Looking for Shady Friends?

We’re sure you’ll agree that this is the season when time outdoors is best spent avoiding the sun. That would also make it the ideal time to introduce new colors, shapes or textures to the shadier parts of your yard. Here are a few suggestions for ornamentals from Richard Lyons’ Nursery  that should pique your interest:

Cast-Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior): As the common name implies, this species — native to the Ryukyu Archipelago of Japan — is tough and dependable. This essentially stemless plant grows 2-3 ft. high and about as wide, with dark green strap-like leaves that reach 18-36 in. in length. Although it spreads by rhizomes, it is not aggressive and consequently won’t require much maintenance. A. elatior can be used to create either a ground cover or a border in low-light settings, and it can withstand the coldest winter nights in southern Florida. It is drought-tolerant once established.

Philodendron ‘Burle Marx’ (Philodendron sp. ‘Burle Marx’): Roberto Burle Marx was a famed Brazilian landscape architect and artist for whom more than 25 plant species have been named. One of the more popular of those species is a member of the aroid family. Philodendron sp. ‘Burle Marx’ is a versatile plant that makes a superb ground cover 12-18 in. high, but will also climb up tree trunks or other means of support. It features highly glossy, dark green leaves in the shape of an arrowhead or elongated heart. New leaves emerge a pink-bronze color that provides additional allure to this drought-tolerant plant.

Mrs. Iceton Croton (Codiaeum variegatum ‘Mrs. Iceton’): In terms of color combinations, crotons, due to their genetic instability, are among the most variable found in the plant world. Even in an individual cultivar, colors change depending on the degree of exposure to sunlight. But Mrs. Iceton is noteworthy for a couple of reasons: (1) It is particularly adaptable to shady locations, and (2) The makeup of its color palette is softer than that of most other crotons. While many of the cultivars that thrive in sunny exposures possess bold, strongly-defined hues, those of Mrs. Iceton are replete with pastels that range from green and yellow in new foliage to tan, pink, red, maroon, burgundy and black. And since the apple-leaf shaped foliage is relatively thin, backlighting adds new dimensions to the plant.

These species are available in containers at Richard Lyons’ Nursery, 20200 SW 134th Ave.

[This feature to be continued next week]

Aspidistra elatior(Cast-Iron Plant)

Aspidistra elatior(Cast-Iron Plant)

Aspidistra elatior(Cast-Iron Plant3)

Aspidistra elatior(Cast-Iron Plant3)

Philodendron sp. 'Burle Marx'(Burle Marx Philodendron)

Philodendron sp. ‘Burle Marx'(Burle Marx Philodendron)

Philodendron sp. 'Burle Marx'(Burle Marx Philodendron)

Philodendron sp. ‘Burle Marx'(Burle Marx Philodendron)

Philodendron sp. 'Burle Marx'(Burle Marx Philodendron)

Philodendron sp. ‘Burle Marx'(Burle Marx Philodendron)

Codiaeum variegatum 'Mrs. Iceton'(Mrs. Iceton Croton4)

Codiaeum variegatum ‘Mrs. Iceton'(Mrs. Iceton Croton)

Codiaeum variegatum 'Mrs. Iceton'(Mrs. Iceton Croton)

Codiaeum variegatum ‘Mrs. Iceton'(Mrs. Iceton Croton)

 

Codiaeum variegatum 'Mrs. Iceton' (Croton)

Codiaeum variegatum ‘Mrs. Iceton’ (Mrs. Iceton Croton)

Neem Tree (Azadirachta indica)

Does the name ‘azadirachtan’ ring a bell?  It probably should, because it is a hugely versatile chemical compound that has made the neem tree legendary in India and surrounding lands for some 2,000 years. And chances are that its full medicinal and insecticidal potential has yet to be tapped.

The neem tree (Azadirachta indica), a relative of mahogany and Chinaberry, has a lot going for it. It is a very attractive, fast-growing, long-lived ornamental plant which — in decent soils — matures in the 50-65 ft. range.  In southern Florida, the tree rarely reaches 30 ft.  It has a rather dense, rounded crown capable over time of growing almost as broad as the tree is tall.  It bears fragrant white flowers in a somewhat drooping, compound inflorescence; in fact, there may be as many as 250 flowers in a single inflorescence!  This species is also quite drought-tolerant and amenable to a variety of soils. Despite its rapid growth rate, neem trees produce construction-grade timber, thanks to chemical properties that make it resistant to termites.

The fruit of A. indica is, like that of peaches and plums, a drupe, or stonefruit.  It may vary in shape from nearly round to elongate, and in size from ½-1 in.  However, the neem pulp is very fibrous and bitter-sweet.  What this species lacks in fruit value it makes up for in its chemical properties, particularly neem oil. Azadirachtan, the best-known constituent of neem oil, is concentrated in the seeds of this remarkable tree.  Neem oil can be burned in lamps, used as a spermicide, and employed in the manufacture of toothpaste, soap and skin care products. And after the oil is extracted from the seeds, the residue, called neem cake, is both fed to livestock and used as a fertilizer.

But neem’s past applications and future potential are probably most widely known in the realm of its potency as an insecticide; by some accounts, neem oil is effective against some 200 insect species.  It does not work as an instant knock-down killer, though.  Instead, it causes hormonal disruption that leads to the eventual collapse of populations of chewing and sucking insects.  And the mere presence of neem oil — without actual contact — is reputed to repel certain insects, not the least of which is mosquitoes.  The oil has some efficacy when mixed with coconut oil and applied to the skin, as well as when burned in a lamp or candle.

The neem tree is available at Richard Lyons’ Nursery in 1-gal. and 3-gal. containers.

Azadirachta indica (Neem Tree)

Azadirachta indica (Neem Tree)

Azadirachta indica (Neem Tree)

Azadirachta indica (Neem Tree)

Azadirachta indica (Neem Tree)

Azadirachta indica (Neem Tree)

Giant Liriope or Giant Lilyturf (Liriope gigantea) and Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus)

One of the most vexing problems for gardeners everywhere is how to deal with the areas of their property in which there is not enough light for turfgrass to grow.  In the southern U.S., St. Augustine grass outperforms other turfgrasses in terms of shade tolerance, but eventually it, too, becomes sparse as lighting decreases.  Rather than put up with bare patches of soil, Richard Lyons’ Nursery recommends that homeowners plant a shade-tolerant ground cover.  Among the best of them is Giant Liriope (Liriope gigantea).

Also known as Giant Lilyturf, L. gigantea features dark green grasslike leaves that grow in clumps ultimately reaching 3 ft. x 3 ft.  The leaves recurve, giving each clump a rounded appearance.  Consequently, the manner in which you lay out containers of Giant Liriope allows you to achieve varying effects.  To create a continuous ground cover, install containers a foot or less apart, but to emphasize the mounding habit of the species, increase the spacing.  L. gigantea also functions very successfully to create a border between one element of the landscape and another, and its versatility allows it to handle the transition from shady to sunny settings.

Giant Liriope is not only attractive, but easy to grow.  It is undemanding with respect to soil types, and, once established, can survive dry periods with no more than weekly irrigation.  About the only condition to avoid in installing this valuable ground cover is poorly-drained areas of the yard.

Like Liriope, Ophiopogon japonicus (Mondo Grass) is a member of the Liliaceae (Lily) Family, despite its appearance and common name.  It is much smaller than Liriope, but its growing requirements are essentially the same.  Mondo Grass is native to shady forests of Japan and Korea, while Liriope extends into China.

Giant Liriope is available at the nursery in 1-gal. and 3-gal. sizes while Mondo Grass is available only in 1-gal. containers.

Liriope gigantea (Lilyturf)

Liriope gigantea (Lilyturf)

Ophiopogon japonicus (Mondo Grass)

Ophiopogon japonicus (Mondo Grass)

Ophiopogon japonicus (Mondo Grass)

Ophiopogon japonicus (Mondo Grass)

Moss Rose (Portulaca grandiflora)

If you’re searching for a plant that’s easy to grow, look no further than Portulaca.  Also known as Moss Rose, this genus comprises somewhere between 40 and 100 species native to both Old World and New World locales.

Fast-growing on thick reddish stems and featuring fleshy leaves, it literally thrives in the absence of attention.  Topping out at less than a foot high, Portulaca makes an ideal ground cover for the sunniest, most inhospitable areas of your yard, and it blooms profusely in shades of red, yellow, white, orange, pink and, in more recent times, pastels.  In some varieties, the flowers are double.

Portulaca is not simply undemanding, but it may actually suffer from too much attention.  Consequently, you will do it a favor not to fertilize it and not to water it devotedly. Just be sure not to plant it on a site with poor drainage.  In addition to functioning beautifully as a ground cover, this succulent performs well in a hanging basket or container.  You can find a number of Portulaca cultivars at Richard Lyons’ Nursery in 1-gal. containers.

Portulaca grandiflora (Moss Rose)

Portulaca grandiflora (Moss Rose)

Portulaca grandiflora (Moss Rose)

Portulaca grandiflora (Moss Rose)

Portulaca grandiflora (Moss Rose)

Portulaca grandiflora (Moss Rose)

Portulaca grandiflora (Moss Rose)

Portulaca grandiflora (Moss Rose)

Portulaca grandiflora (Moss Rose)

Portulaca grandiflora (Moss Rose)

Portulaca grandiflora (Moss Rose)

Portulaca grandiflora (Moss Rose)

Guaiacum sanctum (Holywood Lignum vitae)

Most people know Guaiacum sanctum simply as ‘Lignum vitae,’ but its true recognized common name is actually ‘Holywood Lignum vitae.’  The basic two-word term Lignum vitae is somewhat misleading, because it applies not only to G. sanctum, but also to other species of Guaiacum.  G. officinale is the Roughbark (or Common) Lignum vitae.  ‘Lignum vitae’ is Latin for ‘Tree of Life,’ and it was applied to Guaiacum because of the plant’s medicinal properties.  For instance, it produces a resin which induces sweating.  It has also been used to relieve gout and rheumatism, and as an anti-inflammatory.  It has even been said, perhaps in hushed tones, that an extract of the tree cured Columbus of syphilis.  And he told his mom that he was spending all his evenings studying nautical charts.  Naughty boy.

The wood of G. sanctum is striking for its greenish-brown color and for having a specific gravity greater than that of water, causing it to sink when placed in water.  It is, in fact, the hardest of the trade woods.  Because of its dense, strong properties, it traditionally has been used as a material for ship propeller shafts, mallets, caster wheels, and chisel blocks.  Fortunately, the development of synthetic substances has eased pressure to cut down G. sanctum for its wood. This tree is native to Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys, and its range extends to the Caribbean Islands, Mexico, and Central America.  It is considered endangered due to habitat loss and over-harvesting for its wood.

Lignum vitae is a member of the creosote bush family, Zygophyllaceae.  It produces deep blue to purple five-petal flowers from March through August.  It develops orange-yellow seed pods which split open, revealing a bright red skin (aril) covering a black seed.  Flowering and fruiting can occur simultaneously.  The seeds are often consumed by birds, and the tree is the major food source for the caterpillar of the Lyside Sulphur butterfly.  As might be expected of a dense-wooded tree, G. sanctum is an extremely slow-growing species.  It produces multiple trunks which create a rounded crown.  While the tree has the capacity to reach 30-40 ft. in height, due to over-harvesting it is rare to see specimens anywhere close to that size.

Because of its lethargic growth rate, many nurseries do not stock G. sanctum.  However, it is available at Richard Lyons’ Nursery in 1-, 3-, 7- and 15-gal. containers, as well as field-grown.

Guaiacum sanctum (Lignum Vitae Fruit)

Guaiacum sanctum (Lignum Vitae Fruit)

Guaiacum sanctum (Lignum Vitae)

Guaiacum sanctum (Lignum Vitae)

Guaiacum sanctum (Lignum Vitae Fruit and Foliage)

Guaiacum sanctum (Lignum Vitae Fruit and Foliage)