14 May

Artocarpus heterophyllus: the Jackfruit tree

Artocarpus heterophyllus or the Jackfruit tree, as it is popularly known, is an evergreen tree from tropical lowlands and rainforests of the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. It is also grown in some parts of Africa, and the Americas for its foliage and fruit.

The jackfruit has a special significance in the history, culture, flora and lifestyle of the Southeastern countries of Asia where it is known by many names including Katthal, Pila and Panos. The tree has been grown in this region for several hundred years as an excellent source of food and timber. Even today, it is an important part of the local flora mainly because of its edible fruit which is one of the biggest tree-borne fruits. The round or oblong fruit grown on trunks and weights as heavy as 36 kg. Typically, the fruit has green skin dotted with small spikes. Inside the fruit is found jelly-like pulp that tastes like banana, apple and pineapple.

Jackfruit Tree, Artocarpus heterophyllus

Jackfruit Tree/ Image via flickr

The fruit is consumed ripe or unripe and eaten raw or cooked in several traditional recipes. Besides its fruit, the jackfruit tree is a good source of timber that is used in the manufacturing of furniture and other wooden items. The timber, when seasoned and polished, gives a rich mahogany-like look. Flowers of the jackfruit tree are quite unusual in shape. Both male and female flowers appear on the same tree in early spring.

Artocarpus heterophyllus grows into a large tree and produces dense foliage thus making it a good shade tree. Usually it prefers a rich soil under bright sunlight. In native rainforest, the jackfruit grows quickly to form a sturdy structure.

07 May

Lovely and Unusual, Clianthus puniceus: the Kaka Beak Flower

Clianthus is a beautiful tropical shrub with very lovely and unusual flowers. Originally native to the New Zealand, Clianthus belongs to the family of Golden Shower and the Orchid Tree, and grows easily in tropical climates – average watering, full to partial exposure to the sun and protection from long, frosty winters.

In its habit, Clianthus grows as a scrambling shrub that can reach up to 3 meters, produces evergreen foliage and clusters of claw-like flowers in summer. The unusual claw-like formation of its flowers gives the plant its common names – Kaka beak, lobster claw or parrot’s bill.

Clianthus puniceus, Kaka Beak

Clianthus puniceus/ Image by Tony Rodd

The most common and commercially grown species is Clianthus puniceus. It is an evergreen shrub which is perfect for growing in a warm and sunny spot where it can be grown in a well-drained soil. The claw-like flowers of red or pink color appear in summer. Typically, a mature plant bears flowers in small clusters that make the plant quite attractive and unusual.

Clianthus puniceus can be propagated from seeds or cuttings.

22 Apr

Lovely Tropical Climber: Ipomoea quamoclit

Ipomoea quamoclit, commonly known as Cypress Vine, is a delicate and fast-growing climber from the family of morning glory. Characterized by delicate, finely cut foliage and lovely scarlet flowers, Cypress Vine makes a good climber for growing against fences and trellises.

Ipomoea quamoclit,  Cypress Vine

Ipomoea quamoclit, Cypress Vine/ Image via flickr

Usually grown as an annual bloomer, this twining vine grows quite fast and grows up to 6 meters and produces smooth-textures foliage. Flowers of pink, red or scarlet colors appear in early summer. The fern-like foliage and small attractive flowers give a tremendous look to the plant. When in bloom, Ipomoea quamoclit attracts bees, birds and butterflies.

Ipomoea quamoclit has many common names including Cardinal Climber, Star Glory, Cypress Vine and Indian Pink.

Ipomoea quamoclit prefers partial to full sun and slightly moist soil all the time. The plant seeds itself freely and can become invasive in some climates.

19 Apr

Lovely Landscape Shrubs: Viburnum

Viburnum is a large genus of flowering shrubs and small trees that offer a wide range of plants for landscapes and gardens. In fact, you can find Viburnums for almost all types of climates and growing conditions. Some of the species grow well in warm and sunny conditions and some prefer colder and shady spots. Some species adore landscapes and some accommodated in small gardens and containers.

Viburnum opulus 'roseum'

Viburnum opulus ‘roseum’/ Image by Dietmut Teijgeman-Hansen

Gardeners grow Viburnums as exotic bloomers that produce beautiful and showy flowers. Flowering starts in early spring and lasts till mid-summer. Flowering is followed by formation of berry-like fruits that are eaten by birds. Most species of Viburnum are sun loving but they accommodate well in partially shaded spots easily.

Viburnum can be propagated from cuttings or layers. The best use of Viburnum is in hedges, borders or landscapes where these lovely bloomers can be grown in groups for abundant spring flowering.

Among many species and hybrids, popular varieties include:

Viburnum x burkwoodii: Large white or pink flowers with strong fragrance.

V. davidii: Shrubby plant often growing into a small tree; makes a good specimen plant.

V. carlesii: Beautiful reddish foliage and slightly fragrant flowers of pink color.

Viburnum opulus: Known for large snowball flowers.

17 Apr

Ornamental and Unusual Succulent Shrub: Alluaudia procera

If you are looking for a striking, unusual and low-maintenance ornamental plant, consider Alluaudia procera – a really striking succulent shrub that can be used as outdoor as well as indoor ornamental plant.

Alluaudia procera

Alluaudia procera/ Image by Natalie Tapson

Alluaudia procera or African Ocotillo, as it is commonly known among gardeners, belongs to a small genus of succulent shrubs that resemble Fouquieria and Crown of Thorns in their structure and growing habit. A typical Alluaudia produces a tall central stem covered with spines and small deciduous leaves. From the central stem appear stout vertical branches. Small white or yellow flowers grow along these branches in large clusters. Leaves usually fall in winter and come back during warm and humid summer. Alluaudia procera can grow up to 3 meters tall indoors and as tall as 18 meters in its native habitat.

Because of its unusual shape, Alluaudia procera makes a nice specimen plant especially when grown in small groups. The plant grows well when provided with bright sunlight, and well-drained porous soil. The plant does not need much watering and is able to survive long spells of drought.

Alluaudia procera is easily propagated from cuttings.

11 Apr

Compact, Evergreen Tropical Shrub: Breynia disticha, the Snow Bush

Breynia disticha or Snow Bush, as it is commonly known among gardeners, is a compact and evergreen shrub from tropical climates across the Americas, Africa, the Indian Sub-continent and Australia. However, it is easily cultivated in colder climates as well.

Breynia disticha

Breynia disticha/ Image by Forest & Kim Starr

Breynia disticha makes an excellent plant for borders where it grows as a small shrub (up to 4 feet) and produces beautiful foliage of green, white and pink colors. The colorful foliage, ease of cultivation and the ability to grow in a wide range of climates make Snow Bush a useful plant for landscapes as well as indoor and outdoor containers. It can also be used as colorful evergreen hedge or as a dwarf shrub for filling unused spaces.

Tropical Snow Bush

Snow Bush growing as hedge/ Image by Forest & Kim Starr

Breynia disticha prefers filtered sunlight, rich soil and slightly moist soil. The plant grows quickly and is cultivated from softwood cuttings or suckers. Flowers of Snow Bush are inconspicuous but the foliage is quite attractive and colorful throughout the year.

08 Apr

Bold and Beautiful, Echium Mr. Happy

Mr. Happy’ – perfect name for a plant that blooms so generously and joyfully. A hybrid of Echium wildprettii and E. pininan, Echium ‘Mr. Happy’ is a beautiful plant that produces a large mound of lovely pink flowers in summer. When in full blooms, the plant attracts bees, birds and butterflies.

Echium wildprettii and E. pininan, Mr. Happy

Echium ‘Mr. Happy’/ Image by anniesannuals.com

When grown in the ground, Echium ‘Mr. Happy’ can grow up to 15 feet and spread across 2 feet with a large bulbous base. A mature plant often forms a group of rosettes with silvery-green foliage. Though not commonly found on local nurseries, ‘Mr. Happy’ makes an excellent accent plant in a garden or landscape design. The plant is quite easy to grow and hardy enough to survive spells of drought. Therefore, it is often found growing in xericapes and rock gardens.

‘Mr. Happy’ can be grown under full to partial sun and in almost any soil that provides good drainage. The plant, however, is not suitable for growing in containers.

20 Mar

Lobularia maritima, the Sweet Alyssum

Sweet Alyssum is one of the favorite flowering plants among gardeners and landscape designers. This small plant with its tiny flowers is very useful in gardens and landscapes – it is a good filler plant under larger specimen landscape plants, it makes dense and flowery mats in landscapes, it also makes excellent border plants, Sweet Alyssum is an excellent container plant as well.

Sweet Alyssum, Lobularia maritima

Sweet Alyssum/ Image by Bill Bumgarner

Sweet Alyssum is a remarkable bloomer too; it flowers all through the spring and continues to bloom in summer. Because of its long flowering season and small size, Sweet Alyssum is often grown as a companion plant with other flowering plants.

Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima), once classified in the genus of Alyssum, is now placed in the genus of Lobularia but it is still known by its common name ‘Sweet Alyssum’ – ‘sweet’ is because of the sweet fragrance of its white or purple flowers.

Sweet Alyssum is quite easy to propagate. It is grown from seeds sown in early spring. The plant requires a loamy and well-drained soil under full to partial sun. With moderate watering and good exposure to sun, Sweet Alyssum grows quickly and starts blooming within a few weeks after germination. In its original Mediterranean climate, the plant grows as perennial, however in colder climates it is grown as an annual bloomer.

Besides the common variety, a number of cultivars of Sweet Alyssum are also available for cultivation. These include: ‘Snow Cloth’, ‘Oriental Nights’, ‘Snow Drift’ and the ‘Golf Series’.

13 Mar

Lovely Landscape Plant: Euphorbia lambii, the Tree Euphorbia

Euphorbia lambii – a lovely landscape tree with evergreen foliage and beautiful yellow blooms in spring. Actually a fast growing shrub, Euphorbia lambii is grown as a landscape specimen for its attractive evergreen foliage of lime-green color. The plant grows up to 6 feet and produces upright, succulent branches. Each branch is usually covered with thick foliage that makes it a nice plant for gardens and landscapes. The plant becomes even more attractive when yellow bracts appear from the center of thick foliage on each branch in spring.

Euphorbia lambii

Euphorbia lambii/ / Image by Brian Pettinger

Euphorbia lambii grows easily in tropical and sub-tropical climates. With low water requirements and ability to grow in almost any soil, it is a good candidate for xericapes. Euphorbia lambii is propagated from stem cuttings and can be grown under full sun. The only challenge is to protect it from long spells of frost and cold.

Because of its trunk and branching habit, Euphorbia lambii is commonly known as Tree Euphorbia.

12 Mar

Lovely Tropical Tree: Amherstia nobilis, the Pride of Burma

Quite hard to find on local nurseries, Amherstia nobilis is a lovely tropical tree known for its showy orchid-like flowers of crimson and red colors. It is a slow growing tree that grows up to 12 meters and produces beautiful foliage.

Amherstia nobilis, the Pride of Burma

Amherstia nobilis, the Pride of Burma/ Image by Jayesh Patil

Amherstia nobilis is native to tropical forests of Myanmar (Burma) from where it has been collected for cultivation. Because of obscure information about the origin of the plant, slow growth rate and difficulty of growing it from seed, Amherstia nobilis is not widely available for cultivation, thus limited to private collections and specialty growers (Kukiat’s Gardens has a nice collection of Amherstia nobilis). Anyways, the tree is worth growing in your garden as it produces beautiful furled foliage and a great profusion of large and showy flowers.

Flowers of Amherstia nobilis have shades of crimson, pink, red and yellow. These colorful flowers appear on drooping branches and create a spectacular show when in full bloom. This is the time when it attracts birds, butterflies and by-passers. In fact, it is rightly called Pride of Burma and sometimes Queen of Flowering Trees.

As Amherstia nobilis is strictly a tropical tree, it requires a lot of sun, moderate water and protection from long spells of frost and cold. The tree can grow in ordinary soil mix that provides good drainage.