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Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden Announces Plants of the Year for 2004

28 January 2005

For decades, new plants have been introduced to Florida gardens by Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden - many times with little or no fanfare. Hoping to change that, Fairchild's horticulture staff has now established an annual plant award program called "Plants of the Year" that will celebrate the very best plants for Miami's gardens.

Using decades of experience, Fairchild's expert horticultural team have selected three plants that will thrive in the South Florida garden. While they are seldom used in South Florida gardens, these plants have great charm, are easy to grow and have few problems in cultivation. Below are their descriptions.

1. Guaiacum sanctum

Family: Zygophyllaceae
Common Name: Lignum Vitae
Location: Entrance to Corbin Building

Lignum vitae's violet blue flowers cloaking dark green, glossy leaves make it an outstanding choice for almost any garden. This rare Florida native tree occurs in coastal forests of the West Indies, Mexico and Central America. In south Florida it is underused in the landscape and even has potential as a container plant for in outdoor locations.

With its dense, rounded habit lignum vitae lends a special texture to the garden. It is a small tree, usually less than 20 feet tall, periodically graced at the same time with flowers and ornamental yellow fruits which open to reveal a single black seed covered in a showy, red aril.

Lignum vitae grows successfully in a wide range of soil types and once established, is drought and salt tolerant. Regular irrigation and fertilizing will enhance growth in this plant, reputed to be a slow grower. Although it flowers best in full sun, it can flourish in partial shade. Little pruning is required to keep it shapely. There are no significant insect pests or diseases associated with this species. Lignum vitae is easily propagated from seed.

2. Neomarica caerulea

Family: Iridaceae
Common Name: Apostle Plant, Twelve Apostles
Location: Windows to the Tropics

The captivating colors and enchanting fragrance of the flowers make Neomarica caerulea irresistible. This lovely Brazilian iris relative is surprisingly uncommon in the south Florida landscape, even though it thrives in a variety of local growing conditions. In the ground or as a potted plant, the sword shaped leaves and iris-like flowers give a similar textural component to the landscape as do temperate irises. The 3-4 striking, lavender blue flowers are highlighted with royal blue and chestnut brown markings over a yellow background. They appear from August through April, each flower lasting but a single day, replaced every few days by new blossoms.

Neomarica caerulea tolerates a wide range of soil and light conditions. The best specimens seem to be in moist, well drained soil in locations with morning sun and some shade in the afternoon. Their fertilizer requirements are modest. Clumps may be divided but propagation from fresh seed is easy and fairly fast. Plants mature to flowering size from seed in less than a year. In spite of its ease of propagation Neomarica caerulea is not invasive. The occasional chewing caterpillar is easily removed and no diseases have been reported. As for cold-hardiness, they will tolerate temperatures into the low 20ºF range.

3. Plumeria pudica

Family: Apocynaceae
Common Name: Bridal Bouquet Plumeria
Location: Visitors Center

Plumeria pudica, a perpetual bloomer with clusters of luminous white flowers and contrasting, unusually shaped, evergreen leaves is a gem for gardens in south Florida. A native of Panama, Colombia and Venezuela, it is a relatively new introduction to nurseries.

A medium sized flowering tree, it may grow to 20M with an upright habit, retaining its spoon-shaped leaves for much of the length of the branches. Early thinning of branches will establish a strong framework and fuller shape. A preference for a perfectly drained, full sun location and a drought tolerance typical of all Plumeria species suggests its usefulness in xeriscape plantings. Plumeria pudica seems to be resistant to the rust fungus that affects most other Plumeria species and hybrids and it is not prone to any other serious disease or insect pest problems.

About Fairchild

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is dedicated to exploring, explaining and conserving the world of tropical plants. It is one of the premier research and education-based gardens in the world and a recognized international leader in conservation. Fairchild has the world's greatest living collection of palms; an education program reaching more than 12,000 school children per year; hosts popular events like the International Mango and Orchid Festivals, the Ramble, concerts, affiliated plant society shows and sales and more; and, is a not-for-profit organization relying on the support of its 19,000 members and benefactors. Fairchild is located at 10901 Old Cutler Road, Coral Gables (Miami), Florida 33156.

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