Horticulture Blog

We are starting something new on this web site. I've been asked to write a blog. The blog will be an opportunity to pass along information about plants in the garden, special areas of the garden, some inside information about the projects staff members of the Living Collections and Garden Landscapes and other departments are working on and a chance for you to make comments and ask questions. I will also talk about our staff and what they do to create and maintain Fairchild.

I have worked at Fairchild since 1973, first as plant recorder, then horticulturist in charge of our three annual plant sales, the intern program, and various other duties. I am now still propagating plants year round, working on the plant sales, supervising our nursery staff and  am the content manager of the horticulture portion of our web site. I hope you will find the blog an opportunity to learn more about our plants and the beautiful Eden we call Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.

- Mary Collins, Senior Horticulturist

Text and photos by Mary Collins

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A David Fairchild collected plant is something to see!

Tue, Dec 31, 2013 at 09:54:46 AM

 

 

Pittosporum moluccanum
Pittosporum moluccanum

 

 

One of my personal favorite trees is currently flowering in Fairchild.  It is Pittosporum moluccanum.  Our tree was grown from seeds which were originally collected in 1940 by Dr. David Fairchild on Tagapulo Island, Samar Sea in the Philippines.  Our tree, now 73 years old, is less than 20 feet tall.  The clusters of small white flowers perfume the surrounding area.  If you would like to see this plant, just walk on the tram road a little south of the overlook wall.  Your nose will tell you ‘Wow!  Pittosporum moluccanum is in bloom!’  It is located right next to the tram road.


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How to Attract Painted Buntings to Your Yard

Thu, Dec 19, 2013 at 06:34:35 AM

 

 

Painted Buntings
 

 

 

 I will never forget the first time that I saw them.  They were almost too colorful to be believed!  My jaw dropped with amazement in the vision before me.  Here was a small bird with an iridescent violet-blue head, green back and cherry-red chest and under belly.  I was watching a male Painted Bunting at a feeder at the edge of Castellow Hammock.  There were other males and also some similar-sized birds that were a muted, soothing green.  I later learned that these were called greenies and could either be female Painted Buntings or immature males.  I sat on a bench about 20 feet from the feeder and the birds.  I was transfixed by the amazing activity of these birds flying quickly back and forth from the shrubby undergrowth of the hammock and the feeder filled with seeds.  The Painted Buntings seemed a bit shy and nervous, quickly disappearing into the woods.

I first saw these birds at Castellow nearly 35 years ago.  Many years after this, I purchased my first home, in an old neighborhood of Homestead.  Just six months after Hurricane Andrew, my new yard had few plants.  I decided to create my own south Florida hardwood hammock and pine rockland habitats within my yard to attract wildlife.  The creation of the hammock began with the planting of two small wild tamarind (Lysiloma latisiliquum) trees and several kinds of stoppers.  The stoppers included white stopper (Eugenia axillaris), red stopper (Eugenia rhombea), red berry stopper (Eugenia confusa) and Simpson’s stoppers (Myrcianthes fragrans).  In addition, I planted a few lignum-vitaes (Guaiacum sanctum) and on the sunny, south edge of the hammock, I planted two Mexican alvaradoa (Alvaradoa amorphoides) and some wild sage (Lantana involucrata).  In just a few years, I had my very own shady woods – my private hardwood hammock!  This type of habitat provided the shrubby, thick growth that Painted Buntings prefer.

I purchased a couple bird feeders and started keeping them filled with bird seeds.  I also attended a local meeting of the Painted Bunting Observer Team (PBOT).  I learned that Painted Buntings have a relatively small range.  According to PBOT, Painted Buntings breed in two separate areas in the United States: the eastern population breeds along the southeast coast (North and South Carolina, Georgia, and the eastern coastline of north and central Florida.  The western population breeds in Kansas and Missouri south to Texas and Louisiana.  Painted Buntings migrate south between early October and mid-November.  Eastern Painted Buntings fly to central and southern Florida, Cuba or the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico.  Western Painted Buntings winter in Mexico and Central America.  We see birds of the eastern populations down here from October through the first half of April.  I learned that their favorite food was white millet seeds.

My feeders are hung on branches of the two Mexican alvaradoa which are on the southern edge of the hammock.  This year ‘my’ Painted Buntings first appeared on October 7.  Two outrageously hued males visited my feeders, enjoying the white millet seeds in the finch seed mix that I use.  Within a few days the two Painted Buntings were joined by additional males and greenies.  As of this writing I have seen as many as ten PB’s at my feeders!

The type of feeder that I find most used by the PB’s is the caged feeder, which is a tube-type feeder surrounded by a wire cage that allows small birds through, but keeps bigger birds from accessing the seed.   I also have a second feeder several feet away.  I use a finch seed mix (mostly millet) which does not include sunflower seeds or corn.  This seed mix is available in local feed stores.  I add seed to the feeders daily and provide fresh water in a nearby bird bath.

I feel honored that some of the wonderful Painted Buntings, the most colorful birds native to North America, spend the months of October through April in my yard.  If you provide the right habitat and plants, food and water you can enjoy them in your yard too!  Get to work!


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A perfect tree!

Sun, Oct 13, 2013 at 01:23:15 PM

Eugenia confusa, redberry stopper, is native to South Florida, the Keys and the West Indies.  It is considered endangered in Florida.  Redberry stopper is an evergreen small tree or large shrub which slowly grows to about 20 feet and can serve many purposes in the landscape. The opposite leaves with interesting, elongated drip tips, emerge reddish turning a medium green several weeks later.  The straight trunk is covered by distinctive finely divided bark.  The canopy remains dense, even in partial shade. White or cream-yellow flowers have numerous, showy stamens that are yellow in color. These flowers occur in axillary clusters in May or June.  The edible fruits are small, drupe-like, juicy red berries which are globose and very showy.   The small stature and narrow crown make the redberry stopper an excellent choice for a small yard or a confined space.  This species may be seen in Plots 3B, 46, 64.

 

 

 

Eugenia confusa
 

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How to care for your newly purchased plants

Mon, Oct 07, 2013 at 06:13:37 AM

What to do with your new plants from the Members' Day Plant Sale

 

What to do with newly purchased plants

After careful reading and perhaps some research, you have selected plants for your home garden.  Most of the plants that Fairchild offers for sale have been grown in light shade to full sun.  When you bring home plants do not stop on the way home and park your car in the sun.  This will cook any plants that are left in the car.  Go home, unload plants, make sure their soil feels moist and water thoroughly those that are dry.  Place the plants in a lightly shaded location and monitor their watering until a suitable planting location is found for each plant.

 

When determining where to place each plant there are several things to consider:

1. How large will the plant become?  Leave enough space between plants to allow for proper growth and avoid overcrowding.  Learn the ultimate size and shape of each plant prior to planting.  Keep this in mind when deciding the location.

 

2. How much sun and water is available in various locations on your property?  Be aware of the shady, lightly shaded and full sun areas of your planting locations.  How much sun or shade does your plant require?  Find the location that fulfills the plants requirements.

 

3. Planting – Once you are sure of what plants are being planted and their location, move the plant into its final planting spot.  Dig the hole about the same depth as the pot size of the plant and wider than the pot’s diameter.  Carefully remove the plant from its container and remove the top layer of soil until you find the first root which is emerging from the base of the trunk.  This is called the root flare.  It is very important that the root flare be at the top of the soil level or within 2” of the surface.  Examine the root ball and cut all roots that are circling at the point before it begins to circle.  This will prevent new roots from circling the trunk again.  Carefully place the rootball into the planting hole and backfill with the soil that was dug out of the planting hole and firm the soil to remove air pockets.  Water thoroughly and let the water drain.  Do this at least three times.   You may add a thin layer of mulch (up to 3”) around the edge of the planting site at this time but leave the area of the top of the rootball exposed so that rain or irrigation can easily reach the roots.

 

4. Establishment.  Newly planted trees and shrubs will require irrigation until the roots grow into the surrounding soil and new growth occurs.  During the first 14 days after planting, make sure that the root ball does not dry out.  This may require watering every day if rainfall does not occur.  Water thoroughly so the entire rootball is moist.  Gradually decrease the irrigation to every other day for two months.  During final establishment plants should be irrigated 2 to 3 days per week if rainfall does not occur.

 

Proper planting and successful gardening requires commitment and knowledge.  Know your plant, its sun requirements and what it will ultimately become.  Plant at the correct depth and commit to monitor the water needs until each plant becomes established.

 

If you have any questions regarding the plants purchased from Fairchild’s nursery at the Members' Day Plant Sale, please contact Mary Collins, Senior Horticulturist:  mcollins@fairchildgarden.org

 


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Garden as if life depends on it

Fri, Dec 14, 2012 at 05:14:06 AM

Have you ever thought about what happens when a native wooded area is cleared for a building site?  It is obvious that the trees and undergrowth has been removed, but what about all the creatures that were living in or would visit this area?  The insects that were feeding on plants growing in the woods are gone; the birds no longer have a reason to visit this location to look for food such as caterpillars and other insects because their food plants are gone.  When a local habitat is removed local extinction takes place.  All the creatures, large and small, are gone from this area. This kind of destruction takes place every day.  The plants and the animals who were visiting the habitat have disappeared.

 Through a process called photosynthesis, plants create oxygen.  Plants moderate weather patterns and plants deliver almost all the ecosystems services that keep us around.  Without plants, animals that depend on them disappear.  Plants make food and provide shelter for animals.  The once pristine world has been converted into cities, suburbs and agriculture for human needs.  Breeding birds have suffered great losses of populations.

 Natural preserves set aside do not provide enough habitats for healthy ecosystems.  We need corridors of native plants to keep sustaining all the animals that depend on them.  Often, our yards support very little biodiversity.  Our challenge is to raise the carrying capacity of our yards and neighborhoods so that they can be healthy, functioning ecosystems.  The carrying capacity depends on plants, the basis of the food web. 

 All plants do not support wildlife equally.  Exotic plants, such as those from China, Asia, etc. do not support local diversity.  Non native plants support fewer insects and thus support fewer birds which feed on the insects.  Nearly all birds depend on insects, especially caterpillars, to feed to their young and must nest in an area where such insects are found.

 Plants produce distasteful chemicals in their leaves for defense against insects.  Some insects have adapted and specialize in order to eat specific plants.  This adaptation takes a long evolutionary exposure to develop this ability to ingest poisonous or distasteful leaves without suffering consequences.  Most insects can develop and reproduce only on the plant species with which they share an evolutionary history. The downside of this specialization is that they must have specific plants in order to survive and reproduce.  An example of this specialization is Monarch butterflies and milkweed.

 So, why should we be concerned about insects?  Many mammals depend on insects as a source of food.  Nearly all nesting birds feed insects to their babies.  Some take as many as 300 caterpillars a day when feeding their young.  Predator birds, such as hawks, feed on the smaller birds.  Other mammals such as squirrels, possums, frogs also feed on insects.  Plants are at the base of the food web….insects feed on them, mammals feed on the insects.  Other mammals feed on the insect feeders.  We cannot remove insects in the local food web without the food web collapsing.

 We need to think about our properties in a different way.  We need to consider, when designing and planting our landscapes, how we can add to the ecosystem services to insure the survival of the food web.  Plants should not be viewed as just ‘decorations’.  Is the solution to just plant native species?  Not necessarily because not all native plants support equal amounts of wildlife.  Oaks (Quercus) and Prunus species are two of the top plant genera that support butterflies and moths.  For further information about plants and the numbers of Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) they support please see:

 http://udel.edu/~dtallamy/host/index.html

 To share our neighborhoods with wildlife we need to:

Create corridors of appropriate plants connecting natural areas

Reduce the area now in lawn – an essentially worthless ecosystem

Begin the transition from non-native, exotic ornamental plants to native ornamentals.

 It is a design challenge of our time, especially in south Florida.  Canopy trees, sub-canopy, a shrub layer and ground covers using native plant material will help to have a healthy food web in our yards and neighborhoods.  Planting natives is a ‘grass roots’ approach to conservation in our own yards.  This is something we can all do.  The way we garden, the way we landscape, is going to determine what life looks like in the future.  Garden as if life depends on it…..

This article was written based upon a lecture by University of Delaware professor Dr. Doug Tallamy, author of ‘Bringing Nature Home’.

 

 

 

                                                                                

Monarch caterpillar feeding on milkweed leaves

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Rare, beautiful palm is fruiting for the first time in Fairchild

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 at 07:04:42 AM

 

 

 

Cyphophoenix nucele
Cyphophoenix nucele

 

 

Cyphophoenix nucele is fruiting for the first time in Fairchild. This palm is native to Lifou Island, one of the Loyalty Islands about 60 miles from New Caledonia.  Lifou Island is about 50 miles long and 10 to 15 miles wide.  The island is flat with no hills or rivers.  It has abundant vegetation, dense interior jungles, fertile soils and beautiful reefs and coral.  Water on the island comes from rain that seeps through the calcareous soil and forms freshwater ponds.

Our plant, in plot 112, is fruiting for the first time.  My propagating volunteers, Lise, Ginny, Mary and Camilo have assisted me in collecting, cleaning and planting 100 seeds.  My plan is to have some plants for distribution to FTBG members and to plant additional ones in the palmetum.


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Learning how to use productive plants to enhance your home, sustain birds, and preserve biodiversity

Wed, Nov 21, 2012 at 08:55:16 AM

On December 8th (1:30 pm) & 9th (1:00 pm) Doug Tallamy, author of "Bringing Nature Home: Using Native Plants to Sustain Wildlife in our Gardens" will be speaking at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden's Butterfly Days.  His talks will be in the Garden House.  I know many people are interested in attracting birds, butterflies and other wildlife into their gardens. I read his book a couple years ago, and am delighted he will be here.  Jennifer Davit, former FTBG Conservatory Manager, has heard Doug speak in Chicago and highly recommends him as a dynamic speaker on a very important topic. 

Because our gardens and managed landscapes are large parts of the ecosystems that sustain bird populations, we must keep them in working order. To do that we can no longer view plants only as ornaments but must consider all of their roles when selecting them for our gardens. Tallamy will discuss the important roles native plants play in maintaining food webs vital to birds in our landscapes, emphasize the benefits of designing gardens with these roles in mind, and explore the consequences of failing to do so. Landscaping in this crowded world carries both moral and ecological responsibilities that we can no longer ignore.

Successful butterfly gardens provide both nectar sources for adult butterflies and host plants for the larval stages of butterflies. It often comes as a surprise that many butterfly host plants are native woody plant species not typically used in butterfly gardens.  Tallamy will discuss these principles as well as the fascinating butterfly behavior you will enjoy if you provide the proper host plants in your garden

 


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Exciting News

Mon, Nov 19, 2012 at 07:03:34 AM

Just a sampling of the amazing Chapungu stone sculptures in the lowlands

 

I must admit that this is my favorite time of year, both here at Fairchild and South Florida in general.  Days are cooler, the garden is gorgeous and the days of heat and humidity are in the past.  This summer has been a whirlwind of activity in the horticulture department.  All the planting inside and outside of  the Clinton Family Conservatory (Wings of the Tropics) has been finished and now butterflies from Costa Rica and Asia are being released into the conservatory.

I've been a lover of insects all my life and the Wings of the Tropics exhibit is becoming so incredibly wonderful with exotic butterflies fluttering among the beautiful flowering nectar plants.  The blue Morpho butterflies are one of my favorites. 

As a member of the hort staff, I've been fortunate to be able to watch the release into the Wings of the Tropics Conservatory of some of the amazing butterflies from Costa Rica and Asia.  Butterflies of many different colors, shapes and sizes are now calling 'Wings of the Tropics' their home.

Last week I witnessed the release of three pairs of hummingbirds into 'Wings'.  So amazing!  The birds immediately flew to flowers and began sipping nectar.  They were raised in captivity in Arizona, so they are quite tame and hovered quite close to people.  We hope that the hummingbirds will begin nesting in 'Wings'  this January to produce a new generation of birds for the conservatory.

The grand opening of the Science Village complex will be on December 1.  See www.fairchildgarden.org for further details.


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What to do with your new plants from the Spring Plant Sale

Mon, Apr 16, 2012 at 10:43:37 AM

What to do with newly purchased plants

After careful reading and perhaps some research, you have selected plants for your home garden.  Most of the plants that Fairchild offers for sale have been grown in light shade to full sun.  When you bring home plants do not stop on the way home and park your car in the sun.  This will cook any plants that are left in the car.  Go home, unload plants, make sure their soil feels moist and water thoroughly those that are dry.  Place the plants in a lightly shaded location and monitor their watering until a suitable planting location is found for each plant.

 

When determining where to place each plant there are several things to consider:

1. How large will the plant become?  Leave enough space between plants to allow for proper growth and avoid overcrowding.  Learn the ultimate size and shape of each plant prior to planting.  Keep this in mind when deciding the location.

 

2. How much sun and water is available in various locations on your property?  Be aware of the shady, lightly shaded and full sun areas of your planting locations.  How much sun or shade does your plant require?  Find the location that fulfills the plants requirements.

 

3. Planting – Once you are sure of what plants are being planted and their location, move the plant into its final planting spot.  Dig the hole about the same depth as the pot size of the plant and wider than the pot’s diameter.  Carefully remove the plant from its container and remove the top layer of soil until you find the first root which is emerging from the base of the trunk.  This is called the root flare.  It is very important that the root flare be at the top of the soil level or within 2” of the surface.  Examine the root ball and cut all roots that are circling at the point before it begins to circle.  This will prevent new roots from circling the trunk again.  Carefully place the rootball into the planting hole and backfill with the soil that was dug out of the planting hole and firm the soil to remove air pockets.  Water thoroughly and let the water drain.  Do this at least three times.   You may add a thin layer of mulch (up to 3”) around the edge of the planting site at this time but leave the area of the top of the rootball exposed so that rain or irrigation can easily reach the roots.

 

4. Establishment.  Newly planted trees and shrubs will require irrigation until the roots grow into the surrounding soil and new growth occurs.  During the first 14 days after planting, make sure that the root ball does not dry out.  This may require watering every day if rainfall does not occur.  Water thoroughly so the entire rootball is moist.  Gradually decrease the irrigation to every other day for two months.  During final establishment plants should be irrigated 2 to 3 days per week if rainfall does not occur.

 

Proper planting and successful gardening requires commitment and knowledge.  Know your plant, its sun requirements and what it will ultimately become.  Plant at the correct depth and commit to monitor the water needs until each plant becomes established.

 

If you have any questions regarding the plants purchased from Fairchild’s nursery at the Spring Plant Sale, please contact Mary Collins, Senior Horticulturist:  mcollins@fairchildgarden.org

 

 


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Edible plants for sale!

Mon, Apr 09, 2012 at 06:38:58 AM

In just a few days, the 33rd Annual Spring Plant Sale will take place at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden on April 14 & 15 during the Food & Garden Festival.  I will be posting some information about the plants that FTBG will be offering.

How would you like to have fresh black mulberries in your breakfast cereal or mulberry cobbler for an evening dessert?  Have you ever cooked steamed lemon grass crab legs or chicken satay with lemon grass?  Would you like to make creamy lemon grass ice cream? 

We will be selling black mulberry, Morus nigra, and lemon grass plants, Cymbopogon citratus, at the 33rd Annual Spring Plant Sale on April 14 & 15. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

fruit of Morus nigra, black mulberry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

lemon grass Cymbopogon citratus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information about the plant sale see our website


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