Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Your friendly neighborhood sausage tree


By all accounts, the sausage tree is perhaps one of the most unusual large trees in our area.  There are not too many in Charlotte County to begin with which is understandable in light of its large size and gigantic dangling sausage-shaped fruit.  You may have seen at least one in Punta Gorda, and I saw one in Naples the other day which spurred my interest in writing this article.  Is there a sausage tree in your neighborhood?

The sausage tree is originally from tropical Africa where it is widely used as a food source by many animals including giraffes, monkeys, hippos, and bush pigs.  Bats and nocturnal insect pollinators visit the large flowers at night and large bees use them by day.  Certain birds also eat the seeds, and the leaves are fed on by elephants and certain antelopes.  Keep in mind however, that the fruit is toxic to humans.   The tree is highly ornamental and has been grown around the world in tropical regions.  With grey, smooth to peeling bark and pinnate evergreen leaves, the sausage tree is a specimen worthy of a botanical garden collection.  The flowers are also very ornamental as they hang in clustered panicles.  These flowers, bell-like in shape, are reddish in color and over three inches wide.  It is the fruit of course that makes a sausage tree, a sausage tree.  Described as a “woody berry”, these sausage-like, over two-foot long and fifteen pound fruits remind me of gigantic corn-dogs hanging from long, stout stems.  Unfortunately, the falling fruit is a hazard and can drop on people and cars causing damage, so select your tree site carefully!


This large tree can grow upwards to fifty feet tall and wide and is best grown in a hardiness zone of at least 10a unless you have identified a warm micro-climate.  Not a tree that would fit a normal residential lot, consider this woody ornamental for more expansive sites with plenty of room to grow this exceedingly unique tree.  Maybe the sausage tree is not your cup of tea, but it is still fascinating and a conversation piece.  So, perhaps just plan to visit your closest sausage tree in a neighborhood near you!  For more information on all types of exotic ornamental trees, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.

Resources:
National Gardening Association (2017) Sausage Tree (Kigelia africana)

Wikipedia (2017) Kigelia 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Weep no more – the weeping bottlebrush is here!


Several types of the plant genus Callistemon, or bottlebrush, are common sights in many local grounds.  In fact, there are several species well-adapted to Southwest Florida that have been grown here successfully for many years.  This article will highlight the Weeping Bottlebrush, Callistemon viminalis – a tree sure to add interest to any landscape.

The mature Weeping Bottlebrush in full bloom is a spectacular sight!  This is a small to medium-sized tree that can grow to about twenty feet in height and width.  This tree is best used in full sun and needs a moist, but still well drained soil, as the roots will rot in a wet location.  While a good yard tree, the weeping habit and pendulous branches should be kept in mind if cars are parked nearby or if people must pass by the planting site.  It is this weeping habit, however, that makes this tree so spectacular.  Just like many other “weeping” trees, the branches hang downward with limber twigs displayed in an almost umbrella-like fashion.   Weeping trees are normally mutations that were discovered and cultivated – some may even be grafted to accentuate the weeping appearance.  One particularly excellent cultivar of weeping bottlebrush is 'Red Cascade' which has large red flowers from March through July with lesser blossoming the rest of the year.  Even without flowers, this parasol-like tree is amazing.

This bottlebrush is an excellent hummingbird plant with very bright red flower spikes that are a natural attractant to these birds.  The flowers make a real show in season and are followed by long-lasting, interesting fruit capsules.  The plant is evergreen and does not produce a litter problem.  This bottlebrush is also very drought tolerant once established.  The weeping bottlebrush, like other bottlebrush trees, does not tolerate soil that is too alkaline, however.


Take a closer look at this eye-catching woody plant.  Once you have seen the brilliant flower display and graceful weeping nature, you will be convinced that this bottlebrush, a Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ plant, will make your landscape complete!  For more information on all types of flowering trees, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.

Resources:
Gilman, E. F. & Watson, D. G. (2014) Callistemon viminalis 'Red Cascade' Weeping Bottlebrush, The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design (2010) the University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.

Christman, S. (2007) Callistemon viminalis.  Floridata.com, Tallahassee, FL.

Monday, February 6, 2017

A different type of oregano – ornamental and edible


Dual purpose plants are a boon to landscapes where gardeners are looking for vegetation that provides both edible and ornamental features.  I first encountered the Cuban Oregano when I lived in the West Indies where it was called things like “Thick-Leaved Thyme” or “Big Thyme.” Also called “Vicks© Salve”, “Vicks© Plant”, “Mexican Mint”, “Indian Borage” and “Spanish Thyme”, Cuban oregano is a wonderful plant suitable for our area.  Have you seen the Cuban oregano or is it already in your garden? 

Originally from Southern and Eastern Africa, this perennial plant is noted for its aromatic leaves.  The large thick and velvety leaves are grey-green in color, while the variegated cultivar is edged in white with an attractive blotchy lighter/darker green interior.  Growing upwards to nineteen inches tall and spreading much wider, the Cuban oregano grows rapidly and eventually produces stems of purplish flowers.  I planted one rooted cutting of Cuban oregano and it easily filled in a five by five foot patch of garden over one summer season.   Not only does this plant make a good groundcover in your herb garden, but also is an excellent container plant when complemented with other herbs. 

Grow Cuban oregano in well-drained soil in a semi-shaded area.  This plant does not tolerate frost and will need protection during cold weather.  Once established, this very succulent perennial plant will need to be watered only sparingly. 

Use this herb according to your tastes and needs.  The camphor and menthol scent can be overpowering if used in excess, so carefully flavor with Cuban oregano.  While you may find Cuban oregano at local garden centers, I find that there are specimens available at almost every community plant sale - that is where I purchased mine – or just pick up a cutting or two from a gardening friend.  Cuban oregano is a true pass-along plant that has certainly traveled the world based on its popularity.

So, try to have at least one Cuban oregano plant in your yard to look at, use in cooking, or simply brush by to release its refreshing fragrance.  Its many uses will make you a fan for life!  For information on all types of herbs easily grown in our area, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.

Resources:
Gardening Solutions- Cuban Oregano – The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS
Jordi, R. (2006) Cuban oregano.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.

Wikipedia.com (2017) Plectranthus amboinicus.  

Thursday, January 26, 2017

When is a honeysuckle not a honeysuckle?


A flowering shrub that always caught my eye is called the Cape Honeysuckle.  The Cape honeysuckle is a vigorous evergreen shrub that produces reddish orange, apricot-orange, salmon-orange, or yellow tubular flowers.  Originally from South Africa, the Cape honeysuckle is not a true honeysuckle, its flowers simply resemble this other well-loved plant.  A wonderful fall/winter bloomer, the cape honeysuckle is a flowering treat. 

By nature, the Cape honeysuckle is a very vigorous grower best suited for full sun with well-drained, average soil.  Once established, they are pretty drought tolerant and take salt spray well.  In addition to the glossy green foliage, the flowers are attractive to butterflies such as Sulphur butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. 

You can get the Cape honeysuckle in four color cultivars.  The red one is most common and is very vigorous growing well over twelve feet if left unpruned.  You could almost consider this shrub vine-like and train its sprawling growth by attaching it to a fence.  The Cape honeysuckle can also be trained as an espalier, over walls, or over an arch.  For more compact growth, the salmon-orange cultivar is a good selection.  The color really appealed to me as did the more controllable growth.  This cultivar still needs some pruning to keep it in bounds, but otherwise it is very manageable.  In addition to these varieties, there is an apricot version with orange pinkish flowers, and a nice clear yellow cultivar which rounds out a nice choice of colors. 

While you will get a smattering of blooms throughout theb year, fall and winter flowering will be most abundant.  The Cape honeysuckle is extremely easy to propagate by softwood cuttings and/or seeds.  The shrub also has the ability to root when the branches lay on the ground while still attached to the mother plant. 

The Cape honeysuckle is an amazing flowering shrub that should have a niche in your landscape!  For more information on all types of flowering shrubs suitable for our area, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.

 Resources:
Christman, S. (2008)  Tecomaria capensis.  Floridata.com, Tallahassee, FL.
Gulf Coast Research and Education Center Plant City Teaching Garden. (2016) Cape Honeysuckle Tecoma capensis.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Lemke, C.  (2012) Cal's Plant of the Week:  Tecomaria capensis - Cape Honeysuckle .  The University of Oklahoma Department of Microbiology & Plant Biology. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Padded cactus – watch the spines and especially the glochids!


Did you know that we have a native prickly pear cactus?  It is called the Eastern Prickly pear and is found along the East Coast and in parts of the Mid-West.  This low-growing species has attractive yellow flowers and grows in a spreading clump.   Prickly pears or Opuntia such as the Eastern Prickly Pear are classic cactus all native to the New World.  In addition to cultivated ornamental oddities suitable for succulent gardens, some types are even used and grown commercially for food.

All Opuntia are similar in form- generally round to oval, flat to cylindrical connecting pads studded with spines and smaller glochids.  The glochids are particularly irritating tiny spines that can imbed tenaciously to both your cloths and skin.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, some types of Opuntia are spineless or practically so.  Beyond the attractive structural pads which make up the plant, spring flowers in red, yellow, orange or pink are an added welcome feature.  These are in turn followed by attractive edible fruits in shades of red, yellow and orange. These berries are up to three inches long and mature in summer.  They have their own set of tiny irritating glochid spines that must be gingerly prepared.  Peeling the skin off the fruit reveals sweet tart flesh with plenty of seeds.  Special low-spine varieties are grown specifically for the production of nopales and used as vegetable. 

Prick pears do best in sunny sites with well-drained sandy soil.  They are well-adapted to alkaline soils and even tolerate coastal conditions and rock garden habitats.  If they are in a low area where water accumulates after a rain, they will most likely rot out in short order.  While used mostly as a unique specimen, Opuntia may be purposely placed as a protective barrier that no one will want to cross.  Handled carefully with heavy gloves or padded tools made from rolled-up newspaper, these cactus can be moved and planted with relative safety.  Propagation is as easy as simply taking pads removed from the mother plant.  Allow these pieces to dry and callus off at the cut end.  Propagate in moist sand for easy and rapid rooting. 

One of the few pests that your prickly pear may encountered is a certain caterpillar that only feeds on prickly pear cactus.  Appropriately named the Cactoblastus moth, these orange and black spotted caterpillars bore in and hollow out cactus pads.  Secondary rots set in and destroy the pads.  The only control is to remove the infested pads (which may contain numerous caterpillars) and destroy it.  Interestingly enough, this Argentinian moth has been used as a biocontrol in some counties where Opuntia cacti are an invasive pest.

All in all, the Opuntia cactus is an interesting ornamental with edible features.  Carefully handled, specimens can make attractive landscape features.  For more information on all types of cacti suitable for our area, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.

Resource:

Culbert, D. (2006) Prickly Pear for Pain and Pleasure.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Okeechobee County.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The blackberry-lily – a dependable perennial


One flowering perennial plant that does well in our area is the blackberry-lily. We have a planting at our East Port Environmental Campus and it has done excellent!  Often called leopard-lily because of the spotted flowers, the blackberry-lily is really named after the mature inedible fruit that is shaped like a blackberry. A member of the Iris family, the blackberry-lily is a colorful and durable perennial that needs to be planted in more of our local landscapes. If you have never seen a blackberry-lily, the following description will help you appreciate this plant.

Growing at least two feet tall, the leaves of the blackberry-lily are like those of an iris. During our warmer months, the flowers bloom vigorously, lasting only a day or two, but are followed by a constant supply of new blooms. The two-inch flowers are bright orange-yellow in color with reddish spots. A fruit then develops in the form of a three-chambered capsule that opens when ripe to reveal a set of clustered black seeds looking just like a blackberry. This long-lasting seed cluster is often used in dried flower arrangements. While in the northern parts of Florida blackberry-lilies perform as a short-lived perennials, in our area they are evergreen. In the landscape, use blackberry-lilies as a groundcover, along a walkway or in mass planting as a focal accent. In a mass planting, set individual plants about three feet apart for best coverage. While blackberry-lilies like full sun, these perennials have the ability to flower abundantly even in partial shade. One source even indicates that they do best in light to moderate shade in our climate – I would recommend this. In fact, leaf scorch can occur during the summer in full sun, so keep this in mind when picking a planting site. Plant these lilies in a well-drained site with plenty of organic matter. Well-drained soil is a must as crown rots can develop in wet soils. Blackberry-lilies are drought-tolerant once they are established and are considered Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ plants.

Blackberry-lilies can get crowded as they develop into larger clumps and will benefit from division from time to time – every third or fourth year – to encourage top flower production. Seeds can also be germinated to produce more plants. There are other blackberry-lily relatives sometimes available including the dwarf blackberry-lily and candy-lilies. The dwarf blackberry-lily only grows about 12 inches tall and has yellow flowers occasionally spotted with orange. Candy-lilies are hybrids that produce spotted or streaked flowers in many different colors including red, orange, blue, purple, pink and yellow in single and bicolor cultivars. They are much more colorful than the other blackberry-lily relatives and are worth growing. Where can you find these perennials? Check at local garden centers or explore mail-order Internet sources. If you don’t see them locally, ask to see if a garden center will order them. If you like perennials, blackberry-lilies are a good selection!  For more information on all types of perennials suitable for our area, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.

Resources:
Garofalo, J. (2002) Blackberry-lily, A Flowering Perennial for South Florida. Miami-Dade County - the University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Gilman, E.F. (2014) Belamcanda chinensis. UF/IFAS Extension Service.

The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design (2010) the University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The wheel bug is a real bug


One fairly large true bug found throughout Florida (and Charlotte County) is called the wheel bug.  The wheel bug is a true bug (Hemiptera) growing well over one-inch long.  This insect is called a wheel bug because of the stunning crest on the thorax that reminds one of a cogged wheel.  An interesting large insect in its own right, the wheel bug is also know to deliver a bite more painful than a bee sting if handled.  To its favor, the wheel bug is also a superior beneficial insect feeding on many landscape pests.  Have you seen one?

To see an adult wheel bug is to see a strange creature which is dark brown to gray in color with long legs, long antennae and a long, wicked-looking robust curved beak attached to its narrow head sporting beady eyes.  The crest is also very noticeable almost looking like a small chicken comb attached to its back.  The females are larger than the males and lay eggs side-by-side in large clusters above ground level.  The eggs actually look just like tiny brown bottles with while stoppers.  The eggs hatch into miniature versions of the adults (minus the crest) called nymphs.  The nymphs are red and black in color and are voracious feeders of aphids and defoliating caterpillars.  They are also known to be cannibalistic and may feed on each other in a pinch.  Adult females have also been known to eat males after breeding.  Being a member of the stinkbug family, they also have the ability to release a pungent odor if bothered.

It is not likely that you will want to bother this beneficial assassin bug.  As mentioned earlier, the bite inflicted by the stabbing beak injects a toxic salvia that causes a stinging sensation worse than most stinging insects.  The bite may remain numb for several days becoming red and hot to the touch.  The spot may turn white and hard and slough off leaving a small hole.  Complete healing may take up to two weeks.  Seek emergency medical assistance if any allergic  reactions occur. 

The moral of this story is to remember not to handle a wheel bug.  These insects have beneficial qualities as a biological control for some insect  pests, but they do not want you to handle them!   Enjoy them from a safe distance!  For more information on all types of beneficial insects, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.

Resource: 
Mead, F. W. (2014) Wheel Bug, Arilus cristatus (Linnaeus) Insecta: Hemiptera: Reduviidae). The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.