Gardening with Georgia

Archive - March 2011

« Back to front

Peachy flowers, fallen flowers

Wed, Mar 30, 2011 at 06:10:23 PM

Delicate flowers of the peach blossom cassia.

It first appeared in South Florida in 2005, but has been a rock star ever since. This Cassia bakeriana, which the Garden is calling “peach blossom cassia,” originally emigrated from Thailand as dwarf apple blossom cassia. It flowers from March through May, opening pink and fading to white. The Garden’s young tree was planted in 2006. The tree, like most flowering trees, is drought tolerant once it has become established in the landscape.

The pink shaving brush tree, Pseudobombax ellipticum, is creating a carpet of color beneath its bare branches right now. Sometimes the fallen flowers are just as beautiful as those in the air. And in this case, you are better able to examine them.

You won't get a pain in the neck looking at these flowers.


Don't let the jade fade...

Thu, Mar 24, 2011 at 09:03:25 AM


Keeled claws of the jade vine.

... before you see it!

Hanging in pendant clusters, the claw-like flowers of the jade vine are beautiful almost beyond belief. They are a striking aquamarine, opening with upturned keels. They are the color of shallow tropical seas, of rare tropical birds. And no matter how often you see them, you still gaze with wonder.

Strongylodon macrobotrys is the botanical name of the Philippine vine that has three-lobed leaves and a strong woody trunk. This rainforest liana is capable of aggressively climbing at least 70 feet, twining around anything in its path. Therefore, a support of brute strength is needed on which to grow this critter. Our vine pergola is just the ticket, with its sturdy stone columns and wooden crossbars.

One secret of growing the jade is to provide shade for the young plant, letting it wind its way into sunlight. This is not a vine for the timid or for most urban yards, so visit the garden now to catch it in flower.



Honoring the Volunteers

Thu, Mar 17, 2011 at 09:52:58 AM

Every year, the hundreds of volunteers at the garden are honored with a brunch. They receive pins for their years of service, accolades from the administration and an amazing amount of food prepared by the staff.  It’s a heartwarming party, full of good will and camaraderie. Here’s an iPhone appreciation.

Ann Schmidt helps set
the buffet table.

Mary Neustein in the kitchen.









Table decorations compliments of the horticulture staff.

And the happy volunteers enjoying the feast!


Quiet charm

Wed, Mar 16, 2011 at 03:59:03 PM

Now that orchids have quit hogging the spotlight, begonias can take a bow.

A pendant cluster of female
begonia flowers.

They have been blooming for several weeks, showing delicate white or pink flowers with understated charm. You’ll find them in the Moos Sunken Garden, along the path near Standing Gorilla, in the rainforest and by the Visitors Center.  They have eye-catching asymmetrical leaves and male or female flowers. The female flowers have winged inferior ovaries, just beneath the stigmas and tepals (sepals and petals that are alike are referred to as tepals). Some flowers are pendant, while others are held upright.

Male flowers on the cultivar
Caribbean King.

Begonias have been cultivated for hundreds of years. Mark Tebbet, in his book Begonias, says the Chinese have grown them since 1400.  Widespread throughout the tropics and subtropics, the first begonia to reach Europe arrived at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, near London, in the late 18th Century. Then, beginning in 1835, the development of the Wardian Case or portable glass house made it possible to keep plants humid and protected during shipping, and more and more of the 1,500 species made it into cultivation.

Many rhizomatous and cane-type begonias make good landscape plants for South Florida gardens. They like sun or shade, regular watering and slow-release fertilizer. The cane types easily will reach several feet in height, while rhizomatous begonias will spread to make great groundcovers.


Celebrating beauty

Sat, Mar 12, 2011 at 04:21:06 PM

Two days of splendid weather have made for such a happy orchid festival that it is tempting to call it a celebration of Nature's most fascinating flowers. One more day to bask in beauty. Lucky us.

Linda Curle received an
AOS Award of Merit for this
C. Hiromi Nishi 'Que Linda'

They're called Doggles.

Everywhere you turn, another photo to be taken.

Happy shoppers.

Slc. Jewel Box 'Ricardo' in the
Rainforest Orchid Plaza.


Orchidology: for serious collectors

Fri, Mar 11, 2011 at 05:52:39 PM


Orchid cells have been to the International Space Station.


Wagner Vandrame, associate professor of Environmental Horticulture with the University of Florida’s Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, sent orchid tissue to the Space Station in 2007, and found that without gravity they do indeed grow faster than in our backyards. The experiment is part of a larger effort aimed at finding the best way to grow and conserve orchids threatened in the wild.


Vandrame hosted an “Orchidology” course Friday at Fairchild’s 9th Annual International Orchid Festival.  He gave an overview of orchid history, from ancient Greece to the present, then followed that later in the afternoon with a look at orchid flowers “up close and personal” to dissect their petals and parts.

For serious orchid growers, it was a one-day crash course.


Catharine Mannion, entomologist with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Science in Homestead, brought her expertise to the course by explaining how to recognize the damage done by chewing insects versus piercing-sucking insects (scales, thrips, mealybugs and mites). She concentrated, too, on the predators of these insects, so that good bugs aren't blitzed with the bad.

The piercing-sucking insects insert a straw-like mouth-part into orchid tissue and drink, causing yellowing, browning, and eventual decline of the plants. Scales, mealybugs, thrips and mites are the culprits, often found on the undersides of leaves or in leaf axils.

Thrips have both a sucking mouth-part as well as a mandible, meaning they can suck juices as well as chew orchids. Their preferred target: flowers and flower buds.

Mannion also looked at aphids, mites, blossom midges, and the damage done by caterpillars and snails. She urged everyone to recognize the good insects, and to use care when selecting chemicals. Soaps and oils to combat bad insects may cause damage to orchid plants in heat, so caution is needed with these products, too.


Fungal disease is the most common of all plant diseases, said Aaron Palmateer, UF pathologist.  Orchid fungal diseases include black rot,  which commonly occurs in over- watered cattleyas; anthracnose, which produces dead areas of leaves that have bands or striations in them and fusarium wilt, which infects the roots and lower stems or orchids. Phyllostrictina leaf spot, or Thai fungus, crops up when orchids are stressed by cold or high temperature extremes, and produces narrow streaks that can coalesce into large lesions.

Bacterial diseases cause oozing areas on orchid leaves, often accompanied by a bad smell.

Virus diseases have various symptoms, including black streaks, purple spots and swirling patterns. They cause "color breaks" in flowers, so that uneven color streaks and splotches may occur. Spread by insects, such as aphids, viruses often are fatal. Virus-infected plants are best discarded to avoid the spread of infection

For more help, Palmateer and Mannion have invaluable websites. Palmateer recommends; Mannion recommended, among others, plus her personal website: http://

For the orchids lovers intent on learning everything about caring for their beloved plants, the course was invaluable.





Splendor in the Garden (House)

Thu, Mar 10, 2011 at 03:31:30 PM

Orchid growers have outdone themselves at Fairchild's 9th Annual International Orchid Festival that opens Friday and runs through Sunday. There are leagues of glorious flowers on display, which undoubtedly will entice you to join the tribe of orchid lovers here in South Florida.

Commercial growers have created table top displays that are works of art, and hobbyists have added a special vitality with multitudes of orchid types and colors.

Here are some samples of what you will see.

Grand champion is an enormous Cattleya skinneri.

Best Cymbidium: Dorothy
Stockton 'Forbidden Fruit.'

Robiquettia cerina.




Orchid Society of Coral Gables' central display, waterfall.

Blc. Golf Green 'Hair Pig'
is glorious despite its peculiar name.

Best Paphiopedilum went
to Paph. bellatulum x
Paph. Hsinying Scentre.


Colorful characters

Tue, Mar 08, 2011 at 06:49:43 AM

With all the color, this bromeliad
supplies fragrance to boot.

You’d think that the Tillandsia cyanea, now flowering in the Conservatory, would have given its all in creating the bold pink inflorescence that opens lovely purple flowers. It is, after all, relatively small as plants go and those colors are anything but dim. But no, if you happen by it on a warm morning, you will discover its most appealing quality: the fragrance of cloves.

Commonly called Pink Quill, this bromeliad from Mexico and Central America is a delight for the senses. It grows well in a container (you’ll find it in a small pot carefully hung from the conservatory’s south wall, upper level), and likes some low nitrogen fertilizer from time to time, but at ¼ strength. So little care; so much in return!

Fleshy bracts cradle female flowers.

Another bright color is in the edible orange bracts of Freycinetia cumingiana, a vining plant related to Pandanus or screw pines. The orange is suggestive of a Dreamsicle – remember those? – and enfolded inside are their upright flower stalks. The inflorescences of Freycinetia are held on the ends of the vining branches, rather like old-fashioned candles on evergreen boughs at Christmas. The particular species comes from the Philippines. It is dioecious, meaning male and female flowers are on separate plants. Our Conservatory plant is female; the male flowers are quite slender and a lighter color. It is a contrast not unlike the difference between female and male cycad cones.

Historically, bats pollinated many of the species in their natural habitats – from Sri Lanka to Polynesia – and bat-pollinated plants, such as this and the sausage tree, may expose their flowers in a way that bats easily can reach them without being caught up in a mess of leaves. Some of the important pollinating bats have become extinct, but birds and even a ‘possum in New Zealand have filled the niche.






Beetle alert!

Tue, Mar 01, 2011 at 01:52:40 PM

An orchid-eating beetle.

Spring, it appears, has arrived early. And with warm, dry weather come beetles and thrips.  Sitting brazenly atop a light lavender cattleya hybrid today was a black beetle with some light spots on its back. Two more beetles were on the adjacent flower. They’ve been emerging like crazy as the soil warms up, and we’re finding them by the bucket load in the pool skimmer. The larvae are grubs that have pupated in the soil, munching away on grass roots.

Damaged tissue is black, found
on the lip tissue at the base
of the column.

Having found three, I examined all the light lavender and white cattleyas to see what harm they had done. They typically like to crawl down into the throat of a large cattleya (or white or yellow rose) and eat. Damage is to the lip enfolding the base of the column or the column itself. Yes, the signs were there, but confined to a small group of flowers in one area of our shade house.

So what to do? Place a white bucket of plain water next to the flowers. I did, and within 10 minutes there was a beetle doing the backstroke. They are attracted to white, and will fly into the bucket and drown.

Thrips, which are tiny black sucking insects, love mango and avocado blossoms as well as orchid flowers.  Vanda flower buds are especially vulnerable, so spray with Orthene, a systemic insecticide.