Autograph Tree or Pitch Apple (Clusia rosea)

In 1898, the United States became embroiled in the Spanish-American War. President William McKinley, eager to assess the relative strengths of the Spanish forces and Cuban insurgents, wanted to send a message to General Calixto Garcia, who was somewhere in the mountains of eastern Cuba. Col. Arthur Wagner, head of the Bureau of Military Intelligence, recommended a lieutenant named Andrew S. Rowan for the task. Rowan was soon dispatched by ship with the message, and, following a quick, harrowing trip through Jamaica and the eastern end of Cuba, he reached Gen. Garcia with the letter. Rowan returned to Washington with invaluable intelligence disclosed by Garcia that enabled the U.S. to end the conflict in just 10 weeks.  Legend has it that the famed Message to Garcia was scratched into the leaf of a tree called Clusia rosea. (One would have thought that by 1898 the president of the United States might be writing letters on paper instead of tree leaves, but I digress.) Whether the account is true or not, Clusia rosea is a very interesting, desirable plant for subtropical gardens. Native to southern Florida, the Bahamas, and into the Caribbean, this relative of mangosteen reaches 25-30 ft. It produces a fairly stout trunk and features a dense canopy of leathery, dark green, paddle-shaped leaves.  Messages can, in fact, be written on Clusia leaves; the sap exuded through scraped surfaces is visible for the life of the leaf. That’s why the best-known common name for this plant is the Autograph Tree. Another name is Pitch-Apple, a reference to the one-time practice of caulking the seams of boats with the resinous black substance found in seed pods.

The 2-3 in. white-to-pink summertime flowers of C. rosea give way to woody pods, or capsules, that split open as they turn brown, revealing black seeds wrapped in soft red flesh. The fruit attracts birds, along with squirrels and other mammals. As an ornamental plant, The Autograph Tree has many appealing attributes — tolerance to drought, saltwater, and variable light conditions, as well as strong resistance to disease and insects. It is quite amenable to constrictive planting sites, such as islands enclosed by concrete. There are few maintenance demands, although occasional trimming of aerial roots helps manage growth. C. rosea grows at a moderate rate and may be pruned from multiple stems into a single trunk to transform it into a standard. That is particularly valuable to its use as a street tree. On the other hand, left as a multi-stemmed shrub, it makes a wonderful screening material. This attractive species is available at Richard Lyons’ Nursery in 3-gal. and 15-gal. sizes.  There is also C. rosea variegata, whose leaves feature green and yellow marbling, C. lanceolata, with a beautiful small white flower with a red center, C. orthoneura with a small pinkish red flower, and C. guttifera ‘Nana’ a small-leafed species excellent for bonsai culture.  We offer these other beautiful Clusias in 3-gal. containers.

Name on the leaf of an Autograph Tree (Clusia rosea)

Clusia rosea (Autograph Tree) in 3-gal. containers for hedges

Clusia rosea (Autograph Tree) in 1-gal. containers for hedges

Clusia rosea (Autograph Tree) single trunk tree

Clusia rosea ‘Aureo-Variegata’ (Variegated Autograph Tree)

Clusia lanceolata (Lance-leaf Autograph Tree)

Clusia orthoneura (Porcelain Autograph Tree)

Clusia guttifera ‘Nana’ (Dwarf Autograph Tree)

 

Winter Gardening and U-pick at the Nursery

Averrhoa carambola (Starfruit)

Averrhoa carambola (Starfruit) on the tree

This is a very interesting time of year weather-wise. In November we experienced several cool days. Apparently the nighttime temperatures were low enough for the lychee trees to start to flower. With the last few nights in the fifties we might have a decent lychee crop in 2013. Hopefully the blooms will be a mix of male and female flowers.

Because the nighttime temperatures have been below 70 degrees in South Florida, the tomato plants have set fruit. Most tomatoes require temperatures below 70 degrees for fruit to set. The tropical pumpkins look good too. We also have a bumper crop of different lettuces.

You can pick your own vegetables when you visit the nursery. We are growing string beans, kohlrabi, Swiss chard, bok choy, carrots, tropical pumpkins, and several other vegetables that grow well in Miami-Dade over the winter months.

We have a tasty selection of fresh exotic fruit including sapodilla, jujube, guava, and carambola which are maturing on the trees. Visit the nursery and explore this tropical wonder place on your own or ask for a tour.

Enjoy the antique roses which grow on their own rootstocks without having to be grafted. These roses do not get black spot that you might have seen on other roses. They are the easiest of plants to grow. Just deadhead (cut off the dead flower buds) and they will produce flowers year-round.

Bauhinia blakeana (Hong Kong Orchid Tree)

Many botanists believe this tree is a hybrid between Bauhinia variegata and B. purpurea, and not a true species as its botanical name implies. The tree is sterile, so it does not produce seedpods and seeds.  This makes it an ideal Bauhinia, unlike many other Bauhinias which are invasive.   An individual tree was discovered in 1880 growing at a monastery in Hong Kong. It was propagated and planted at the Hong Kong Botanic Gardens.  It is believed, all cultivated trees can be traced back to this individual.  The botanical species name, blakeana, was named for Sir Henry Blake, British governor of Hong Kong from 1898-1903 and an avid amateur botanist.  The flower was adopted as the floral emblem of Hong Kong in 1965, and since 1997 the flower appears on Hong Kong’s coat of arms, flag, and coins.

The Hong Kong orchid tree has large showy purplish, magenta blossoms which resemble orchids, and blooms from November to April, making it a favorite nectar source for hummingbirds which overwinter in S. Florida.  The tree can attain a height of 20-40′ with a crown spread of 20-25′.  It is also very drought tolerant.  The nursery has these trees for sale in 15gal. pots 10-12′ and blooming.

Bauhinia blakeana (Hong Kong Orchid Tree)

Bauhinia blakeana (Hong Kong Orchid Tree)

Bauhinia blakeana (Hong Kong Orchid Tree)

Vegetables and Herbs At The Nursery

The Gulf Stream is a fascinating geological phenomenon.  A warm, strong, fast-moving ocean current, it influences climate from the Caribbean Basin to western Europe.  Without it, Jackie Gleason could not have called Miami Beach “the sun and fun capital of the world.”  Show biz aside, the Gulf Stream has also made southern Florida the winter vegetable capital of the eastern United States and Canada.  At a time when shivering farmers in other parts of the country peruse their seed catalogues, farmers in our corner of the nation are busy raising an impressive assortment of popular vegetables.

Richard Lyon’s Nursery is heavily involved in growing winter crops, and they are beginning to ripen this month.  Among the vegetables raised here are bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, Chinese winter melon, collard greens, cucumbers, daikon, eggplant, kohlrabi, radishes, squash, sweet potato, Swiss chard, tomatoes, and tropical pumpkin.  Chives, a year-round crop, fill out the list.  We also grow a number of herbs, including basil, dill, oregano, rosemary, and thyme.

Spend a while at our farm on a nice winter’s day and take home your favorite selection of fresh, tasty vegetables and herbs.  We’re open every day but Thursday.

Assorted Vegetables Grown at the Nursery

Assorted Vegetables Grown at the Nursery

Assorted Vegetables Grown at the Nursery

Assorted Vegetables Grown at the Nursery

Assorted Vegetables Grown at the Nursery

Eucalyptus deglupta (Rainbow Eucalyptus)

There are almost 900 Eucalyptus species in the world! Some are gigantic and others dwarf; some are water-tolerant and others xeric, but only one of them is native to the northern hemisphere. That species is Eucalyptus deglupta, the Rainbow Eucalyptus. It is found on various Pacific islands, including Mindanao (Philippines), Seram (Indonesia), Sulawesi (Indonesia), New Guinea (Indonesia and Papua New Guinea), and New Britain (Papua New Guinea). It is the only Eucalyptus adapted to lowland and lower montane rainforest habitats, and it is one of only four species not endemic to Australia.
 
For the record, E. deglupta normally develops a pyramidal crown, but it is the trunk that attracts attention. The Rainbow Eucalyptus is so-named because of its beautiful exfoliating bark, which simultaneously exhibits a vast range of colors — light green, dark green, gray, pink, red, orange, blue, purple, maroon. A photo at the top of this webpage provides a good idea of the splendor of this species. It occurs naturally in dense riverside stands, where deep, sandy soils and rainfall of 100-200 in. a year promote a high-octane growth rate. In fact, it is probably the fastest-growing forestry tree in the world, reaching heights well over 200 ft. in ideal settings. But the tree is much more manageable in southern Florida. Although E. deglupta is quite adaptable to limestone-derived soils, the shallowness of our soils, as well as average rainfall here of less than 60 in. a year, limits mature height to about 60 ft. The species is not frost-hardy, but can handle the upper 20s for brief periods.
 
This species is not just another pretty face. While its wood is not extremely dense, it is of sufficient quality to render it useful for a number of construction purposes, and beginning about 95 years ago plantations have been installed pantropically to produce pulpwood that yields a very bright white paper.
 
In locating a Rainbow Eucalyptus on your property, follow the criterion used for avocados: Plant the tree away from the house, so that limb breakage during storms will cause minimal damage. E. deglupta can be found here at the nursery in 3-gal. and 15-gal. sizes. We recommend that you not keep this species containerized indefinitely, because it doesn’t happily tolerate lapses in watering.

Eucalyptus deglupta (Rainbow Eucalyptus)

Eucalyptus deglupta (Rainbow Eucalyptus Flowers with Honey Bees)

Eucalyptus deglupta (Rainbow Eucalyptus)