|Native Tetrazygia bicolor.|
Enjoying the heat of summer is Tetrazygia bicolor or West Indian lilac. Its white flowers with bold yellow stamens appear crisp and undeterred by the wilting heat. This native shrub loves our limestone soils and yet it appreciates some organic content. The shrub is in the Melastomaceae, a wide-ranging tropical family, and it has characteristic melastome leaves with distinctive veins. In southern Florida, it grows on the edges of hammocks to garner sun and produce flowers. It is on the state’s threatened list, but grows in the West Indies as well as South Florida. Not a fast-growing plant, Tetrazygia bicolor may be hampered if planted too deep. About as wide as it is tall, which may be up to 20 feet, the shrub may be made more compact by pinching new growth to encourage fullness. Berries produced in the fall are purple and are eaten by cardinals, blue jays and mocking birds.
|A happy bee on white milkweed vine, Sarcostemma clausum|
Pollinator Week begins June 17. As we witness the significant decline in honeybees, bumble bees, wild bees, butterflies and birds, let’s take this week to plant wildflowers to help out the pollinators remaining. On Saturday, Steve Woodmansee is having a native plant sale at Silent Native Nursery, 16265 SW 210 Terrace, 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Go to PlantRealFlorida.org and find specific plants and what nurseries carry them. Look for yellow top, golden rod, native wild petunia, salvia, Indian blanket, asters, Lantana involucrata, Bahama manjack, Cordia globosa, pineland or smooth strongbark, Mexican alvaradora, Passiflora pallens, Passiflora suberosa, coontie…the list is long and the time is right.
And be sure to go to the Pollinator Partnership website (http://pollinator.org/beestory.htm) and watch Isabella Rosselini’s three short films about honeybees, which may be the most charming shorts you’ll ever see.
Blooming beautifully in the Conservatory is Warszewiczia coccinea, a small tree in the coffee family with fire engine red sepals that offset small yellow flowers. The name, a tongue twister, remembers Josef Warszewicz, a 19th Century botanist who found an enormous number of orchids and sent them to England to be described. Warszewicz was of Polish descent, born in 1812, but as a young man had to leave his homeland because of a revolution. He worked at the Botanical Garden at Berlin for four years, and then in 1845 answered an advertisement to hunt for plants in Guatemala. Yellow fever sent him back to Europe in 1850, but after a few years, he was restless to hunt again for plants and headed to Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. He discovered Cattleya dowiana, Cattleya warscewiczii, Cynoches warscewiczii, Sobralia warscewiczii and many other orchids bearing his name. Another bout of yellow fever in 1853 sent him back to Europe, where he became supervisor of the Cracow Botanic Garden. He died in 1866.
The first time I saw Warszewiczia coccinea was in Costa Rica at La Selva Biological Station run by the Organization for Tropical Studies. The late ornithologist Alexander Skutch, who wrote more than 40 books and was a world expert on Central American birds, described the Warszewiczia in his book A Naturalist in Costa Rica. “The glowing color is provided by a single lobe on each calyx, which becomes two or three inches long.” He initially suspected the flowers would attract hummingbirds and honeycreepers, “but I watched for hours without seeing a single feathered visitor. Butterflies of many colors, along with smaller insects, seemed to be the chief pollinators.”
Sometimes called a wild poinsettia, the Warszewiczia grows in seasonally wet/dry forests throughout Central America to Peru and Bolivia as well as the West Indies. It likes well-drained soil.