Friday, June 19, 2015

Summer Beauties

Summer in the subtropics can be very hot and humid for humans but for most plants acclimated to this climate, it is very comfortable. Along with longer, warmer days, we have been getting consistent rainfall, both of which have helped many of our plants put on new growth and become reproductively active. The Gardens are full of life, colors, textures and interesting structures.

One of the highlights of our collection right now is Cycas micronesica with its first flush of female strobili (cone-like structures). If you have taken my TYUP™ tour, you know all about cycads and their prehistoric past. Now we need a male plant so the pollen from the male strobili can fertilize the ovules in the female strobili and we can get seeds. Despite our lack of a male plant, we may be able to obtain pollen from Montgomery Botanical Center (MBC) in Coral Gables and fertilize the ovules by hand. MBC has a collection of stored pollen from some of their cycads and since our plant came from them, we may well find a match.
Cycas micronesica

A female strobilus similar to a (pine)cone

Note the small green ovules inside the 'cone' scales.

After at least one month of waiting for the flower buds to open, we have finally been rewarded with the fragrant blossoms of Jacquinia keyensis or Joewood (primrose family, Primulaceae). This is one of my favorite plants since the flowers are slightly unusual; the outer whorl of stamens are actually well-developed staminodes that resemble petals (see photo below). The fragrance from these blossoms is exquisite and smells like gardenia with a hint of ylang-ylang. The flowers are already fading but will hopefully produce copious amounts of fruit since I want to grow them from seed. Native to the Florida Keys and south Florida, it grows in habitats between the low-lying mangrove forest and the more upland hardwood hammock so it’s right at home along our bayfront.
Jacquinia keyensis in full bloom (close your eyes and inhale the perfume from the flowers!)

Floral anatomy of Jacquinia keyensis

We have a closely related cousin to joewood that is a new arrival to the Gardens: Clavija domingensis, otherwise known as Langue de boeuf or beef tongue plant due to the leaves’ resemblance to a long bovine tongue. This plant is native to the Dominican Republic and will eventually be a very interesting specimen once it grows up a bit. After one week of being in the ground it already flushed out a new set of leaves. Two of its Dominican associates are planted nearby, the zombie palm, Zombia antillarum and 2 new Dominican cherry palms, Pseudophoenix ekmanii, which are critically endangered in the wild.

Clavija domingensis or beef tongue plant from the Dominican Republic with its new flush of leaves.
Pseudophoenix ekmanii, Dominican cherry palms, in the wild they are over-harvested for their sap which is used to make palm wine.

Another fragrant favorite is Plumeria sp. or frangipani and all of our trees are in full bloom. Guests recently strung their own lei! You can see the photos on our Facebook timeline.

The little fledgling doves appreciate the canopy of our white Plumeria alba.

At Robert Is Here tropical fruit stand in Florida City, they sell mangrove honey and you may think, "What? I've never seen a mangrove flower." Well, here they are in all their loveliness...
Flowers of the red mangrove, Rhizophora mangle, are often overlooked but they are quite elaborate on close inspection.
Here are the flowers of the black mangrove, Avicennia germinans, which, although small, are very fragrant.

For more photos on what is blooming at the Gardens right now, see our Facebook page for photo albums.

Emily B. Magnaghi
Associate Director

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Spring Planting in the Gardens

With the arrival of the rainy season, we have been busy planting and refreshing our garden beds. Last fall and early this year, I obtained several new plants for the collection from Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Montgomery Botanical Center, and Silent Native Nursery/Pro Native Consulting. Many of them have been in our nursery holding area patiently waiting to be outplanted into the gardens. We carefully plan where we want to plant each different species based on the amount of sunlight the plant will receive, how much water it needs, whether it fits into the theme of the zone, and other considerations depending on the species. We must have space for the adult plant’s roots and branches so we take into consideration what is growing nearby that may compete with the new plant. In certain zones, we may remove a plant that is old and tired to make space for a new one, or we may rearrange a zone to accommodate new specimens.

Our gardens are divided into over 40 zones, each of which has a theme: fragrance, color, tropical-wet (large-leaved exotics), tropical-dry (succulents), native plants, palms, bamboos, etc. Almost all of our plants have a human use so our ethnobotanic theme is woven into each zone. As we find new plants we want to display and add to our collection, we must first make sure we have room for it. For now, we are focusing on small trees, shrubs and groundcovers since we are out of space for large trees at the moment. This is challenging since we have several beautiful palms we would like to incorporate into the collection: Copernicia berteroana, Pseudophoenix sargentii var. saone, and Sabal domingensis. Luckily, they are only seedlings and will take several years before they are large enough to plant in the ground so we have time to plan.

I walk the grounds regularly, often with our director, Joe Harris, to review changes and ideas and to check on the health of recently planted specimens. Once we decide on an idea, I talk to our grounds director, Veronika Milar, about the changes to be made and she makes it happen. When I have time or need a break from the office, I work in the gardens planting and pruning specimens. Everything we plant or relocate is recorded and added to our database to keep our records up to date. Once new plants are accessioned in our database, I can print and order accession tags and our lovely display labels directly from our records. Thank goodness for our previous Associate Director, Rick Hederstrom, who set our system up with all this in mind.

As an example of our prep work, our newest bed in Zone 20 has been in flux for several months. We removed a mature sea-grape (Coccoloba uvifera) tree in December of last year, which provided shade to the gallery and office entrance. Our practice of displaying orchids nearby has been on hold due to the increase in sunlight and plants being sunburned (plants can get a sunburn or bleach-out like anything else with too much sun exposure). We thought there might be enough shade cast on the new bed from nearby mahogany trees so we planted a few ferns hoping to establish a primitive plant display with ferns, whisk-fern, and horsetails. We installed a short rock wall to protect plants in the bed from the nearby dryer vent and to train small ferns to climb along. I researched ferns from dry climates by contacting colleagues in California who grow and exhibit xerophytic ferns, we shopped for native ferns (without much success), and finally settled on a sampling of plants to see how they would fare: gnetum tree (Gnetum gnemon), native Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata), silver polypody fern (Phlebodium aureum), and a crocodile fern (Microsorum musifolium). Two months and several unhappy ferns later, we decided to change course and plant sun-loving, pollinator-friendly, native plants. We have focused on butterfly and bee nectar plants with only a couple of butterfly host plants, as there are others in nearby zones. The plants are settling in nicely and the bed is now almost complete. This will be a great talking point on our TYUP tour to draw attention to gardening with native and pollinator-friendly plants. The ferns were transplanted into another zone in the shade and are doing much better. There are many different species of ferns in south Florida, several of which are endangered due to habitat loss. Once our shady fern grotto is complete we should have another welcome addition to the TYUP.

You can find a map of our garden zones and our complete inventory of everything that has ever been planted in the gardens on our website here.

This photo and below are two shots of our newest, pollinator-friendly bed
Note the rock wall to block hot air from the dryer vent
Several happy ferns in the grotto

We planted a Caryota mitis or clustered fishtail palm where the royal poinciana used to reside

Our hidden-in-plain-site pet gator has new neighbors of dropseed grass (Sporobolus virginicus) and quailberry (Crossopetalum ilicifolium)

Emily B. Magnaghi
Associate Director