins to become unpleasant when the dew point exceeds 70 degrees on a regular basis. At the peak of summer, dew points often hit the upper 70s, and we begin to think fondly, even desperately, of a mountain vacation.

But the conditions that make humans miserable allow many tropical plants to achieve developmental nirvana. The next few weeks will present an excellent opportunity for you to introduce new plants into the landscape, allowing nitrogen-laden rains to promote good foliar and root growth for the next five months or so. Today Richard Lyons’ Nursery introduces the first in a series of articles on palms we recommend for your yard. Here are the first five species:

Arenga obtusifolia, a native of Indonesia and Malaysia, is a clumping pinnate (feather-leafed) species that reaches 20-30 ft. in southern Florida, and it thrives in wet conditions. Leaflets are dark green above and silvery-colored below. Plant in sun or light shade.

Arenga pinnata, the Sugar Palm, is native to tropical Asia. This single-trunked species loves sun and water, and will reach 30-40 ft. in our region. Trunked are wrapped in dense black fibers. Leaflet undersides are silvery.

Chamaedorea cataractarum, the Cat Palm, is native to Mexico, where, as the species name implies, it is closely associated with fast-moving streams. This clumping, trunkless palm reaches 6-8 ft. and performs well in light shade to sun.

Chamaedorea metallica is a distinctive-looking palm, bearing metallic blue-green, solid leaves on thin stems. Ultimate height is 6-8 ft. It should be grown in light to deep shade and provided with ample water. It is native to Mexico.

Chamaerops humilis, the European Fan Palm, the only palm species native to mainland Europe, doesn’t require tropical conditions to thrive, but still does well in our climate. It grows slowly to 10-12 ft. and is hardy to about 15 degrees. Plant in full sun in well-drained soil.

The Nut That’s Just a Seed

Things are not always as they seem.  Take the popular cashew.  It looks for all the world like a nut, it is used culinarily as a nut, and just about everybody calls it a nut.  But it’s really a seed, and a strange one, at that.

The cashew tree, Anacardium occidentale, is an attractive, mid-sized tree with a broad canopy.  It produces large, leathery green leaves and yellowish-pink flowers.  Native to arid northeastern Brazil, it was discovered in 1578 by Portuguese colonists.  The first sighting by Europeans of the tree in fruit must have raised eyebrows, because what they beheld was a fleshy red or yellow structure with a seed hanging beneath it like a fat arboreal comma.  But the nut seemed to be useless for human consumption, as the poor colonists who ate it tended to end up a in a heap by the side of the road.  Consequently, the initial attraction of the tree was its colorful, fleshy, sweet-tasting receptacle, which looks like a fruit, but is really part of the fruit stalk.  It has come to be called Cashew Apple.  Known formally as an accessory fruit or pseudofruit, it grows on the seed and does not precede it.  Because the skin of the Cashew Apple is thin, it is not a good shipper.  In fact, the Portuguese settlers began the cashew’s pantropical distribution by sending seed from Brazil to their colonies in Mozambique and Goa to plant not for the ‘apple,’ but to control coastal erosion.

Through trial and error, the Europeans learned that the seed was edible if roasted so that the toxic shell could be cracked off.  Nevertheless, commercial trade in cashew ‘nuts’ didn’t start until the 1920s.  After ripe cashews fall from the tree, they are hand-collected and dried in the sun.  They are then roasted, after which they are shelled by machine or by hand.  In the nut trade, the leading cashew producers are widely separated — Viet Nam, Nigeria, India, Brazil and Indonesia.

Cashew trees are quite tolerant of drought; in fact, dry periods are required to stimulate flowering.  In southern Florida, they should be planted on well-drained sites and fed with a fertilizer for acid-loving trees.  You can find this very interesting species in 7-gal. containers at Richard Lyons’ Nursery.

An Excursion through My Own Wonderland

Once in a while I like to take a leisurely trip through my 10-acre farm, with no ambition other than to enjoy the scenery.  Today was such a day, an exceptional one in my view, and I’d like to tell you a little bit about it.

As you know, this winter has been warmer than normal, and that anomaly has created confusion in the plant world.  For instance, winter vegetables and fruit in southern Florida have not all performed well, and there are signs around that the season is already winding down.  However, leeks, Swiss chard and Malabar spinach are still going strong, and the persistent warmth has pushed our jackfruit and avocado trees into heavy flowering.  On one row, I see the June Plum, Spondias dulcis, producing lots of fruit; on another, I spot the Alano sapodilla in fruit; and further along I find tropical pumpkin about to be harvested, wild coffee setting beans and jaboticaba nearing fruiting time.

Some trees are beginning to awaken from winter dormancy.  I detect leaves on Baobabs and Gumbo Limbos.  An array of pleasant fragrances also captures my attention as I travel around the farm, but the one that pleases me the most is that of the Sweet Almond, Aloysia virgata.  Along the way I see the occasional hummingbird, but every part of the farm abounds with butterflies.

However, the most amazing feature of my excursion through Wonderland is color!  Everywhere I look, something beautiful is in bloom:  Brazilian Red Cloak; Jamaican Poinsettia; Gold Trumpet Tree, Tabebuia chrysotricha; Milky Way Tree, Stemmadenia litoralis; Firespike; Bougainvillea; Red Silk-Cotton Tree, Bombax ceiba; Pink Shaving Brush, Pseudobombax ellipticum; Hong Kong Orchid; Bush Pentas; Butterfly Sage, Cordia globosa; Popcorn Cassia; Calliandra; Texas Sage.  Last, but not least, my eyes feast on the unique color of the Jade Vine, a finicky but mesmerizing performer.