Gardening with Georgia

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Naturally South Florida -- According to Roger Hammer

Mon, Jun 29, 2009 at 04:02:20 PM

Distinctly Hammeresque humor peppered Roger’s recent talk for the Dade Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society as he recounted early history of South Florida to a standing-room-only crowd:

The Florida Keys: “A drinking community with a fishing problem.’’  The now-extinct American lion, the largest mammal predator ever, once roamed Miami-Dade County: “As a naturalist, I live for American lions to make a comeback.’’

But seriously, folks. An archeological dig at the Deering Estate turned up American lion bones, dire wolves, and remains of a saber tooth cat.  Unearthed and re-covered in the1980s, the dig was “one of the most major archeological finds in the eastern United States,’’ Roger said. From it came knowledge of human occupation in the region as early as 10,000 years ago by Paleoindians. Archaic Indians followed them. Then the Tequesta Indians, who lived on the Miami Rock Ridge and the Calusa Indians, who inhabited Florida’s west coast. Eventually, the Creeks moved into Florida from Georgia and Alabama and became the Seminoles and Miccosukees.

Telescoping through the decades, Roger covered the Seminole Indian Wars, proclaiming that an important outcome of the Second Seminole War was the naming of Dade County for slain U.S. Army Maj. Francis Dade. The other name being considered by the Legislature was Pinckney. “Can you imagine being stopped by the Pinckney County police?” he asked.

The round-up of historical figures included Henry Perrine who tried to introduce a sisal industry to South Florida; John Jacob Houseman, Perrine’s partner who offered to kill the Seminoles for bounty; Chekika, chief of the Spanish Indians who set out to kill Houseman; but killed Perrine instead; Col. Harney for whom the Harney River is named; Henry Flagler, who brought the railroad from St. Augustine through Palm Beach to Miami, and William Krome who was Flagler’s engineer famous for taking the railroad to Key West and growing avocados. And Napoleon Bonaparte Broward who was elected Florida governor by promising to drain the swamp.

The natural history, of course, preceded human history, and in Roger’s version, it goes like this:

As the seas bobbed up and down over eons, exposing the Florida plateau and covering it again, calcium carbonate precipitated out of the water and glued itself together to form the limestone base called the Miami Rock Ridge. That rocky ridge runs from Broward County through Miami-Dade and sputters out in Everglades National Park. It is the high ridge on which our cities are built (just look at a map of the greater metropolitan areas of the counties, and you will be looking at the ridge) and “that’s what makes your shovel go clink.’’ 

About 4,000 years ago, offshore coral reefs were exposed to air. They hardened and created the upper and middle Florida Keys, which are composed of true coral rock, unlike the limestone of Miami-Dade. The lesson: “It should never have been called Coral Gables.''  Limestone Gables, he mused, probably wouldn’t fly.

While much of the natural area of the ridge has disappeared, the swamp is undergoing restoration, and there are millions of acres remaining to be explored, Roger stressed. From Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and the Fakahatchee Strand on the west coast, to Big Cypress National Preserve, and the 1.5 million acres of Everglades National Park, which sits next to Biscayne National Park.  Exploring opportunities abound – his own exploits are legendary, including the time he hiked from the Fakahatchee Strand to Alligator Alley without a change of clothes and tried to hitchhike home; he made it  -- and his newest book is  Everglades National Park and the Surrounding Area, A Guide to Exploring the Great Outdoors. It is sold in Fairchild’s gift shop.  After a talk like that, there are sure to be more hikers in those natural areas – at least once the mosquito season disappears.





Bold flowers yes, but borne gingerly

Fri, Jun 26, 2009 at 05:13:29 PM



A baby inflorescence          Pineapple or Indonesian Wax Gingers 



Putting on a spectacular show in the back of the Conservatory is the pineapple or Indonesian wax ginger, Tapeinochilos ananassae, a member of the costus family. Some two dozen brilliant red pinecone-like inflorescences are standing proudly in a group, having arisen on their own leafless stems or scapes. They’re almost shockingly bold, composed of bracts that house golden yellow flowers.  The plant’s real stems, meanwhile, tower above the cones with leaves spiraling around slender stems.

From Malaysia, Indonesia and northern Australia, these plants grow on rhizomes in rich, well-drained soil. A moderate amount of fertilizer twice a year will produce the most flowers. Too much, and the plants develop more leaves than cones. The gingers like consistently moist soil, so when grown outside they need mulch to thrive on a twice-weekly watering schedule.

At home, I grow torch ginger, Etlingera elatior.  To keep the planting bed rich, I add compost two or three times a year, as well as goop that is cleaned from the pond and controlled-release fertilizer, 4-2-12 with 4 percent magnesium.

In winter, the leaves of my plants will develop brown edges after cold weather, and they don’t look terrific in our dry spring. But they have survived for many years in an area protected by a large stand of areca palms to the west and large crotons on the north, as well as Heliconia rostrata in the same bed. And their torches, while pink, are mighty spectacular, too.


Torch ginger    



Back yard plants that really are medicinal

Fri, Jun 26, 2009 at 04:01:49 PM


  David McLean

There's a drugstore in your back yard and Broward County nurseryman David McLean mixed humor and home remedied for the Tropical Fern and Exotic Plant Society's last meeting of the season.

Plants throughout time have been the source of medicines and remedies for people everywhere.  For scratches or wounds: “McLean’s three mix” is a combination of aloe, avocado and tea tree oil, stirred together in equal parts with a little water. Cut a slice of the succulent leaf in half and use the pure gel. He rubbed some on his head to demonstrate. (Socks, he said, are made for wiping off pocketknives, which he also demonstrated.)

Among David’s other medicinal plant remedies are allspice tea for settling the stomach and gas relief; avocado, used against wrinkles as a face cream; black pepper as an antiseptic: lemon grass tea as a digestive; pineapple may promote heart health and saw palmetto fruits that are widely sold for prostate health.

Don’t try any of the remedies without more research and medical advice, he cautioned. But begin to learn more the Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants by Andrew Chevallier; Handbook of Medicinal Spices by James Duke, and Atlas of Medicinal Plants of Middle America by Julia Morton.


A Gem from Jamaica

Tue, Jun 23, 2009 at 04:00:13 PM

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.


The Mango High Five

Tue, Jun 23, 2009 at 03:00:40 PM


Noris checking out Southeast Asian mangos  


Noris Ledesma, curator of tropical fruit at Williams Grove, has spent years tasting different kinds mangos, often 20 different fruit a day during the season, to school her taste buds in the flavors that range from sweet to tart.

Here’s her take (developed with senior curator Richard Campbell) on the five basic flavor types, each named for a region, a mango most representative of the flavor or the strongest tasting.

Myanmar type
These, such as Myatrynat, may have a citrus flavor, even occasionally hinting of pineapple. Found in northern India and Myanmar, the cultivar names include Shwethinta, Myatrynat and Pu Pyo Kalay

Pairi type
Several mangos are named for their similarities to the Pairi mango, with a strong aroma and acid, spicy flavor.  Noris says they remind her of flowers and potpourri. Cultivars are Pairi, Emerald, Jakarta and White Pirie.

East Indian type
These mangos are pungent or perfume-y, with a strong flavor just beneath the skin.  The first thing Indians do is bring a mango to the nose to test its aroma, says Noris. Cultivars include Carrie, Iman Pasand, Bangnanpalli, the beautiful pink-skinned Rose and the Jamaican Julie.

Alphonso type
Named for the distinctive and well-loved Alphonso mango of India, these mangos include Haden and Edward as well as Tommy Atkins, Cogshall, Keitt and Rosigold. These beloved mangos have the sweet, rich flavor and bold color that have traditionally appealed to American tastes.

Southeast Asian type
These fruits from the countries of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam have delicate flavors and flesh that is without fiber. They are beautifully shaped fruit that fit comfortably in the hand. Cultivars: Nam Doc Mai, Cambodiana, Phimsen Man, Kheo Savory, Carabao and Ivory, a Laotian mango.

Try to describe the flavor type when you sample mangos at the International Mango Festival. The festival is July 11 and 12, with tastings from 9:30 a.m. to noon on Saturday, July 11. But come early, the quantity of tasting samples is limited.

If the garden’s mangos seem more flavorful than those from your back yard, it has to do with the growing protocols developed by Richard at the Fairchild Farm at Williams Grove. Too much water and nitrogen mask the flavors of mangos, diluting the deliciousness, the curators say. What do Fairchild’s expert fruit growers do? They use only 0-0-50 fertilizer, iron and no extra irrigation. Nitrogen comes from a light layer of mulch and rain.