Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mother Nature's Artistry

This month's photo is Moringa leaves covered in dew.
Mother Nature's Artistry appears on this blog on the last day of every month.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Thevetia peruviana

Thevetia peruviana is a large yellow-flowered shrub native to Central America.  It grows about 6 foot tall and wide, with a rounded to upright habit.  The two-inch yellow flowers unfurl from the ends of the new growth during warm months of the year.  Blooms are frequently visited by hummingbirds and butterflies, especially Gulf Fritillaries and Sulphurs.
It is a member of the same plant family as Oleander (Apocynaceae) but belongs to a different genus.  The foliage and growth habit are similar to Oleander, but this species is not plagued by the Oleander caterpillar.  The plant is sometimes known as Yellow Oleander.
Thevetia is recommended for USDA Zones 9-11.  The plant is fairly cold-hardy and will withstand temperatures in the low 20° F  range for brief periods.  Last winter, temps in the mid 20's caused some twigs to die back but others were unaffected.
When flowers are pollinated, they develop a fleshy, green fruit.
After turning black and falling to the ground, the fleshy part rots away leaving a dry nut containing two seeds. These nuts give the plant its other name of  "Lucky Nut".
The 1.5 inch long nuts are sometimes strung together and used as body ornamentation.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Bauhinia galpinii (Red Orchid Bush)

Bauhinia galpinii is unlike most other members of the genus.  This one is a sprawling large shrub, rarely getting more than 10 feet tall.  The width will be larger than the height.  It has a long flowering period, ranging from late spring through mid-autumn.
The coral-red flowers appear in clusters on new growth and are very attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies, especially Swallowtails and Gulf Fritillaries.  As the 3-inch diameter blooms age, they fade to a salmon color.  Occasionally, pollinated flowers will form a flat, dry seed pod.
Leaves are two-lobed, typical of the Bauhinia genus.  If planted next to other trees, the new growth becomes vine-like and spirals upward around erect twigs.  Because of this habit, they can also be trained on trellises or arbors. I have one that has nearly engulfed a holly tree up to about 40 feet!

This species is native to South Africa and flowering will be best if the plant receives sun at least half of the day.  It is drought-tolerant once established.
Bauhinia galpinii is recommended for USDA Zones 9b to 11.  There may be some dieback during the most severe freezes but this is a vigorous plant that recovers quickly.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Jaboticaba (Myrciaria cauliflora)

Jaboticaba (Myrciaria cauliflora) is a fascinating fruit native to Brazil.  The flowers and fruit form directly on the trunk and branches of the tree.
It's possible for fruit to form down the trunk all the way to the ground.
The white blooms appear sporadically throughout the year, or nearly continuously, depending on the individual plant and growing conditions. They are sweetly fragrant and detectable several feet away from the plant.
The one-inch diameter purple-black fruits are ready to harvest three weeks after pollination.  Fruits have a thick, tart skin and a sweet, juicy pulp with a complex grape-like flavor.  They can be eaten fresh or made into jams, jellies, or wine.
Excess fruits can be frozen whole for later use.  Freezing also helps break down the thick skin, making it more palatable.  The skin of fresh fruit is high in tannins, and whether or not to eat the skin seems to be a personal preference.  If large quantities are consumed, it is recommended to discard skins.  Biting or squeezing the fruit will cause the skin to split and eject the pulp into your mouth.  In Brazil, a decoction of sun-dried skins is used to treat asthma, diarrhea, and dysentery.
Birds, raccoons, and opossums also like Jaboticabas, so pick fruit as soon as it is ripe.
This plant is slow-growing but will start to bear fruit when it is about 8 foot tall with a trunk diameter of about 3.5 to 4 inches.  It may take 10 years or more to reach this size.  In Florida, the tree will eventually mature at about 15 feet.  They naturally grow with multiple trunks, which should be allowed to remain for maximum fruit production.  When young, Jaboticabas have an almost shrubby appearance, although this can vary from tree to tree.
As they mature, and the trunk diameter increases, the tree becomes much more productive. 
Myrciaria cauliflora is fairly cold-hardy and will tolerate temperatures in the mid-lower 20° F range for short periods.  They grow best in full sun to part shade.  The root system is shallow and trees will benefit from supplemental irrigation during dry periods.  Trees are self-pollinating but fruit production will be increased with cross-pollination.
The new growth is reddish in color,
and the bark of the trunk and larger branches peels off in chunks as it grows.
This fruit would certainly be much more popular if not for the slow growth habit, but it's definitely worth the wait!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Brunfelsia nitida

Brunfelsia nitida is an absolute must-have for the night-time fragrance garden.  The long, tubular, white flowers start to release their scent as the sun goes down.  After dark, the entire garden around the plant will be perfumed with a spicy, clove-like aroma.
The flowers appear on each flush of new growth throughout the warm months of the year.  The white blooms flare open at the end of a 6-7" long nectary, and will last for several days.
As the blooms age, they take on a yellow-gold tint.
Pollinated flowers develop a round fruit that turns orange when mature, adding another ornamental aspect to the plant.  The fruit is not edible!
The plant grows as a shrub, 4-5 foot tall, in sun or light shade.
Brunfelsia nitida is native to Cuba and is sometimes known as "Lady of the Night" or "Cuban Raintree".  Most references recommend this plant for USDA Zones 10-11, but mine in Zone 9B appear to be fairly cold-hardy.  Last winter, plants slightly under the protection of tree canopy suffered no damage.  Exposed plants froze to the ground but returned quickly and were blooming by mid-summer.
These plants bloom extremely well in containers, and I like to keep a few in small pots that I can bring in the house when they come into bloom.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tibouchina grandifolia

Tibouchina grandifolia is an impressive plant even when not in bloom.  The large fuzzy leaves just beg for closer inspection.  They get to be about 6 inches by 8 inches.  The stems are four-sided.
This native of Brazil grows 6-7 foot tall in full to dappled sunlight.  It is recommended for USDA Zones 10-11 but I know several people growing them in Zone 9B.  Plants can be damaged during a hard freeze but will come back from the base of the plant.
The deep purple-blue blooms of Tibouchina grandifolia appear in mid-summer and continue until mid-winter.  Individual flowers are about 1.5 inches across, and they open with a white center which turns red the second day.  Flowers are fragrant if you stick your nose right in the bloom.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Tibouchina granulosa

Tibouchina granulosa  is an evergreen shrub or small tree native to western Brazil and eastern Bolivia.
It grows 10-15 feet tall (in cultivation) and blooms most of the year, but heaviest bloom is during the warmer months.  In its native habitat, this Tibouchina can get up to 40 foot tall!

The leaves are dark green, 5-6 inches long, with prominent veins running the length of the leaf.  The upper leaf surface is glossy with depressed veins and the underside is rough with protruding veins.  The stems are four-sided and winged.
The vivid purple blooms appear in clusters at the tips of the branches.  Individual flowers are about 3 inches across.  Flowering will be best when the plant gets sun for at least half a day.

Most references list Tibouchina granulosa as hardy for USDA Zones 10B-ll but I know of several specimens happily growing in Zone 9B.  They will come back after a hard freeze.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bloom Day - September

This month's Bloom Day is all about the range of colors on display right now.  We'll start off at the red end of the spectrum...  (click on links for a profile of that plant)

Pentas, Knock-out Rose
Ruellia, Odontonema
Jatropha, Billbergia
Clerodendrum speciosissiumum, C. paniculatum

Bauhinia, Caesalpinia
Asclepias, Porterweed
Tecomaria, Crossandra
Campsis, Lantana

Tecoma, Turnera
Bush Daisy, Cassia
Gold Shrimp, Cestrum
Thevetia, Tabernaemontana

Barleria, Shining Jasmine
Plumbago, Blue Ginger
Spiderwort, Porterweed

Tibouchina granulosa, T. grandifolia
Ruellia, Passiflora
Duranta, Carambola

Setcreasea, Loropetalum
Crape myrtle 'Tonto', Periwinkle
Podranea, Jacobinia
Chorisia, Brugmansia

...and the bloom of the month...

To see what's blooming in gardens everywhere today, visit May Dreams Gardens for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.  This post is also part of the Tuesday Garden Party hosted by An Oregon Cottage.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Starfruit (Averrhoa carambola)

Starfruit (Averrhoa carambola) trees are believed to have originated in Sri Lanka, but have been cultivated for centuries in southeast Asia and Malaysia.
Flowering can happen any time, but they mainly appear starting in early to mid-summer and continue through early winter.  Buds and blooms emerge from the leaf axils of new growth,
or directly from the woody branches of the tree.
The fruit starts to ripen in mid to late summer and will be non-stop until mid-spring.  A single tree can produce an enormous quantity of fruit.  Trees that receive adequate nutrients and moisture can provide 300 pounds of fruit per year.
The ripe, yellow fruit is 4-5 inches in length, and very juicy, but with a firm crunchy texture.  The fruit is at its peak flavor when it has a deep yellow-orange color and is starting to show a little brown at the tips or on the edges of the ribs.
Carambola fruit deteriorates rapidly once it is ripe so you never find truly ripe fruit in stores.    The only way to experience their full flavor is to grow your own, or get it directly from another grower.
The common name of Starfruit refers to the shape of the fruit, especially when cut into thin slices.
Most Starfruit are consumed fresh, but they can also be made into jams, cobblers, pies, and drinks. They can also be dehydrated for later use.  The flowers are edible and can be added to salads for color.
The flavor of fruit from different varieties varies between sweet and tart.  Named varieties also vary in size and color intensity.  Some cultivars require cross-pollination for improved fruit set.
Averrhoa carambola grows 25-35 feet tall in sun or light shade and is recommended for USDA Zones 9B to 11.  Mature trees can survive a hard freeze for short periods of time and the trees are evergreen if no freezes occur.
The large pinnate leaves give the tree a ferny appearance.
The outer branches tend to weep downward, especially when they are laden with fruit.  Heaviest fruit production is usually on the lower half of the tree, making for easier picking when the fruit is ripe.

The Carambola fruits contain oxalic acid, and the juice of the tart varieties can be used to polish metals, especially brass.  There are folk remedies from around the world utilizing various parts to the tree to treat many afflictions, including headache, vomiting, eczema, fevers, and hangover!  Medical studies indicate patients with chronic renal failure (on dialysis) should avoid eating starfruit due to documented adverse reactions.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Aechmea lueddemanniana

I usually post bromeliad profiles at the time they're in bloom, but Aechmea lueddemanniana is a species that I think is showier long after the flowers have faded.
The flower spikes appear in the spring, covered with a fine scurf.  The flowers are small and lavender in color.
As the flowers fade, the "berries" start to swell.  While they develop over the summer, they change color.  Green first, then white,
and finally purple!  This is when they're the most eye-catching.
The Aechmea lueddemanniana plants grow best where they'll get morning sun, or shifting shade throughout the day.  Each plant will get about 18 inches tall and 2 foot wide, and they seem to be fairly cold-hardy, surviving brief freezes with little damage.  The purple "berries" will remain in color for a couple of months before finally shriveling and falling from the plant.