A Gem from Jamaica

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

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Portlandia grandiflora

Pure white bell-shaped flowers are gracing the shrub Portlandia grandiflora near the vine pergola. This gardenia relative is commonly called bell flower and it is from the limestone or karst hills of Jamaica. Wonderfully fragrant at night, it most likely is pollinated by night-flying moths that typically are attracted to white flowers that emit perfume after dark. The tall shrub (it grows to about six or eight feet) is initially rather spindly but fills out to become more shrub-like with age.

Portlandia’s native limestone habitat makes it perfect for South Florida calcareous soils.  Bell flower likes filtered light, with morning or late afternoon sunlight. Aphids sometimes hit its new growth, but a spray of soapy water or insecticidal soap can conquer them. During our hot months, young shrubs like a good, deep irrigation twice a week, but they require good drainage. Use a controlled-release fertilizer when the glossy leaves begin to lighten from their normal deep green.