Tropical Bonsai

When you hear the word ‘Bonsai’, you usually think of temperate zone conifers, Japanese maples, and other assorted deciduous trees.  However, in South Florida, ‘Bonsai’ takes on a whole new connotation.  The choices for plant material are almost endless.  There are our natives to choose from, such as the Stoppers, Lignum-vitae, or Christmasberry to name a few.  Then there are tropical fruit trees, like Jaboticaba, Barbados Cherry, and Cherry of the Rio Grande.  Oh yes, the biggest category of all, the ornamentals with such standbys as Bougainvillea, Ficus neriifolia, and Tropical Dwarf Holly (Malpighia coccigera).  Of course, we too have our conifers, although most of them are of a tropical nature, bonsai enthusiasts have grown them into nice specimens for years.

If you are an experienced grower, or just want to get started, Richard Lyons’ Nursery has plenty of the plant material available to get you started.

Palms for Autumn Planting, Part V

The survey of palm species available at Richard Lyons’ Nursery in 3-gal. containers concludes this week:

Dictyosperma album var. album is commonly known as the Princess or Hurricance Palm. It is a pinnate, self-cleaning palm that features a yard-tall, waxy crownshaft. Endemic to the Mascarene Islands in the Indian Ocean, it is reported to be nearly extinct in the wild due to farming activities. In southern Florida, this water-loving species matures to about 30 ft. and performs best in a sunny site. It is more capable of tolerating a cold night followed by a rapid warmup than sustained periods of cool weather.

Licuala grandis, the Ruffled Fan Palm, is native to Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. It is a striking small species featuring nearly circular leaves that look as if they’ve been cut out by pinking shears. Best grown in shade when young, L. grandis tolerates more sun later. Given generous irrigation, it will reach 15 ft. slowly in southern Florida. Because it does not have an aggressive root system, it can be maintained successfully in a container, particularly if a saucer is placed underneath it to hold water.

Syagrus botryophora, known as the Pati Queen Palm, is a fast-growing species endemic to the coastal woodland of Brazil. It has a thinner trunk than the standard Queen Palm (Syagus romanzoffiana). Its crown contains graceful recurved leaves with ascending, or V-shaped, leaflets. Rainfall in its native range is even throughout the year, so irrigation during the southern Florida dry season is a must. It matures to somewhere in the 20-50 ft. range, and responds well to nutrition that includes minor elements. Plant in full sun.

Thrinax radiata, the Florida Thatch Palm, is native from southern Florida into the Bahamas, the Caribbean, the Yucatan Peninsula, and Central America. Its palmate leaves are dark green on top, light green beneath. Pea-sized fruits ripen from green to white. Inground plantings mature to 30 ft. after many years. It is also recommended for both small yards and container culture. T. radiata is best grown in full sun to light or high shade. It is tolerant of winds, salt, drought and poor soils.

The series concludes with some recommendations on planting these palms in the ground, advice reinforced by our recent hurricane experience: Do not skimp on preparing a planting hole. Particularly in areas where limestone is near the surface, dig a large hole so that root system growth over the years will not be inhibited by the rock. However, it is better to refill the excavated hole with the broken pieces of limestone than to introduce a richer planting medium. The material within the planting hole should not be better than the surrounding soil, even if it is not highly nutritional. Nutrition can be provided through sound fertilizing and mulching practices.

Palms for Autumn Planting, Part IV

The survey of palm species available at Richard Lyons’ Nursery in 3-gal. containers continues this week:

Sabal mauritiiformis is probably the fastest-growing of the 20 or so species of Sabal. Native from northern South America to southern Mexico, this palm produces fairly large, deeply-split circular leaves — reminiscent of those of Licuala — even before the trunk develops. And the undersides of the leaves are mildly silvery. Eventually this palm will reach 30-60 ft. tall, with a trunk about a foot in diameter.

Satakentia liukiuensis is a palm endemic to the rainy southern Ryukyu Islands of Japan. A self-cleaning species, it possesses a beautiful maroon-brown crownshaft. It has a slow to moderate growth rate, maturing to about 30 ft. in our region, and is amenable to both limestone and sandy soils. S. liukiuensis holds up well to tropical storm conditions and can tolerate at least light frost. To see a nice stand of this striking palm, drive by the Lennar Foundation Medical Center on the eastern border of the University of Miami.

Serenoa repens is the Saw Palmetto, whose seeds are the source of an extract recommended in alternative medicine circles as beneficial to prostate health. A Florida native, it is a small, slow-growing species whose mildly fragrant flowers are a rarity in the palm world. Stems of this clustering species commonly ‘crawl’ along the ground and, over time, can extend several feet from the center of the plant.

Syagrus cearensis is a midsize, clumping species bearing slightly plumose leaflets unevenly distributed along the petiole. It almost always produces two stems, but occasionally sends up more. It was not described botanically until 2004. It is endemic to the northeast Brazilian states of Piauí, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraíba, Pernambuco, and Ceará, the last of which is the source of its species name. S. cearensis prefers a sunny position with good drainage.

Syagrus kellyana, endemic to Minas Gerais state in Brazil, is relatively new to Florida. It grows at a deliberate rate, reaching 6-16 ft. at maturity. S. kellyana bears a crown of dark green, gracefully-recurving leaves, and produces fairly large fruits. It appears to be rather cold-hardy. Native to granitic outcroppings or areas of thin soil, this species does not appear to mind the poor soils of southern Florida. For best results, plant S.kellyana in full sun on a site with good drainage.

Palms for Autumn Planting, Part III

The survey of palm species available at Richard Lyons’ Nursery in 3-gal. containers continues this week:

Cocos nucifera ‘Red Spicata Dwarf’ is a distinctive variety of the Coconut Palm. It bears vibrantly-colored (orange, not truly red) seednuts on spiky infructescences. The contrast between Dwarf and Tall Coconut Palms is manifested in at least two ways that are more predictive than height: Dwarf varieties have narrower trunks, and they begin to flower and fruit earlier. For best results with a ‘Red Spicata,’ fertilize generously during the growing season. Like all coconuts, this variety prefers to be grown in full sun.

Copernicia berteroana is perhaps the fastest-growing of the Copernicias, though it slows greatly in Mediterranean climates. Native to open, dry forests of Hispaniola, it reaches 20-33 ft. at maturity. It produces a dense crown of generously-segmented, bright green palmate leaves. The species is not particular about soil, so long as it is well-drained. Though its occurrence in the wild has diminished, it is reported to be widely used as an ornamental plant along streets and in parks in its native land.

Copernicia macroglossa, the Cuban Petticoat Palm, is noted for the skirt of old leaves that persists around its trunk for many years. Hidden under the ‘petticoat’ is a stem just 8 in. or so in diameter. The palm’s distinctive look is owed to its very short leafstems, which cause its large leaves to appear as if they emanate directly from the trunk. Like many species in its genus, C. macroglossa accommodates copious amounts of water very well, but also handles drought easily once established. It reaches 20-25 ft. in southern Florida.

Livistona nitida is native to central Queensland, Australia, where it is generally found near abundant sources of water, such as in the Carnarvon Gorge. Though capable of reaching over 100 ft. in its homeland, L. nitida tops out at about 40 ft. in our region. It features an open crown of numerous palmate leaves with drooping leaf segments. Its petioles are lined with curved, dark red spines. Still relatively uncommon in Florida, it can handle temperatures in the low 20s. Plant it in a sunny location.

Pseudophoenix vinifera is another palm native to dry areas of Hispaniola. Its species name is derived from its use, especially years ago, to make a wine. Its most striking feature is its swollen trunk, ringed by very pronounced leaf scars and coated with a whitish wax. P. vinifera produces abundant, showy scarlet fruit. It should be planted in sunny sites with good drainage. Once established, it is drought-tolerant. A slow grower, it may reach 65 ft. in its native region, but is more likely to mature to around 25 ft. in southern Florida.



Palms for Autumn Planting, Part II

Our survey of palms available at Richard Lyons’ Nursery continues with a look at species being grown in 3-gal. containers:

Acoelorrhaphe wrightii, commonly known as the Paurotis Palm, is one of the dozen palm species native to Florida. Its home is the Everglades, so in cultivation it likes copious amounts of water. A palmate species, it features multiple thin, graceful stems covered with black fibers. Over a long period, it can reach 30 ft. in height. Paurotis fruit ripens from white to orange to black. The palm is hardy to at least 25°.

Actinorhytis calapparia is a single-trunked, pinnate species native to rain forests from the Solomon Islands westward into Papua New Guinea. It needs shaded conditions when young, but can later tolerate stronger light. Leaves recurve like those of Carpentaria. This species produces large red fruit to about 3 in. long. It matures to 20+ ft. in southern Florida.

Bismarckia nobilis is a species endemic to Madagascar. It grows to about 40 ft. in our region. Its large gray-green palmate leaves and stout trunk provide a very striking landscape element for sunny exposures. Once acclimated in the ground, Bismarckia is perfectly attuned to our hot, rainy summers and cooler, dry winters, and it is capable of surviving temperatures in the mid-20s, particularly as it ages.

Chelyocarpus chuco, a native of Bolivia and Brazil, is still uncommon locally. It produces glossy, circular palmate leaves and grows 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°.

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.