At the 2005 Collier County Extension Southwest Florida Yard and Garden Show, which was bumped into January 2006 because of Hurricane Wilma, Rob Bobson, president of the Tropical Flowering Tree Society, spoke about some promising species that should be tried in our landscapes. (By the way, our “real” 2006 Yard and Garden Show is scheduled at the Extension office for Nov. 4 and 5.)
Rob owns a landscape company, Biospheric Engineering, in Homestead and travels the world collecting tropical flowering trees that could be used in South Florida. One of the trees that he spoke about really got my attention. It is called the Pink Shower Tree or Wishing-Tree, also known as Cassia bakeriana.
According to Rob, this medium-sized species weathered Wilma without too much damage, unlike its blow-over, yellow-flowering cousin, Cassia bicaspularis. Cassia bakeriana is from Thailand. It has bright pink buds that open to a light pink and finally fade to white. The tricolor effect resembles apple blossoms, but this is not Apple Blossom Shower Cassia, C. javanica. Rob reports that C. bakeriana flowers longer than C. javanica, which is reported to flower 45 days, according to Stephen Brown, Lee County Extension Service horticultural agent.
The photos reminded me of cherry trees in flower around the Tidal Basin at the Jefferson Memorial — very striking. A street planting of these would be a real knockout. They are drought-tolerant, but will defoliate in a dry and cool climate.
I think our landscapes can be jazzed up beyond ixoras, hibiscus and live oaks. We have microclimates, what with all the ponds, buildings and streets and other heat sinks, that will probably allow us to plant more of the “thick-skinned” tropical plants in areas protected from those occasional frosts. Some other striking trees to consider are:
-- Ceylon Ironwood (Mesua ferrea).
-- Golden Gardenia (Gardenia tubiflora or G. carinata) with large, orangey-gold, fragrant blossoms.
Far from being a tropical flowering tree expert, I tend to try new plants and if they don’t perform, out comes the saw and a new plant is tried. I rely on information from Stephen Brown, and some other local experts. Stephen is writing a book on this subject and is sharing his many years of observations at the county’s Web site: lee.ifas.ufl.edu/floweringtrees.htm
He has unavailable-anywhere-else information on these trees: Golden Shower, Silk-floss, Cannonball, Wild Tamarind, Yellow Poinciana, White Frangipani, Perfume Tree, Candlebush, Silver Trumpet, Bahamian Trumpet Tree, Pink Trumpet, Purple Trumpet and Gold Trumpet (the last five are all varieties of Tabebuia).
Another web site chock-full-of-exciting- plant photos is this commercial nursery: toptropicals.com/html/toptropicals/gallery/gallery.htm
I get cries of dismay from individuals saying, “Why do you recommend these hard to find plants? You are just tormenting us!”
I say, “If you want it, you can badger your local nursery to get these something-out-of-the-ordinary plants when our local retailers make their frequent trips to Homestead to restock their plant inventory. “
If the demand is there, the plants, eventually, will be too.
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Doug Caldwell is commercial landscape horticulture agent/entomoglist for the University of Florida, Collier County Cooperative Extension Service. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; phone 353-4244, ext. 203. Web site: collier.ifas.ufl.edu