Baobab Tree (Adansonia digitata)

As you know, we are surrounded by weird things.  In your case, at this very moment the closest weird thing is probably your neighbor’s teenage son, who thinks he is the next Justin Bieber, but more closely resembles an offkey cyclops.

In the plant world, one of the weirder things is the Baobab tree, but, unlike your neighbor’s kid, the Baobab has a future, quite possibly in your yard.

The scientific name for Baobab is Adansonia.  It is named for Michel Adanson, a French explorer and naturalist who as a 21-year-old in 1749 was distracted by a very striking tree on an island in Senegal while on a hunt for antelope.  The tree, now known as Adansonia digitata, had an enormous swollen trunk and seemed to have been turned on end.  In fact, one of its common names is the Upside Down Tree, a reflection on the fact that its crown, when bare, resembles a gnarly collection of roots.   David Livingstone — that David Livingstone, we presume — called it a “carrot planted upside down.”

Following centuries of confusion and debate, there is now general agreement among botanists that the genus Adansonia comprises eight species which range over some 10,000 miles from western Africa to Madagascar to the Arabian Peninsula to northwestern Australia (where they are known as Boabs).  Continental drift following the breakup of Gondwana used to be credited for the broad range of Adansonia, but a more recent theory holds that the buoyant seedpods distributed Baobabs to western Australia and eastern Africa by sea from Madagascar.  What is common to all the species is their trunk girth, an adaptation to arid environments that allows the plant to store large quantities of water.  Baobabs have long served as living reservoirs for humans, particularly nomadic tribes.

Revered across their range, Baobabs have a number of valuable uses aside from their role as a source of water.  Their leaves are used to make soup or are eaten as a spinach-like or asparagus-like vegetable or dry condiment.  The white pulp found inside seed pods makes a pleasant drink when mixed with water, and the same pulp is used to treat malaria.  The seeds themselves are edible in several forms.  The bark of the tree can be pounded into fiber to make clothing, fishing nets and rope.  And in addition to their utilitarian assets, the Adansonia species produce small to large, sweet-smelling flowers.

The trees have no growth rings, but at least by reputation they are extremely long-lived. One of the qualities that aids longevity is the ability to regrow bark when it is damaged, either through accidental injury or by being intentionally stripped for the fiber. Some older specimens have developed such large, hollow trunks that they have been used as prisons, or, more accurately, lockups, for criminals being transported to more traditional accommodations.

The Baobab is not a succulent.  Young plants in particular do not respond well to drought.  Rather, the genus is simply highly adapted to areas of low rainfall.  That fact helps explain why Adansonia is quite capable of handling the moist climate of southern Florida if planted on a well-drained site.

On reflection, ‘weird’ is not the fairest descriptor for the noble Baobab.  ‘Remarkable’ might be the best term.  In fact, one admirer has incorporated that very view into an entire book about the genus.  You might want to take a look at Thomas Pakenham’s “The Remarkable Baobab.”

Adansonia digitata is a proven quality performer in the landscape of southern Florida, and its slow growth rate will not put this interesting tree out of scale to residential properties.  Richard Lyons’ Nursery has it available in 15-gal. containers, at about 12 ft. in height.  And it might well help you forget about the kid next door.

Adansonia digitata (Baobab Tree)

Adansonia digitata (Baobab Tree)

Adansonia digitata (Baobab Tree)

Adansonia digitata (Baobab Tree)

Adansonia digitata (Baobab Tree)


Native Florida Coffee Species (Psychotria ligustrifolia, P. nervosa, P. sulzneri)

Since 1958, grower Juan Valdez and his mule, Conchita, have been employed to put us in mind of some of the best coffee in the world.  These fictional characters have left an indelible impression on generations of consumers.  And right now you might be thinking how nice it would be to stroll through lush fields of coffee in Colombia.  But wait.  Do you really want to take that long ride to the airport and then stand in line for what seems like hours before you can board the plane?  And ticket prices have gotten pretty expensive, too.

Well, here’s an alternative:  Did you know that there are four species of wild coffee found in southern Florida?  Why not plant some of them in your back yard and become your own coffee grower?

Psychotria ligustrifolia, is commonly known as the Bahama Wild Coffee, but occurs over a larger range — from southern Florida into the West Indies (the Bahamas and the Greater Antilles, but not the Lesser Antilles).  While the species is secure in its range, it is considered endangered in Florida.  Unlike other species of wild coffee, it is not native to moist forest habitat.  Accordingly, when grown in cultivation, care should be taken simply to keep it evenly hydrated.  It grows as a medium-sized shrub with shiny, grooved green leaves.  It makes a good informal hedge for use as an accent or buffer planting and can adapt to light conditions ranging from fairly deep shade to full sun.  It grows more compactly and features darker leaves than P. nervosa.  Bahama Wild Coffee produces small white flowers which attract butterflies, followed by red fruit which attracts birds.  The birds, as well as other animals, also use this and other wild coffee species for cover.  While P. ligustrifolia is related to the coffee of Juan Valdez, it does not produce enough caffeine to qualify it as a substitute.

Psychotria nervosa, commonly known as Wild Coffee, is a medium-sized shrub with shiny, deeply-grooved green leaves about 6 in. long.  It is native to lightly-shaded areas in moist forests in a very extensive range from northern Florida into the West Indies, Mexico, Central America, and South America.  However, it is quite rare in the lower Florida Keys.  It grows at a moderate rate to about 4-6 ft. tall and often about as wide.  Once established, the species can tolerate brief droughts.  It makes a good informal hedge for use as an accent or buffer planting and can adapt to full-sun exposures.  P. nervosa, the most widely-cultivated wild coffee, prefers moist limestone or sandy soils with a humusy upper layer.  Good organic content will help it thrive, but it can tolerate nutrient-poor soils.  Saltwater spray is not tolerated, but it can grow near the coast if protected by other vegetation.  The plant produces fairly showy white flowers followed by red fruit — safe for human consumption —which looks much like the true coffee bean.

Birds and other animals also enjoy eating the fruit of Wild Coffee.  In addition, P. nervosa is a nectar source for several butterflies, including the Atala (Eumaeus atala), not long ago on the brink of extinction.

P. nervosa has historically been, and continues to be, used for medicinal purposes.  Hundreds of years ago, it was employed as a treatment for dysentery.  In modern times in the West Indies, Mexico and South America, it is used to stop bleeding, to reduce fever, and to treat colds, asthma, swollen feet, stomach aches, and dermatological maladies.

Psychotria sulzneri, the Shortleaf Wild Coffee, is a medium-sized shrub with dull green leaves.  It is native to lightly-shaded areas in moist forests and swamps in a fairly large range from Central Florida into the West Indies, Mexico, and Central America.  It grows at a moderate rate to about 3-4 ft. tall and about as wide.  Once established, the species can tolerate brief droughts.  Like P. nervosa, it makes a good informal hedge for use as an accent or buffer planting.  P. sulzneri prefers moist limestone or sandy soils with a humusy upper layer.  Good organic content will help it thrive, but it can tolerate nutrient-poor soils.  Saltwater spray is not tolerated, but it can grow near the coast if protected by other vegetation.  The plant produces nondescript green flowers followed by red, orange or yellow fruit.

Birds and other animals eat the fruit of this species.  Like P. ligustrifolia and P. nervosa, it is also a nectar source for the Atala Butterfly.

P. sulzneri also possesses medicinal qualities.  It has been used to reduce fever and otherwise treat colds, as well as to treat asthma, stomach problems, swelling of limbs, tumors, and dermatological problems.

Psychotria punctata, the Dotted Wild Coffee, differs from the other coffee species found in the wild here by virtue of the raised warts, or dots, on the leaf surfaces.  They are, more accurately, nodules caused by bacteria.  This species is not native to Florida, but rather to southern Africa, and has escaped here.  It is little-known in cultivation.

The three Florida native wild coffee species are available at Richard Lyons’ Nursery in 3- and 7-gal. containers.  Conchita the mule not included.

Psychotria ligustrifolia (Bahama Wild Coffee)

Psychotria ligustrifolia (Bahama Wild Coffee Berries)

Psychotria ligustrifolia (Bahama Wild Coffee Berries)

Psychotria ligustrifolia (Bahama Wild Coffee Berries)

Psychotria nervosa (Wild Coffee)

Psychotria sulzneri (Shortleaf Wild Coffee)

Richard’s Special this Week $20 Jaboticaba


Myrciaria cauliflora (Jaboticaba)
Trained for Bonsai

We know. You’re still kicking yourself because you missed the chance to buy a Jaboticaba tree at our discounted price. These fruit trees are normally $45 each in 3 gallon pots. If you come to our nursery in Miami, you can take one home for your own jams, fruit salads, or just to pluck off the tree and eat for only $20. Mention Richard’s special between now and Thursday and get this special price. Get yours before they are all gone.

Plants Toxic to Dogs and Cats

Many of us reside in southern Florida because of the wonderful winter climate that permits us not only to enjoy the great outdoors without bundling up, but to cultivate thousands of tropical plants.  However, as the old saying goes, there is no good unalloyed, and not every plant is benign.  If you own a dog or cat, it behooves you to become familiar with the species that may harm your pet.  Below you will find a list of a few of the tropical plants known to affect pet health adversely.  (The list should in no way be considered all-inclusive; you are urged to research the topic on your own for additional information.)
Ricinus communis (Castor Bean):  While this species is the source of castor oil, it also possesses a darker side: Its seeds contain the highly toxic substance ricin — which received great attention after 9/11 as a means of conducting chemical/biological warfare — and ingestion of just a few seeds by a dog or cat can set up a fatal chain of neurological events.
Dieffenbachia (Dumbcane), Aglaonema (Chinese Evergreen), Monstera deliciosa (Monstera) and Alocasia (Elephant’s Ear):  The common name Dumbcane provides a hint of the harm that these species of aroids can cause.  Ingestion of the calcium oxalate crystals found in the leaves of these plants can cause swelling inside the mouth of your pet (and humans may find themselves unable to speak).  Dogs and cats may experience intense burning and swelling, along with drooling and vomiting.
Nerium oleander (Oleander):  This flowering shrub, better-known simply as Oleander, is an Old World native that has achieved widespread distribution throughout milder climates in the United States.  Its dicey constituents are known as cardiac glycosides, and while they have beneficial medical applications, in the concentrations found in all parts of the plant they can be toxic to dogs and cats.  Symptoms include diarrhea, sweating, poor coordination, compromised breathing, tremors, and abnormal cardiac functions.  Even inhalation of the smoke of oleander trimmings being burned can be toxic.
Aloe vera (Aloe vera):  This popular plant is well-known for providing relief for burns through application of its gel, but what’s good in it can also harm pets.  Among the many chemical constituents of Aloe vera are saponins, which have long been used in soapmaking.  However, when ingested by dogs or cats, saponins can cause anorexia, depression, diarrhea, and tremors.
Lycopersicon spp. (Tomato):  Few people think of the tomato as potentially harmful to domestic pets, but its leaves contain the chemical solanine, which can cause the following symptoms in cats and dogs:  loss of appetite, central nervous system depression, slow heart rate, drowsiness, diarrhea, confusion, severe gastrointestinal upset, weakness, dilated pupils, and behavioral change.
Vinca spp. (Periwinkle):  Here’s another example of a plant containing chemical constituents — in this case vinca alkaloids — which do both good and harm.  While the compounds are used to treat certain cancers in humans, they can also cause severe problems when ingested by small pets, including low blood pressure, diarrhea, depression, tremors, vomiting, seizures, coma, and even death.
Asparagus densiflorus cv. sprengeri (Asparagus Fern):  This ubiquitous ground cover contains sapogenins, which can cause a lot of mischief in cats and dogs.  If your pet is regularly exposed to the leaves of the plant, allergic dermatitis may set up.  More significantly, ingestion of the berries of this plant can result in gastric problems such as abdominal pain, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.
Crassula arborescens (Silver Jade Plant):  Unlike other species discussed in this article, the toxin at work here is unknown, but the the dog or cat that takes a liking to the plump leaves of this succulent plant may soon find itself experiencing a bout of retching or nausea.
Allium cepa (Onion):  We know that the onion is a heart-healthy vegetable for humans, but much less well-known is the fact that it may cause misery in pets, particularly cats.  The culprit is N-propyl disulfide, which can cause a broad spectrum of symptoms, including gastrointestinal upset, breakdown of red blood cells, vomiting, weakness, panting, elevated heart rate, and blood in the urine.
Gloriosa superba (Gloriosa Lily):  This herbaceous perennial produces beautiful, delicate flowers after lying dormant during the dry season.  But it also produces colchicine-related alkaloids throughout the plant, and they can cause salivation, diarrhea, vomiting, kidney failure, shock, liver damage, and bone marrow suppression.
Kalanchoe spp. (Mother of Millions):  These succulent plants tend to produce offspring, often in maddening numbers, interestingly at the margins of leaves.  Most flower during the winter.  The constituent which can affect your cat or dog is bufodienolides, which can cause diarrhea, vomiting and, occasionally, abnormal heart rhythm.
Citrus aurantifolia (Key Lime) and Citrus latifolia (Tahiti or Persian Lime):  Ingestion of both these types of limes can cause distress in dogs and cats, including depression, vomiting and diarrhea.  Furthermore, as in humans, exposure in sunlight to psoralens, oils found in the rinds of these fruits, can set up a very strong allergic reaction.  (The risk of photosensitive reactions explains why when limes were grown commercially in Florida they were packed in covered structures.)
The foregoing brief survey of toxic plants found in southern Florida is not meant to alarm plant enthusiasts who also own cats and dogs.  On the contrary, it should reassure you that despite being surrounded by germplasm that contains toxic substances, your pets rarely find themselves compromised.  What we hope is that on the rare occasions when your pet does ingest part of a toxic plant, you will recognize symptoms at a very early stage and make a call to your veterinarian for advice.

Save $6 on Black Ironwood this Week

Krugiodendron ferreum (Black Ironwood)

Krugiodendron ferreum (Black Ironwood)

This week Richard’s Special is three gallon Black Ironwood trees for $9.00 each. Normally these bird attractors sell for $15 at our Nursery. It’s a slow growing tree with lush green foliage and a fruit that will have birds paying regular visits. This deal is only available at our nursery in Miami and you have to ask for Richard’s Special. You can ask for this special until Thursday February 7. I look forward to seeing you. If you already know our nursery, bring a friend.