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Featured Plants 2005

January 2005

Bird of Paradise
When we had a flower shop in Ohio many decades ago, the bird of Paradise flower was the ultimate expensive, exquisite, and exotic pick for arrangements. In our four years, we never had an order that big. So I am still rather in awe of it, even though I am now used to many other tropical blooms. This beautiful evergreen perennial, Strelitzia reginae, can be grow here in sun to partial shade. The leaves grow 3' to 4' foot tall and the blooms stand just above them, mostly in summer and fall, but intermittently all year. They usually have one bloom to a stem, sometimes two. Each “bird’s” body is a 6" boat-shaped spathe of slaty blue, shading to wine toward the tail end. From this horizontal spathe arises a succession of 6 or more actual flowers, each with three orange-colored sepals which form the “wing feathers”. The blue crest consists of two petals united to from an arrow-shaped body with a third tiny blue petal at its base. As each flower withers, it should be snapped off to make way for fresh ones. Only two or three flowers appear at once in perfect condition. The long leaves actually look better in partial shade, but the plants flower a bit more in the sun. These need rich soil and do best with copious water, but the plants are also drought resistant. There is also a white bird of paradise, Strelitzia nicolai, that is a tree growing up to 20' tall and it can be rather messy. Both are native to Africa.

Gaillardia or Blanket Flower
Gaillardias or blanket flowers grow so well in Florida that they are sometimes seen as wildflowers on dunes near the ocean and are often planted on roadways and median strips along our highways. There are annual and perennial types that bloom with single or double daisy flowers in shades and combinations of fiery red to flame yellow to dark burgundy with darker centers to deep red all over. They grow from 12 to 30 inches tall, depending on variety, and the flower can be 2" to 3" across. This new winner, Gaillardia aristata 'Arizona Sun' has ancestors native to the American Great Plains, but has lost its wild look. The plants are early and dwarf, only 8" to 10" tall and 10" to 12" wide with dark green foliage and mahogany red centers with a band of red with yellow petal tips. They begin to bloom 90 to 100 days after seed sowing, long enough for me to be looking for started plants. This winner has a longer flowering season and even spent blooms are attractive as tufts of seeds. The short stemmed flowers can be cut and used in bouquets or left on the plants to attract butterflies in search of nectar. This one is an annual in most of the country, but very well may be a perennial for us.

Cranberry Hibiscus or Hibiscus acetosella
There are several hibiscus in Norma's yard including this cranberry hibiscus or false roselle Hibiscus acetosella that she calls coral bells. The striking red leaves are very attractive, especially when they catch the sun, as they do in her yard. This is supposedly an annual and it can be invasive if not controlled. It will often die down in the winter, frost or not, but it comes back from many seedlings in the spring. It does best in full sun to light shade and has rose pink hollyhock-like flowers that open for a few hours at midday mostly in the fall. If kept pruned, it makes a lovely hedge or shrub. It is nematode and insect resistant and not fussy about water or soil.

The young tender leaves and flowers are edible and make an attractive addition to salads, slaws, or stir fries. They have a slightly tart flavor. If you have a large patch blooming, you can collect about thirty blossoms at dusk after they have folded, and blend them with lime juice and sugar to make a beautiful and tasty drink. This plant starts easily from seeds or cuttings. This is one of those passalong plants seldom found on the market, but I will take some cuttings to Kerby's Nursery for distribution. Seeds are also available from Echo Farms in North Ft. Myers.

February 2005

Snapdragon or Antirrhinum majus
Snapdragons, Antirrhinum majus, are hardy annuals with showy spikes of tubular florets that bloom in bright or soft colors of white, red, orange, pink, or yellow. Varying heights are available now at local nurseries. Snapdragons are one of the best annuals for a spire form, and one of the most frost proof. The plants do well from fall through spring but often burn out in our hot summers. It takes several months for seed-grown plants to reach blooming size, so most people buy bedding plants. Snapdragons need sweet, fertile soil and a sunny spot. Add lime in most parts of the state. Cut when the bottom half of the spike is open. Continue to pick flowers, or cut plant back to six inches to renew bloom. If plants form a mat of foliage with no flowers in winter, just mulch them and be patient, for they will explode with bloom when warm weather returns.

Begonias
Begonias are ideal companion plants for camellias since they like the same partial shade conditions and form another lower layer of color and interest. Most types of begonias grow well in Florida and some are the brightest spots in the shade garden. They can be annual or perennial. This genus is enormously varied in shape, size, texture, and color, in the leaves as well as flowers. Only the tuberous begonias are short lived here, and even they are worth their price for their weeks of exquisite spring bloom on foot-high plants. Too often, their tubers rot in our steamy summers. Beware of overwatering with all begonias. Angel wing begonias can get taller that the person who grows them and can bloom almost everyday of the year. Wax begonias are excellent low bedding plants. The star begonias will soon be blooming with spires of pink. Most root easily from cuttings and have attractive foliage when not in bloom.

Queen's wreath, sandpaper vine, or Petrea volubilis
Queen's wreath, sandpaper vine, or Petrea volubilis is one of the most beautiful flowering vines we have. It is supposedly hardy only in Zones 10b to 11 and I'll admit I took this photo on a recent visit to Edison Community College in Fort Myers. Mine also has its best bloom right now with intermittent bloom the rest of the year, but it is not quite as full as this one. Still I am delighted that it has yet to show any frost damage although we are well above its recommended range. I have it near the south side of the house but know of two in the area that are out in the open and thriving. The purple or white flowers hang much like wisteria, but it has a longer season of bloom and is less rampant. It likes full sun. Mine gets a bit of shade and would probably bloom more in a brighter spot. Charley Crowley, the nurseryman, said to prune it back after each round of blooms. It has medium salt and drought tolerance. I have not been able to root cuttings. Most books advise air layers or suckers for propagation. The leaves are attractive, light green, 4 to 6" long, and feel like sandpaper. The one in the photo was especially gorgeous with maroon bougainvillea nearby.

March 2005

Sutera cordata or Bacopa
I finally found the name for the plant I have seen in hanging baskets with tiny white flowers and small, heart-shaped green leaves with toothed edges. Sutera cordata or Sutera hybrids are often called Bacopa, which is the botanical name of water hyssop, a member of the same family. Sutera blooms continuously and is a perennial in mild climates, an annual in colder places. It is native to the moist regions of South Africa, but Melissa Kaloger of American Farms says, "I love Bacopa! I have it in the white in a huge hanging basket and it has been in non-stop bloom since day one. Most importantly, it has been very forgiving of my forgetting to water it from time to time. Just when I think I will lose it, I rush to the water, and it is perfect again the next day."

Flowers can vary from 1/4 to Ĺ inch across. There are hybrids in sky blue and deep blue, but I have not yet seen them except in photos. These are ideal for containers, hanging baskets, or even as ground covers. Plant them in full sun to partial shade and pinch the ends back often to keep the plant shapely, but avoid severe pruning. The ends will root easily as cuttings. If a thick layer of dead stems builds up under the foliage, remove the dead material and cut the plant back to leave as many 5 to 6 inch long branches with leafy growth as possible.

Thunbergia alata or Black-eyed Susan
My Thunbergia alata or Black-eyed Susan vine is blooming beautifully here over a shrub it has used for a trellis. When people came to my open house last fall, many admired it. Some took cuttings but I'm not sure if or how they rooted because the vines of almost thread thin. Yet they can and did once grow over the tops of my banana trees before I learned to confine them drastically, so I feel a warning is in order. This vine is grown and sold in northern states as an annual or a hanging basket plant and it is really quite beautiful. It likes full sun to partial shade, but vines have a way of growing into the position where the light is just what they want, no matter where there roots start. I started mine from seed years ago and have had them ever since whether I want them or not. I can't quite resist the orange ones with the black centers, but I am ruthless at pulling the pale ones. There is a white variety is that very pretty and I have a start of that, but it hasn't growing into the ideal spot yet. These are supposed to have low salt and drought tolerance, but I have never watered mine on purpose and they are still here. Use it with care and love or hate it as you will.

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow is a pretty big common name, so some people call it YTT, botanically Brunfelsia australis (brun-FEL-see-a oss-Tray-lis) is blooming now and you won't want to pass one with sinking your nose into the multicolored flowers. This beautiful evergreen shrub grows up to 9; tall and blooms well in sun to light shade. The flowers open a deep lavender and fade nicely to almost white. This can be a landscape subject or a potted specimen, and it is a popular greenhouse plant in the North. One kind blooms in the spring and has a fragrance that reminds you of everything wonderful about any spring you've ever known. Another blooms spring, summer and fall and the flowers look the same but have no fragrance. Some nurseries (Crowley's at the USF sale in April) have one that blooms all year with great fragrance, but they are still quite expensive. There is also a cultivar in the gardens at USF called 'Lady-of-the-Night' that has white tubular flowers that turn yellow with age and look quite different. All have medium salt and drought tolerance and can be propagated from cuttings or seeds. Often there are seedlings growing up around the parent plant. Brunfelsia is native to Brazil and belongs to the nightshade family.

April 2005

Bauhinia or Orchid Tree
There are several species of Bauhinia or orchid trees that bloom in this area, usually through the winter with orchid like flowers of purple, pink, and white. They have been especially beautiful this year since the winter was mild and they were not nipped by frost. Some are hardy from zones 9-11, others only from 10A or 10B to 11. Some can be weak or messy, but they seem to have come through the hurricanes very well.

This one grows at the corner of Vince Pilz' rose garden and blooms with gorgeous white flowers about 3 inches across. I'm hoping it is a dwarf white or Bauhinia acuminata because this variety will stay as small as 8 feet tall and 5 to 6 feet wide, and blooms in summer rather than winter. A light yearly pruning will keep it shapely and maintain that size. All have rounded leaves with a deep cut in the center. The dwarf white is thin to bare in the winter so it will let in more sunlight when it is needed most and give a little shade in summer. All of the Bauhinias like bright sun for themselves. They have high drought resistance once established but low to medium salt tolerance.

They are best planted in the summer and with the root ball slightly above the soil level. Feed them after planting with a slow release fertilizer and again in March, June and October every year. The tree has few problems and this variety produces few seedlings, even if you don't remove the seedpods. Besides roses, these combine well with plumbago or pentas.

Blue salvia
Blue salvia and pink petunias make a lovely combination in front of pink hibiscus. Blue salvia can add immensely to many combinations. Spike flowers give an excellent background and contrast to the more common rounded flowers. And while blue flowers tend to fade into the background if viewed from a distance, they help bring out the brighter colors and make color schemes more harmonious. You can use blues with any other color in the garden. There are many kinds of both annual and perennial salvias available in almost all nurseries and they all do very well in Florida gardens all year round. They also come in red, silver, cream, and other shades of blue, lavender, and purple. They bloom for long periods of time, do best in full sun to partial shade, and can be propagated easily by taking cuttings.

May 2005

Silver licorice, Helichrysum petiolare
Silver licorice, Helichrysum petiolare, has small silver fuzzy leaves crowded along silver stems and branching to 8" high and 18" long. It maintains a full, bushy appearance without any pinching and is excellent for hanging baskets and containers in full sun to light shade. Although it is grown and sold by herb growers, it is not a licorice. If this one has any herbal qualities, I have yet to discover them. It is actually a cousin of both the curry plant and the strawflower, but I find it longer lasting than either. I babied my first plant in a container lest it melt in the summer rains as most silver-leaved plants do. It did not. I still have that plant, in a much larger container, perhaps six years later and it has survived without any extra help through winters and summers. The blooms--every plant has blooms--either haven't come yet or are so inconspicuous that I haven't noticed them.

Mine has rooted by natural ground layers where it grows over the pot and touches the ground, but I have not had good luck with cuttings. One grower, however, reports his cuttings root easily. It can also be grown from seed, but since it is available in most nurseries, I'd recommend getting a started plant. There is a chartreuse variety called 'Limelight' available from www.papagenos.com.
Another grower from New Jersey said his were eaten by caterpillars that turned into Painted Lady butterflies and that the plant leafed out again very quickly. I have never seen caterpillars on mine.

Daylily
The daylily is a green immigrant. It came to our country from China where fields of daylilies were grown for food at the dawn of history. The people ate the flower buds. I've tried them in Iowa where orange-flowered daylilies grow wild in the roadside ditches. They taste a little like green beans. They are very good with a little butter and salt.
Once I knew a man in Iowa who had his whole garden planted in dayliles and the flowers that bloom at the same time. His garden was bare for most of the year. He didn't mind. He was a very busy university professor. But his daylilies were so beautiful in July that busloads of people came to see them.
I asked him if he had ever eaten any of his daylilies. He was not happy with such a question. He would as soon eat his pet cat.
The daylily came to America with the first settlers. It was a favorite in the dooryards of the pioneers.
Today most daylilies are hybrids that grow from 12 inches to 4 feet tall. The leaves are sword shaped and the flowers bloom on leafless stems called scapes above the grassy clumps. Each flower lasts only a day, but each scape has many buds so the next day new flowers open. Certain varieties bloom early, midseason, and late, and some have a slight fragrance. They are easy to grow in sun or partial shade. Although they are drought tolerant, after a rain the next flowers may be larger.

Ornamental sweet potatoes, Ipomoea batatas
Ornamental sweet potatoes, Ipomoea batatas, make a lovely ground cover or do well cascading over hanging baskets or the edges of large containers. There are several different varieties, including 'Blackie' with deeply cut leaves of darkest burgundy, 'Marguerite' with heart-shaped leaves of bright chartreuse, a new 'Vardaman' with plum covered heart-shaped leaves, and a 'Pink Frost' which is tricolored with green, pink, and cream. The latter is less vigorous, as all variegated plants tend to be. The foliage has the deepest color in full sun but it also does well in partial shade. Cuttings root so easily you can root them in water. Now and then there are a few little pink flowers, but not often. If you dig around them, you will find some tubers underneath which are edible. The one serious problem this plant can have is its attraction for slugs and snails. I find watering with soaping water fairly often will help immensely, but even in the best gardens there are some holey leaves. ( I couldn't help the pun.)

June 2005

Allamanda, A. schottii
The Allamanda species have some of the showiest flowers of the summer, large trumpets of waxy yellow bursting from buds. The Wildes garden has this shrub variety, A. schottii, which is covered with flowers spring, summer, and fall. I have a smaller bush variety, but it only starts blooming in full summer and I'm suffering some plant envy. Both flower best in full sun but will grow in light shade.

There is a vine with larger flowers (more plant envy). It is poisonous if ingested and the milky sap can irritate some skin. Watch the sap. But there is little on the plant to tempt anyone to taste it. The shrub is NOT poisonous. Both root easily from cuttings.

This tall shrub must be pruned by hand one to three times per year and this is best done when the plant is blooming least. If you are happy with the five foot size, prune only to maintain shape. More pruning can keep it as low as 3 feet by 2 feet. If it is constantly sheared by machine or cut below three feet, it will stop blooming. It has medium salt, drought, and wind tolerance. Though supposedly hardy only in Zones 10a to 11, it seems to do very well in the Brandon area.

Gerbera daisies, Transvaal or African daisies, Gerbera jamesonni
Gerbera daisies, Transvaal or African daisies, Gerbera jamesonni, are perennials with long-lasting single or double daisies that bloom all year in southern Florida and for most of the time in the rest of the state. They come in many heights and sizes with flowers up to four inches across in rich, vibrant gold, red, rose, and peach on unbranched stems not quite 2 feet tall. Flowers attract butterflies and are excellent for cutting gardens and flower beds. They need a sweet soil and full sun; add lime if your soil is acid.

This may explain why I never had much luck with them in my yard of acid soil. I have never seen any that look better than the ones in the Marks yard.

"It took a surprisingly long time and much water to get them established," Judy Marks says of hers, but now they are doing remarkably well. Some had as many as 7 flowers at once and many had 5.

Someone planted one in the gardens I work on in front of St. Francis Church in Seffner, and it looked very sad at first, but quickly settled in and is doing very well now.

Set the plants at the same depth as in the pot and take care to keep the leaves above the soil. Protect them during heavy frost and they will live for years. Divide the clumps if they get crowded but take care not to harm each plant's deep taproot.

Cosmos
These cosmos were blooming in front of the Lighthouse Museum. Cosmos are old-fashioned annuals that grow easily from seeds. There are some 25 species, but the ones we see are usually C. sulphureus like these which are shorter, usually 1 to 3 feet tall, and bloom with many daisylike flowers in gold, orange, and fiery red above ferny foliage. Or they may be C. bipannatus, which grow taller and bloom with flowers of white, or shades of pink to deep purple or maroon. These grow quickly to 5 or 6 feet tall and may need staking. Plant seeds in full sun to light shade any time they have four months or more before threat of frost. They do not mind the heat. Seeds germinate in 7 to 14 days, plants last 3 to 5 months and reseed on their own. Butterflies like them and they are easy to grow for the garden or for bouquets.

July 2005

Gladiolus
Gladiolus hybrids come in many rich, tropical colors and produce as many as 30 flowers opening from the bottom up on stems 2 to 4 feet tall. They do very well in Florida and year round blooms are possible where there are no frosts, though summer and fall blooms may have poorer quality. The best time to plant the corms is in late winter after frost danger has passed and at three week intervals for a succession of bloom three months after each planting. For bouquets, pick them when the second floret is ready to open and enjoy them in the cool of the house where they will actually last longer. With each floret lasting 1 to 2 days, a single stem can bloom for two weeks. Plunge the stems into a bucket of tepid water and leave them there for three hours to overnight before arranging to prolong their life.

For best growth they need full or almost full sun and should be planted 3 to 7 inches from the tip of the bulb to the soil level to prevent their falling over. You may have to stake plants growing in shady or windy areas.

We had to dig the corms in the fall up north, so I've seen how the main corm dries up and new ones form in its place, usually two main corms that will bloom the next year and some smaller ones. As long as the soil is well drained, you can leave them in the ground in Florida and they will come up year after year. If you prefer, you can dig the corms when the foliage begins to yellow and store them indoors to plant again as blooms are wanted.


Purslane
Purslane is a common weed or wildflower worldwide, edible raw, cooked, or pickled, rich in Vitamins A and C. You probably have some in your lawn or garden. It is not invasive. I have several different kinds some with little yellow flowers, some with pinkish purple blooms, but none very colorful. A very dear lady brought me a start of this vastly improved variety of purslane last fall. It thrived but did not bloom until the weather got hot. By then I could easily divide what was in the pot and now have two great clumps. The one in the photo is bigger since it is in full sun. The other gets some afternoon shade, but it is still very lovely between 8:45 in the morning and sometime after noon. Don't plant it if you are seldom home in the late mornining. It roots quickly and easily from cuttings. I had avoided purslane at the nursery before. Now I think I shall buy some different colors, save one plant of each over the cooler months and start plenty of cuttings again when the weather starts to warm in the spring.


Ponytail or bottle ponytail, Beaucarnea recurvata and B. gracilis
Both called ponytail palms largely because they look like palms. Actually, they belong to the Agave or century plant family. They like full sun to partial shade and are easy to identify by their large swollen base. The blooms come from a branch that shoots out the top and are very decorative. There is one branch of blooms in the photo, a lighter green at the top. This one was growing at Eureka Springs Park. These evergreen trees grow slowly to15 feet tall so you can prune them with a long pole even when they are very mature and have many flowering branches. One species may suffer from root rot, so don't over water or mulch close to the base. Both are highly drought tolerant.

August 2005

Lisianthus or prairie gentian (Eustoma grandiflora)
Lisianthus have these beautiful silky cup-shaped blooms that open from long, tapered, buds and last very well. These hardy annuals come in shades of pink, purple, and white and in single and double forms. Heights vary from short bedding plants to taller border types. Seaside gentian (E. exaltatum), a close relative, grows wild in central and southern Florida. Plants seeded in fall bloom in spring, a fairly long time. Fortunately lisianthus plants are widely available already blooming as bedding plants in both spring and fall. They survive summer heat, but they definitely prefer cooler weather in partial shade, preferably with morning sun with some afternoon shade in moist enriched soil. Pinch the plants back once or twice for the maximum number of flowers. Pick them in the morning and condition them in cool water and the cut flowers often last for more than two weeks. (From A Cutting Garden for Florida).

True confession time: for me the plants did not last much more than two weeks and never bloomed like this. But Bob Masse has had these since February and this is their second big blooming. He pinched them back considerably at first. So now I can't wait to try them again. Perhaps in pots, I can at least move them around until I find a spot they like and protect them from being crowded out by other plants.

Datura or Brugmansia
Another of my favorites plants. They are closely related, were once all called Datura, and are still all called angel trumpet. They are actually herbs because native Americans used datura as an anesthetic while setting bones, but not only do I not recommend any home remedies with this one, but I advise people to plant it in their backyard rather than the front because it is sometimes a temptation for drug seekers. And if you have little children who eat leaves, don't plant it at all because all parts very poisonous. But there are no tempting berries so most children will not bother it. The datura plants are smaller, 5 feet or less, and some of them bloom in the daytime. Most of the other bloom at night and some can be small trees. All have a wonderful fragrance, can be started from seeds or cuttings, have huge trumpet like flowers in white, peach, yellow, or lavender. They will survive in full sun but they are very heavy drinkers, so it is easier to grow them in partial shade. Frost will nip them back, but they come back from the roots and need late winter pruning if frost doesn't do it for us.

Lion's ear, lion's tail, or wild dagga (Leonotis leonurus)
An attractive plant that does well in our area. An evergreen shrub from South Africa, it is a member of the mint family, grows 4 to 6 ft. tall and wide and has hairy square stems with opposite pairs of narrow leaves with fine teeth on the margins. The orange flowers bloom from summer into fall in successive whorls or tufts of narrow blooms. Apricot and white varieties are sometimes seen. The plants give a bold architectural presence to the garden and are quite striking if kept well groomed. They need full sun. Should frost nip them back, just prune back to live growth in the spring. I think I've had this confused in my mind with Leonurus cardiaca or motherwort that I grew when researching for my herb book. That one had inconspicuous flowers but very prickly seed pods and I was glad to be rid of it. But I am going to buy the next one of these good guys I see and can't wait to try it.

This is an excellent plant for attracting wildlife as the nectar attracts birds, bees and butterflies. Propagate from seed, cuttings or by dividing up large clumps.

September 2005

Devilís backbone, slipper flower, or redbird flower (Pedilanthes tithymaloides)
An evergreen succulent shrub that can grow 4 ft tall with zigzag green stems that drop milky sap when cut. The alternate leaves are evergreen and brightly variegated with white edges that sometimes turn pink in the sun. Some varieties are solid green and others are edged in a light green with no white at all. The flowers are inconspicuous, sometimes clustered near the tips of the branches with bright red bracts. This cousin of the poinsettia and the pencil tree and is native to the Caribbean region. The sap can be an irritant or poisonous to some people, but it has caused me no rash. Cuttings root easily even just stuck in the ground. Iíve had no frost damage so far, perhaps because mine are in the shade. The plant has high drought tolerance and medium salt tolerance, for it grows just behind the first dunes. It is native to tropical America, including southern Florida.

Bayberry
This bayberry, one of the more than 50 Myrica species that are native to southeastern US, was growing just outside of Blue Hole. Probably it is M. cerifera, saw or wax myrtle, an evergreen shrub or small tree that grows wild in moist woodlands or on the sandy rims of ponds and swamps. The leaves are dotted with resin glands and fragrant when crushed, especially in the spring. Flowers are inconspicuous yellowish catkins with separate male and female blossoms, usually on separate plants, so two or more plants are needed for production of the small, fleshy, nutlike berries.

Bayberries grow in all parts of the state and can be started from plants or fresh seeds. Plant them in fairly sunny to partly shady places. They put out root suckers profusely and can be weedy or invasive. They have high salt and drought tolerance although they prefer wet places. The species usually used in candles does not grow this far south, but ours are good in soaps and ointments and a bayberry tea was used for sore throats and nasal congestion. The berries dry well and are decorative in dried bouquets or wreaths.

October 2005

Cat Whiskers, Orthosiphon stamenis
A tropical subshrub or perennial, an exotic member of the mint family that will grow in sun to partial shade. The white or pale lavender feathery spires bloom in flushes throughout the warm weather with very long stamens (whiskers) that extend up to two inches beyond the bloom. The green-gray leaves are opposite, about 1 Ĺ" long, and toothed toward the tip. Although plants will eventually get woody, taking new cuttings every few years and treating it as a perennial gives the best bloom.

One plant soon grows 3' to 4' tall and twice as wide. The plant has high drought tolerance. Plants in some shade will have more protection from frost, which can nip them back but has not yet killed my white one. The "blue" or lavender type seems to be less hardy. Orthosiphon has medium drought tolerance. Both combine well with the silvery purple foliage of Persian shield. In cooler climates, the plant can be taken inside as a house plant and will continue to grow and bloom in bright indoor light.

Ixora Coronel
Ixora species and hybrids bloom year round all over the Brandon area and, at their best, there is nothing to touch them for compact growth and constant bright color. Some look like the are dripping with orange-red, coral, or yellow. There is a pink variety, but it does not bloom as much or prove has frost hardy. All are supposed to be marginal here, but I've seen no frost damage since '89. Most of the varieties are easily kept low enough to bloom under windows and will spread wide. But if pruned too often or kept less than 3 ft. tall, they will not bloom well.

They bloom most in full sun but do fairly well in light shade. They like acid soil and are prone to nematode damage, so mulch them well. These heavy feeders can be fed as much as every March, June, and October with acidic fertilizer with minor elements, though the once that bloom around my father's house have not been feed for 10 years and still thrive, while the one I am pampering is languishing a bit. I find them slow growing and admire the ones I see all the more. Propagation is possible by cuttings, but you'll save years by buying these well started. If possible, prune only once a year after the plant stops blooming in the fall.

Flowering maples or Chinese lanterns
Abutilon (ah-BOO-ti-lon) species and hybrids, are among my favorite of the low-key plants in my yard. By happy chance I planted my first one at the edge of the angle trumpet, and when that plant suffers winter damage, the flowering maple spreads among the bare branches and cover the ugly. While the leaves of the most common species are maple-like the plant is not related to the maple tree at all. There are both cascading and upright types and some will grow into slender, weeping shrubs or small trees in a single year. The flowers on mine, the most common type, are a rich orange with darker stripes and they hang in a lovely bell shape. I was surprised to find so many other varieties in hanging baskets at local nurseries, some with many small 3/4 inch to 2 inch white, coral, pink, or yellow bells, some with variegated foliage as well. Seeds are available from Parks or from Thompson & Morgan. I have had great success with the common type, less with the others, but I'm still trying. They seem to do best when I forget them. They are supposed to be hardy only in zones 10 and 11, but frost has never been a problem with mine. They like plenty of water and sun, but my best one is in light shade and is seldom watered. They grow quickly, have low salt tolerance, and flower most after the summer's heat fades, though mine is blooming now, and will continue right through light frosts.

November 2005

Pigeon peas (Cajanus cajan)
Elisa's pigeon pea has decorative blooms and edible peas and is already a 5 ft. shrub though she only planted it this spring. She found some for us to eat as well as one that is starting to dry so I can get some seeds. Pigeon peas (Cajanus cajan) grow quickly and easily from seed and should produce edible peas in about seven months of frost-free weather. They need sun to partial shade and are useful for creating temporary shade for herb or flower garden in the height of the summer. In central Florida, pigeon peas can come through light frost if you give them some protection, and produce peas almost year round for tow to three years. Plants are fully hardy in sough Florida and thrive in poor and sandy soil with few problems. Sow seed directly in the garden. Eat the peas fresh and raw while young and tender, or let them dry, then soak and boil them, preferably with Cuban or Jamaican spices. The leaves and young shoots are also edible. Since this is a legume, it will also improve your soil by increasing the nitrogen.

You can buy seeds from ECHO Farms, 17430 Durrance Road, North Fort Myers, FL 33917. You can also order them online. And if you ever get down that way, they have a wonderful tour almost every morning at 10 am. Don't miss it.

Jewels of Opar, Fame Flower, and Waterleaf (Talinum paniculatum)
Jewels of Opar, Fame Flower, and Waterleaf are some of the common names for Talinum paniculatum or other Talinum species. We call it our leaf-a-day plant and have had no flu or even colds for the last year since we've been eating that leaf. You'll see the feathery fronds of its bloom in my front yard and are welcome to try a leaf. It tastes a bit like raw spinach. I use no poisons, so just check the underside for dust.
Very easy to grow, and it reseeds and naturalizes without being a pest. It thrives through heat, drought, and neglect in full sun to light shade and loves to grow in flower pots, though it grows well in the ground as well. I first planted it as a cut flower.
My friend Rachel Jackson first told me of someone whose doctor gave her one of these plants and told her to eat a leaf a day for the rest of her life. She had taken up the practice, and I came home and ate quite a few leaves myself before I forgot. Than a young gardener told me that her grandmother had similar advice, was told that the leaves were rich in iron and good for anemia.

You can find seeds in the catalogs of J.L. Hudson, who also mentions that they are edible both raw and parboiled, and of Thompson and Morgan. I'll have plants for sale at my garden. They are members of the Purslane family.

Ti plant, Cordyline fructicosa, 'Black Magic'
One of the most striking of the a very exotic group of tropical plants that have a very architectural presence both in the garden and in the vase. When we had the flower shop in Ohio, we got mixed greens from Orlando and the box always included dark red ti leaves that make the most striking arrangements. I've been searching for that ti variety ever since, and I think this may be it.
Black Magic does not get the discolored leaves in winter that make the more common Red Sister need so much grooming. It can get 4 to 6 feet tall and 2 to 3 ft wide. This is one of the easiest and hardiest of the clan with its tall, dark foliage. It thrives in light shade to full sun and stands up to wind as well. The color is darker in shade and lighter in the sun. You may want to bring it inside when freeze threatens, but I don't even cover any of my other ti plants, so I think this one should handle our winters very well. I have several others, including Dr. Brown, which has survived at least two winters and summers and still looks great. But this one seems to have more upright foliage that would be even better in arrangements.
It combines well with crotons, with red or pink geraniums, the silver of dusty miller or with the mandevillas. Like all ti plants, it roots easily from tip cuttings or from any piece of woody stem 4 inches long.

Bush sunflower, Tithonia diversifolia
Bush sunflower is one of my favorite plants and most striking when it is in bloom. I don't do well with annual sunflowers at all in our poor soil, but this one can't be stopped. It is coarse looking when not in bloom so I have mine in the far back corner of my garden. Many people want starts, and I've found that the best way to start it is from "sticks", portions of the thick stem, that you can stick right into the ground 1/3 to Ĺ way up the stick. Keep the ground moist and that stick planted this fall will be a large bush this time next year. I have tried to root it from cuttings as above, and the large leaves wilt badly and small tip stems do not root easily.
We sell these at the Open Garden for .50 cents and almost always run out. But here is an important warning. This plant can get out of hand in a hurry. The stems can grow 20 ft tall, then fall over and root where they touch the ground.
"I believe that one plant could produce enough mulch for my whole garden," says son Mike. I think after mine blooms this year, I'm going to take the chain saw and cut it back to the ground. And I may still prune it rather constantly throughout the year. You can prune it in September and still have it bloom in November.
Mine blooms only in the late fall and early winter, but many of the people who have started sticks from it have had it flower in the summers as well. My children have. The blooms are beautiful for the few days they last in bouquets.

Geranium
Geraniums are among the first flowers that most people learn to recognize. They are standard summer bedding plants and window windowsill plants in northern states. They are great as both in winter here. Many will survive the summers and last for several years, but winter is their time to shine. The red and white ones also work in well as Christmas gifts or decorations. Actually, these plants are botanically Pelargonium hybrids in the Geraniaceae family. That name comes from the great pelargos, a stork, from the shape of the seedpods.

I remember the fragrance of the foliage from a greenhouse where I was alone with my grandmother, one of my few memories of her since she died when I was very young. Geraniums come in many forms from dwarfs to standards or small trees. Leaves vary from zonal to variegated, ivy shaped, or strongly and variously scented. The flower color range from white to maroon with a wide range of orange, peach, pink, lavender, and purple. Most are woody at the base. In a greenhouse or in dry climates they can grow to be huge shrubs, but our wet summers keep them smaller.

In Florida geraniums grow easily from seeds or cuttings, though most people start with purchased plants to get the colors and scents they want.They do best in full sun. Cut plants back if leggy and remove deadheads often. Also remove yellow leaves. They can also be used in bouquets where buds will continue to open for 5 to 7 days.

Coleus
Coleus hybrids are actually tropical perennials often grown all over the country as annuals, mostly for their brilliantly colored foliage. I can't imagine a garden without them. Plants come in many sizes from 6 to 36 inches in height and leaves also vary in size and form. Color combinations include green, chartreuse, yellow, salmon, orange, red, purple, and brown. Cuttings from the same plants can vary in color depending on the amount of sun they get. The more red in the foliage, the more sun tolerant the plants tend to be. Most do best in shade and those in the sun need much more water.

Sometimes the blue flower spires can be very decorative, but often they are removed to lengthen the life of the plant. Coleus can be nipped by cold weather in the winter, so take cuttings of your favorites just to be sure. Most of mine have lasted for years. Even in Iowa I kept them over the long winters, sometimes just in water indoors. They root very easily in water or in medium. They also grow easily from seed, but that takes much longer.

The mass in the photo came from a single, 25 cent, 4-inch pot planted in the spring--at church, of course. Even the other ones at church didn't spread as much. Low varieties seldom need trimming. Taller ones can be trimmed as needed to keep them compact. Coleus have few pest problems, medium salt tolerance and low wind tolerance.

 
 

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