I have a lot of people ask me, at this time of year, what is wrong with their mahogany or gumbo limbo trees as they are losing their leaves. I often compare the Florida spring to the northern fall season. Many of our trees are deciduous in the months of April and May. This is a short-lived condition as some of our local trees shed their leaves. Some, such as the tabibuia or shaving brush trees, are preparing to flower and will lose all most all of their leaves before flowering. Others will only lose some of their leaves. These leaves are good to leave in the gardens to decompose as organic matter into our sandy soil. Palm trees will lose many more fronds this time of year.
We are lucky to have a beautiful specimen of shaving brush tree to enjoy in our neighbor’s yard. Our neighbor, Katie Johnson, just passed away at 99 years of age. Katie was a great neighbor. She loved to garden and watch the birds, fish and wildlife around her. We would marvel together at different birds that would arrive in our yards at different times of the year. As a gardener she was untiring. Always sharing cuttings or cleaning and raking fallen debris. Into her early 90s, she would dutifully rake the fallen leaves from her shaving brush tree, including from our yard. I would always assure her we didn’t mind the leaves and that they were good compost for the soil. But she would clean both yards anyway. Peter and I will miss Katie but will have reminders all around us as this special tree goes into it’s spring ritual or the little mud hen, that she gave me from a cutting, flowers in my garden each year. We swear there were twice as many flowers on the tree this spring. Is that you Katie?
The shaving brush tree, a native to Mexico, is a small tree at around 30 feet in height. It is suitable for bonsai and has very interesting bark with stripes of green, yellow, brown and white.
More interesting are the pink, brush-like flowers. You can sit in the evening and watch them pop open. The honey bees love them so much, the tree buzzes with their activity. The woodpeckers and flycatchers also love these flowers. Our purple Martins use the flowers for nesting materials We have entertained many guests in the evening with our neighbor’s tree.
The tree is deciduous in early spring, followed by the wonderful flowers.
The new leaves are bright red turning green as they mature. This tree gives us a different view of the horizon as it changes during our Florida seasons.
Eileen Ward and her husband, Peter, own and operate Greensward of Marco Inc., a lawn maintenance and landscaping company. Besides completing horticultural courses from the University of Florida, she has a commercial maintenance spray license and is a registered dealer in agricultural products in Florida.