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Discovering one of our sweet old native plants

August 8, 2012
By H.I. JEAN SHIELDS - Garden Club of Cape Coral , Cape Coral Daily Breeze


Special to The Breeze

In the world of gardening there are hundreds of thousands or trees, bushes, flowers, colorful plants not considered flowering, plenty of unscented plants and a bunch of scented trees, bushes and plants.

It takes a lot of years and experience and a lot of brainpower to remember what is what and where it will grow best - so many details with long unfriendly names.

When we are really interested in anything, we manage to remember the particulars of that interest. At other times it is hit or miss, or we can ask a fellow gardener to set us straight.

You can buy books and subscribe to all kinds of magazines nowadays until you have a virtual library all your own. There are garden clubs and plant societies for any kind of bulb, seed or root, just look around. This area has some fine nurseries, and garden centers. Most of them have the proper information needed to be a successful gardener.

The Lee County Extension Center, in Fort Myers is just a phone call away - no excuse for not knowing where to go to find information.

However sometimes you just happen to stumble right over something to really see its beauty and value.

I have just had the stumble experience this past week. My evening walk has been hot, even walking in late evening. While I enjoy everything and person and animal I meet, I have not been scoping out a lot of the greenery along the way. The main goal was to get done and get back to a cool place.

A nice young lady agreed with me about the heat and running outside, she said she has had to do her morning run at 5 a.m. now to beat the heat? Even walking, at 5 a.m. nowadays would result in a wrong person/wrong place scenario for me.

One thing was becoming very evident to me, each evening as I dogged rain clouds along the walk. A beautiful, sweet scent was somewhere along that sidewalk and it took a couple walks to decide just what and where it was coming from. I knew this was not jasmine time, so what was it?

The lovely scent was coming from a very large set of bushes with shiny green leaves curving slightly up and were about 3 inches long. There was a single sturdy main trunk, not very large with dozens of long branches. This was a mass of green about 8 feet high and 12 feet wide. The entire mass along the sidewalk was a nice barrier for the yard and the lania pool about 20 feet behind.

There were many slender dangling, tiny white flowers everywhere, the source of the lovely scent. The flowers were breaking out of tiny rounded green balls.

It reminded me of a Christmas tree with many dangling crystal icicles, even better, if they had been fatter they could have been the lovely hanging lilac - that precious fragrant dangling bunch of scent that we can never grow in the South.

I still did not know what this large green mass of interesting parts was.

Two days later, before I called any smart gardeners who might know what this bush was, I stopped at the summer Native Plant Sale being held at Rotary Park.

There in a three gallon pot was the same plant I needed to know the name of.

Have you guessed the name? It is the native fiddlewood tree, Citharexylum Spinosum. It is native to Florida and the West Indies. It will grow in the south as an evergreen tree or shrub. In cooler climates its deciduous. In one year you can have a decent 6-foot specimen. To keep it as a tree you must start pruning right away. While the bush style is a good barrier, planting it is not tight and thick, however it does work well as a privacy plant. It will grow best in full sun and produce the most flowers in full sun. It is salt tolerant, however could be salt sensitive if a big storm comes through with excessive winds for a long period.

It can be cut to the ground and will start new growth. Not many pests except a moth that can wreck havoc, however what I read it is not a certain thing that this moth will every stop by. Call the Extension Service if you should need help.

It does well in drought conditions and does not need any special soil conditions.

We do know that some compost dug into almost anything we plant around here will be a boost to proper growth.

This is a native plant that is not real plantings. It is not spectacular looking in its 3-gallon pot. You need to find one and see the shiny leaves and its growth habits. Or, of course, use your computer skills.

I am sure the native plant stores have photos of full-grown trees and bushes. This is not going to be a nice neat trim hedge but it is attractive and the birds and butterflies and bees love it. Plant about 7 or 8 feet apart for a privacy hedge.

Round seeds form on the plants and they are encased in a drupe and will be orange or brown, depending on when you notice them. They are sweet and edible. You can start another tree of your own with these seeds.

A good type of native plant for you and your friends to start and pass around.

I know the heavy rain days have slowed, however was glad to hear today that some of Cape Coral had rain all morning. I only had clouds. Maybe this weekend when we get some winds from some tropical disturbances moving slowly in our direction.

Remember this is hurricane season and even though we usually have fair warning of high winds, it takes time to clear the yard and trim bushes and move the pots around to a safe setting. Keep aware of severe storm warnings.

Happy gardening until we meet again.

H.I. Jean Shields is a past president of the Cape Coral Garden Club.



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