Showing posts from 2012
Curcuma--The "Hidden" Ginger

  Curcumas are interesting plants, and most of them are easy to grow, once you understand their growing cycle. Curiously, the complaint I hear most often is that the plants go dormant. My opinion is that for several months of the year, you don't have to do anything to maintain them ! Several of the species are widely used as a spice, such as C. domestica and C. longa, also known as Turmeric. Most of the cultivated species and selections have attractive flowers, many of which can be used as cut flowers.One of several orange species used to be popular, but has fallen out of favor for unknown reasons.

  There are dozens of species in the genus, from petite species under a foot tall to semi-giant species over 7 feet tall. One of them, C.alismatifolia, has made it to the mass flowering plant market in many areas, erroneously called a "Thai Tulip" . More than a few people think it is indeed a tropical tulip, not a ginger. I…
A Private Pet Peeve: Unlabeled Plants   
One of my biggest irritations in going to some public gardens or to someone's orchid or bromeliad collection is the lack of plant labels. There has been a brewing debate for years in public gardens whether to label or not label plants. The sentiment for and against the visibility of plant signs is an equal argument. In private collections I feel there should be no argument at all: label the plants because in 20 or 30 years you may not remember the details of the plant. If you give the plant to someone else or divide the plant for distribution, the new owner should have a name from which he can get more information. There are numerous ways to label plants, ranging from utilitarian to beautiful, inexpensive to pricey, simple to ornate. Unquestionably, there is a method for your needs and budget.


I have posited this argument at speeches in local plant societies, and have heard that labels are little use to a private grower becaus…
The Surreal Pansy Orchids-
Plants for Cooler Climates


Pansy orchids, in the orchid genus Miltoniopsis, are a staple at orchid shows in cooler climates. This means almost anywhere north of Florida. This plant group grows to amazing dimensions in the humid "marine"climates of both coasts, especially so in the Pacific Northwest. Pansy orchids revel in cool foggy climates with mild winters. The flower show these modest plants can produce is hard to imagine, as are the surreal colors and patterns. One breeder in Hawaii is producing plants with almost totally black "masks" on the flowers, often set against vibrant background colors. 


The species which make up this genus are native to mountainous areas, mostly in Colombia and Peru, in cool foggy area with constantly moving air. These points are key to cultivating the genus. The plants like an open and well-drained consistently moist medium, bright light , with moving humid air at all times. This gro…
The Grandest Flower Show- "The Philadelphia" Part 1- The Spectacle

For the last 5 years, I've had the honor of judging horticulture entries at the Philadelphia Flower Show. It is the grandest flower show in the New World, exceeded only by the Chelsea Show in London, and some of the Dutch floral exhibitions. The "Philly", as it is known locally, is held in March in a massive convention hall that covers 15 acres. The first impression as you walk into the hall is to gasp at the sheer magnitude of the show, the size of the exhibits, and the stunning complexity of the entire affair. Some of the landscape exhibits are larger than my backyard, yet the exhibits have been set up for less than a week. As your eyes scan to the distant walls, you see great display rifts of flowering bulbs, venerable hanging plants that have been well tended for many decades, and the Marrakesh that is made up of hundreds of vendors selling their garden wares. There are hundreds of plants ente…
Giants and Dwarfs- A Tale of Heliconias, Part 3
The "Mediums"

  As with so many plant groups, there is a wide range of sizes to choose from when planning a garden or selecting a plant for the landscape. This is especially true in Heliconias, where there are species as small as 2 feet, and as tall as 50 feet. In South Florida, we can grow a great many varieties of Heliconias, primarily limited by their tolerances to cold weather and windstorms. There are 2 basic growth types in the genus: running-rhizome and clumping-rhizome.

In this medium-size, non-running group, often comprised of the H. caribea and H.bihai  hybrid lineage, there are dozens and dozens of plants available which grow comfortably in the 7-14 foot height range. I would arbitrarily call these the "medium" height group, as opposed to the "giants", from 14 to 30 feet. 

This group is fairly easy to grow, the clumps of stems stay tight together without spreading too much, and the flowers are …
Giants and Dwarfs-A Tale of Heliconias- part 2- the Dwarfs 

 In the substantial Heliconia genus of 300+ species, there is a wide variance in just about all aspects of plant size and growing habits. Like bamboos, there are dwarf and giant types, spreading and clumping types. Some species are prized specimens and some are invasive weeds. In this blog, I'll look at the "dwarf" size group ( under 6 feet tall). As with many plant groups, some are very petite and fairly fragile, while some others are of modest size and quite robust. Most of these species make decent nursery plants in large containers, provided that the potting soil is rich and well drained, with an even supply of moisture. Growing this group in the ground can be easy enough, if there is wind protection, good humidity and deep soil with great drainage.  

One of the down sides to growing this group of species is their short supply; seeds and rhizomes are uncommon. There are a number of Heliconia growers…
Giants and Dwarfs- A Tale of Heliconias
Part 1- the Giants

  Heliconias are hard to resist regarding their flashy flowers and grand stature. There are 400 + species in the genus, but not all species are giant plants with brilliant flowers. There are odd combinations of color and plant size at both ends of the spectrum, but let's start with some of the larger species, with plant sizes over 6 meters tall. If you visit the wet New World tropics, you'll see these plants festooning the hillsides, and the plants look petite from a distance. The problem is that in the forested tropics, distances are deceiving; the closer you get to a "small" plant, the same effect as when approaching a mountain or volcano, the larger it gets. In many cases, it would be hard to get far enough away from a mountain Heliconia to see it clearly, since there is often a lot of plant growth around it.
Since many of the giant species grow in montane areas, often in protected valleys, they are prote…
The Beautiful Blue Marble Tree

I have a rare and delightful job as a horticulturist in a public garden, in which I can grow a great many species of plants. I can also experiment with new species, trialing them for planting in the local area. One such experiment has been modestly successful so far, with the Blue Marble Tree. This majestic tree has a lot of good qualities as a large  tree, but only the coming years will show if has longevity, sturdiness and the other attributes which make a good "landscape" tree versus a specimen for a garden or street tree. 

The botanical name for this tree is Elaeocarpus grandis, one of dozens of species in the genus, all of which are tropical or subtropical, all are Old World, most are from from Asia and the Indo-China area. One other species, E. decipiens, The Japanese Blueberry Tree, is a bit more common in the landscape trade in Florida where it shows a lot of promise as a street or courtyard tree. It is of modest size, has a w…
Dyckias: Not Bad.......Just Misunderstood


In some ways, bromeliads are like cactus: people only remember the spines, and overlook the benefits; even a thorny plant can have the reward of beautiful flowers. Such, I believe, is the case of the often-feared Dyckia group of bromeliads. For many people, looking closely at a well-grown Dyckia is usually cause for a wincing look or perhaps a long pause, followed by a cautious distance from the plant. Yet, in the nursery at Pinecrest Gardens, we bare-hand Dyckias without bloodshed or fear; we've learned how to stay clear of the spiny parts. The teeth of this plant group are no more dangerous than a carpenter's saw, and just as stationary; know where the teeth are, and stay away from them. My college mentor in Gainesville would have given me stern counsel: "you know about the danger, so deal with it ! Don't use it as an excuse to stay away from the plant, just work around it." 

As with cactus and succulents, yo…