Gardening with Georgia

Archive - October 2009

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Plants for the birds

Fri, Oct 30, 2009 at 03:29:35 PM

The necklace pod is attractive to


Insect-eating birds, such as warblers, gnatcatchers, flycatchers and vireos, love wild tamarinds. And so that tree will be among the bird-attracting plants Leslie Veber’s Jungle Garden is providing for Bird Day’s plant sale. These little birds also are attracted to shortleaf fig, green buttonwood, satin leaf, firebush, wild sage and Florida privet, so these are going to be on sale, too. Leslie worked with Roger Hammer’s list of bird-attracting native plants to guide her selection. For the fruit and seed eating birds – the mockingbirds, catbirds, blue jays and cedar waxwings – look for shortleaf fig (a waxwing favorite), Bahama strongback and little Bahama strongback, lignum vitae, three different stoppers, fire bush and American beautyberry. Hummingbirds are birds, too. And hummer plants for sale will include necklace pod, live oak, seven-year apple, coral bean, the strongbacks and firebush.




Sneak peek beneath a leaf

Tue, Oct 27, 2009 at 11:52:29 AM

One leaf of Anthurium clavigerum.

I was prowling the rainforest the other day and saw an awesome leaf on Anthurium clavigerum. An epiphyte, this aroid possesses the largest leaf of any anthurium in Central America. With lobes so fanciful they appear to be separate leaflets, this single leaf can theoretically reach about seven feet across! As a big leaf fanatic, I have just found another desirable garden specimen.

The swollen areas supporting
the leaf blade allow the leaf to move.


The underside of the leaf  looks like something fresh from Gold’s Gym with a muscular, heavy-duty joint that moves the leaf to collect more light. The joint, sometimes referred to as an organ, functions when potassium pulls water in and out of it.

I shot a message to Scott Hyndman, Fairchild’s nursery manager and an aroid fan, and asked if the joint is indeed a pulvinus. He says it is, but when found on an anthurium leaf, it usually is called geniculum. 

Plants can do the darndest things!


Flame thrower

Tue, Oct 27, 2009 at 11:39:11 AM

Coming into flower in the
rainforest: Ruellia chartacea.

Called a “scandent shrub,” Ruellia chartacea is setting little fires on the edge of the rainforest with its scarlet bracts and orange-gold flowers.  It is sometimes called the red shrimp plant, and is in the same family as Brazilian red cloak, shrimp plant and wild petunia. After the gingers and heliconias have put away their flowers and while the begonias are saving up to form theirs, this shrub is one that will put some spark in your yard. This South American native likes to sprawl in the semi-shade. It takes moist soils, so mulching will help maintain soil moisture over the dry season.  Cut it back hard after the flowering season has ended in late winter or it will leave a legacy of tangled stems.  Pruning also will train it to become more shrub like. Keep this Ruellia protected from winter winds and temperatures below 45 degrees.  Leaves that don’t get excellent air circulation may attract mealy bugs. Make a mental note to check periodically for them on the undersides of these lance-shaped leaves. If you see them making a white mass, spray with insecticidal soap.


Urban Oases bird project is proving fruitful

Mon, Oct 19, 2009 at 11:28:33 AM

As we near the end of fall migration, birders who have been scouting Fairchild and Matheson Hammock since late August for important food plants for songbirds have come upon some surprises.

Wild lime, soldierwood and the caimito, as well as its cousin satin leaf, are among the plants playing a large role in fueling birds heading south. A tropical catalpa and native and non-native figs in the Arboretum are also providing nourishment to such birds as black-throated blue warblers, parula warblers, redstarts, vireos, scarlet tanagers and Baltimore orioles.

John Ogden's photo of a red-eyed vireo
feeding on wild lime in the Bahamas
planting in the lowlands.

John Ogden, director of bird conservation for Audubon of Florida, has been keeping a running count of the birds in several areas of the garden, Matheson Hammock and around Palm Lodge on Avocado Drive in Homestead in the first trial-run of the Urban Oases Project for Songbirds.  Close to 100 separate observations of birds feeding in plants have been tabulated over the last seven weeks. Counts will continue through the end of October and a full report will be completed in early November.

The early success means Ogden plans to make the project a statewide program for spring migration.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is interested in running the project along the Atlantic coast  of the United States.

The garden’s Arboretum, Keys Coastal Habitat and Bahamas planting in the lowlands are proving to be especially songbird-friendly, Ogden said last week. Standouts include:

Satin leaf and caimito trees line one side of the allee, and this “clump” of related trees

The large tree is the caimito and to
either side are satin leaf trees.

(Chrysophyllum oliviforme and C. cainito) is attracting groups of birds again and again, Ogden said. Here, birds found plentiful insects in the tiny flowers.

Soldierwood, Colubrina elliptica  also has tiny flowers in the axils of its oblong leaves, found frequently by summer tanagers, warblers and vireos.

In the Bahamas planting, a wild lime (or lime prickly ash) that grows among a number of cinnecords (Acacia choriophylla) was a magnet for vireos, Ogden said.

 A Catalpa longissima drew several parulas, while a strangler fig, banyan and Ficus racemosa, sometimes called the cluster fig, provided fruit for Tennessee warblers, black-throated blues, tanagers, orioles and others. 

In Matheson, the surprise was the chiggary grape vine, which had both fruit and flowers.

Fairchild’s Bird Day will be November 1.  The event features bird walks on the James A. Kushlan Bird Trail, talks about birds and bird gardening and even a tip on how to photograph birds in an afternoon talk. Bird plants will be available for sale at this event.

Tropical Audubon Society’s native plant sale is Nov. 7 and 8 at the Doc Thomas house in South Miami, and some of these bird-friendly trees will be available there, too.


Blooming right on time

Thu, Oct 08, 2009 at 12:31:17 PM


Fall is the time of year for delicate clusters of lavender flowers to appear on Guarianthe bowringiana, an orchid in the Cattleya alliance. Because of its seasonal blooming, it once was called Cattleya autumnalis.  It is festooning the Conservatory’s epiphyte tree and display room.

A beautiful fall-blooming orchid,
Guarianthe bowringiana is an
easy orchid for beginners.


Gua or guadia is from the Aztec language and it means tree. Anthe is from Greek meaning flower. So understanding that, said Tom Mirenda, orchid collection specialist at the Smithsonian Institution, the name Guarianthe, meaning a flower that grows in a tree, is easy to say and use. But for many long-time orchid growers, it’s still hard to use Guarianthe  instead of Cattleya.

Mirenda was among the orchid experts at the recent Speakers Day hosted by the South Florida Orchid Society. He prefaced his talk about colorful Cattleya hybrids by explaining some of the name-shuffling resulting from DNA analysis as scientists try to untangle the    evolutionary background of these most diverse of all flowers. A handful of cattleyas from Central America have been given the new name, including another old favorite that flowers in the spring, Cattleya skinneri, which now is Guarianthe skinneri . When you see the lovely clusters of lavender flowers on these orchids, you can connect them to the people who once lived among the tree-dwelling orchids of the region.

Guarianthe bowringiana is a bifoliate cattleya, meaning it has two leathery leaves atop a pseudobulb. Bifoliate cattleyas produce many small flowers in a cluster, whereas unifoliate, or one-leafed, plants bloom with one, two or three large, showy flowers.  In Vol. I of his series The Cattleyas and Their Relatives, Carl Wittner describes Guarianthe bowringiana as “a good species for the beginner…as it is tolerant of heat, sun and poor humidity.’’

Now, if only the heat would give us a break, it would make us more in the mood for autumn, no matter name we give it.





A real American beauty

Thu, Oct 08, 2009 at 12:15:25 PM


Birds are attracted to this native,
American beautyberry.

American beautyberry, Callicarpa americana, is a native shrub that postions itself at the edges of hammocks and pinelands.  It attracts butterflies in the spring and summer with delicate pink flowers, and then supplies grape-colored clusters of fruit for mockingbirds and catbirds in the fall and winter.  Its leaves are fairly large with serrated edges, and the twigs sometimes stick straight out before elongating to droop and create a mounding effect.

It’s in the verbena family and counts among its relatives fiddlewood, lantana, clerodendron and even porter weed. American beautyberry grows throughout the southeastern United States, often near wetlands, although it is not salt-tolerant. In South Florida, it grows to about eight feet tall and equally as wide.  Because it grows on the edges of the woods, it flourishes in partial shade. It will grow in a wide range of soils, and is drought tolerant once established. To keep it in check, cut it back hard in the late winter. To see it in full-fruited glory, take the walking path north past the Gate House, as if heading to the Vine Pergola, and look to your left, or visit the pineland area of the lowlands.


Seeing Anew

Mon, Oct 05, 2009 at 09:48:29 AM

This unknown species of Acalypha
is transformed by mid-morning sun.


Sometimes it takes just the right bit of light to draw your eye to a plant you’ve walked by a hundred times without paying it much attention. That happened the other day when I was outside the Corbin Building.  Sun shone on an Acalypha with crested leaves, and in that certain slant of light, they were as lovely as stained glass.  Acalypha, which is in the Euphorbiaceae or spurge family, displays a remarkable variety of leaf shapes and colors, although the shrubs usually don’t have the appeal of flowering shrubs since their flowers are in small spikes (with the exception of chenille plant).  I have two narrow-leaf cultivars in my garden that are sturdy and reliable. I grew them from cuttings given me by friends. One has deeply fringed leaves that are suffused with red and have pink edges; the other has equally narrow leaves that are green edged in cream.  In summer’s high light, the pinky one becomes darker. They require little more than an occasional pruning. Look closely at this plant the next time you are in the patio of area of the Corbin and perhaps you, too, may see it in a different light.