Plant lovers appreciate the vast array of fragrances encountered in tropical and subtropical species. One of the best of them introduced to our region is the Sweet Almond, Aloysia virgata. Its strong fragrance is optimally enjoyed at a distance from the plant, where breezes easily carry it. Native to fairly dry subtropical areas of Argentina, Sweet Almond can be grown in the ground all the way into Climate Zone 8, where it is treated as a perennial. But in southern Florida, it is an evergreen capable of reaching 15 ft. in height. It has an upright, informal habit with some horizontal branching, and is amenable to hard pruning for owners preferring to maintain it as a shorter shrub.
A. virgata blooms in flushes on and off most of the year with spikes of tiny white flowers. The leaves are dark green to gray-green and feel sandpapery to the touch. Happily, the plant is not very demanding. It tolerates average soils and, once established, is sufficiently drought-tolerant to perform well in a xeriscape.
Sweet Almond provides more than just an appealing fragrance, as it also attracts bees and butterflies. In particular, it is popular with the Atala Butterfly, Eumaeus atala, still in recovery from near-extinction. This multi-faceted plant is available at Richard Lyons’ Nursery in 1-gal. and 3-gal. containers.
Surely most “plant people” in southern Florida are familiar with Ramble. For those who aren’t, it is the annual plant-sale-and-more produced by Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Its 72nd edition ran last weekend, November 9, 10, and 11th.
This year’s Ramble couldn’t have taken place in nicer weather, and for me as a vendor it presented the perfect atmosphere for seeing old friends and customers. Among other services to the community at large, Ramble offers participants the chance to see new introductions to the immense variety of tropical plants that can be grown successfully in our region.
I particularly wish to acknowledge Morgan Brooks for her role in the organization and coordination of the Ramble plant sale area, and I also would like to thank Rebecca Butler for her kindness and courtesy in assisting me to get around the Garden.
One of the most reliable plants in southern and central Florida for creating a dense and uniform hedge is Eugenia uniflora, better known as Surinam Cherry. Few other plants stay full from bottom to top as they increase in size and age. This species comes with an interesting story that says something about the nature of plant exploration several centuries ago: Although native from northern South America to southern Brazil, Surinam Cherry was first described botanically from a specimen found in a garden in Pisa, Italy. That plant was thought to have been introduced to Italy from Goa, the tiny, but historically important, state on the western coast of India. It is thought that Portuguese travelers carried seed of E. uniflora from Brazil to Goa, just as they did cashew over 450 years ago. Since that time, Surinam Cherry has been widely distributed in the tropics worldwide and even into the subtropics.
Surinam Cherry in Florida flowers in early spring and develops attractive ribbed fruits about an inch in diameter that ripen from bright red to deep scarlet to purple-maroon. As a hedge, it is pruned so often that most of its fruit production is lost through the removal of flowers, but as a stand-alone small tree, it is an excellent source of food for wildlife as well as for humans. However, since the fruit of the popular cultivar here tends to be quite tart to the human sense of taste, it is probably more desirable to use it in jams, jellies, pies or wines. Richard Lyons’ Nursery carries Surinam Cherry in 3-gal. and 7-gal. containers.
Jaboticaba is the Brazilian term for four very similar species of Myrciaria that produce one of the more interesting-looking tropical fruit trees in the southern half of Florida. The name of the best-known of those species, M. cauliflora, suggests why: It is cauliflorous, meaning that its flowers and fruits are borne directly on the woody stems and trunk of the tree. Jaboticaba is native to southeastern Brazil, as well as parts of Paraguay, Bolivia, and Argentina and, because of that southerly origin, mature specimens can tolerate periods of brief frost into the upper 20s. It was introduced to Florida just over 100 years ago, reportedly in Brevard County. It grows very slowly and, in the shallow soils of southern Florida, rarely exceeds 15 ft. (The slow growth rate also makes Jaboticaba popular as a bonsai subject.) While the tree prefers mildly acidic soils, it adapts fairly well to alkaline sites, especially when good nutrition is provided. For best fruiting, trees should be grown in full sun, and the soil at the planting site should be well-aerated. While good soil moisture is a must for Jaboticaba, good drainage is also essential, so be sure to plant the tree 2-3 in. above the surrounding soil. This genus is not salt-tolerant.
Jaboticaba performs much better in cultivation than under natural conditions. Although a tree may not begin to flower for eight years, given appropriate moisture and fertilization it will eventually flower and fruit several times a year. The flowers are small and white, and the leathery skin of Jaboticaba fruit ripens in a range of color from purplish-maroon to almost black. The period from flowering to fruit harvest is encouragingly short — 20-30 days. The fruit, which ripens an inch or so in diameter, has a grapelike appearance, but contains just 1-4 large seeds. The gelatinous flesh is white to pink, and its flavor ranges from sweet to subacid. Since the fruit has a fairly short shelf life, it is usually eaten fresh, but is also used to make jams, jellies, pies, and alcoholic beverages. Fruit skins are known to have medicinal value and are said to be processed for anti-cancer compounds. However, consuming the raw skin more than occasionally is not recommended due to its high tannin content.
This very nice fruit tree is available at Richard Lyons’ Nursery in 4-in., 3-gal. and 15-gal. containers.
Myrciaria cauliflora (Jaboticaba) Trained for Bonsai
Myrciaria cauliflora (Jaboticaba) Trained for Bonsai
Colville’s Glory Tree, like the Royal Poinciana Tree, is native to Madagascar. It was named for a British Governor of Mauritius, Sir Charles Colville. Unlike the spreading canopy of the Royal Poinciana Tree, Colville’s Glory tree is mostly upright, attaining a height of 30-50′. It has bi-pinnate feathery leaves and spectacular orange flowers are born on large 1-2′ long cone shaped racemes that hang downward from the tips of the branches. The yellow-orange stamens are the conspicuous part of the flower and attract honey bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. They begin blooming in late October, and bloom well into November in S. Florida. We currently have these spectacular trees in 3gal. containers as young seedlings.