Tropical Florida Gardens - What's in Bloom at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates?

Tropical Florida Gardens

What's in Bloom at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates?

Botanical Tours on Tuesdays & Fridays at 10 AM

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On September 17th

Beginning October 1, 2010, the botanical tour at The Edison & Ford Winter Estates will be on Tuesdays and Fridays at 10 AM.  This tour includes a walk through the historical gardens of the Edison and Ford Estates with a behind-the-scenes tour of the Estates Propagating Nursery.  The tour is never the same twice as it changes frequently to highlight plants currently blooming or fruiting.  With the change in flowers and fruits comes a variety of aromas for tour goers to experience, from Chanel No. 5 to buttered popcorn to bubblegum.  Participants will learn about the historical and cultural significance of the plants, including the world famous banyan tree, the 90-foot kapok tree, and the sausage trees. 

During the botanical tour, visitors will learn why Thomas Edison purchased his Fort Myers property in 1885 and how he and his family developed the landscape over the years.  Edison’s original design for his winter estate included areas for a research laboratory, family gardens, and work areas.  Each of these areas is visited on the tour and the relevant history is detailed.  Several trees that were planted during Edison’s time still stand and garden features, as well as Mina’s Moonlight Garden, which have been carefully restored to reflect the look, feel and scent of the historic landscape, are visited.

The Estates gardens contain more than 1,700 plants representing more than 400 species from six continents.  The collection includes tropical fruit trees such as mango, citrus, papaya and sapote, as well as orchids, bamboo, bromeliads, cycads, and more than 50 species of palms.

“Whether you are an avid gardener, are just starting your own garden, or simply have an interest in botanicals, the Estates tour is a must-see for Southwest Florida gardeners,” says Britta Soderqvist, the Estates Plant Curator.  “On the tour, you will get an up-close look at thriving fruits, flowering plants and palms that can be easily grown in our area, as well as the opportunity to ask questions about Florida gardening.”

The Estates Garden Shoppe is open daily from 9 AM – 5:30 and offers a variety of heritage plants, herbs and other tropicals for purchase. The cost of the botanical tour is $24 for adults, $10 for children 6-12, and FREE for Estates Members.  Visitors may upgrade their ticket for $6 to include a self-guided audio wand tour of the historic buildings and museum. Group botanical tours are available at a discounted price and may be scheduled throughout the week based on availability.    To schedule a group botanical tour call the Estates at 239-334-7419.

Name That Plant III ANSWER: Strawberry Tree

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On June 28th

by Britta Soderqvist, Plant Curator

Last week we asked you to identify this plant:

Today, we have the answer for you –

Strawberry Tree or Jamaica Cherry, Muntingia calabura

This is a perfect tree for a lazy gardener!  Do you enjoy sweet, home-grown fruit like strawberries but don’t like all that bending and stooping to plant, weed and harvest?  The strawberry tree produces copious amounts of small, sweet fruits at least twice a year, all at knee level or higher.  Don’t like to spend the money and effort fertilizing and watering your garden?  This tree grows well in poor soils and is even used to help revegetate disturbed and eroded soils in some parts of the world.  Once established, the strawberry tree shouldn’t require any extra watering except in prolonged droughts.

The strawberry tree (named for the flower that resembles the strawberry plant) may grow up to 40 feet, but the fruits will easily fall to the ground when the tree is shaken.  Although not native to Florida, it is native to the tropical Americas and will do well in areas that do not freeze often (Zones 10-11).  If you live in a colder climate, plants grown in pots should still produce fruits.  Although it is reported that wildlife will eat the fruits, there are plenty of ripe fruits underneath the Edison & Ford Winter Estates trees, suggesting that our local birds don’t care for them.  The large tree at the Estates (across the paved road from our Banyan Café) was planted in 2006 and is approximately 15 feet tall now.  The Estates Garden Shoppe sells strawberry trees for $10-$15 depending on the size of the plant.

Plant Spotlight: Fringed Hibiscus

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On June 21st

by Britta Soderqvist, Estates Plant Curator

Fringed Hibiscus, Hibiscus schizopetalus

The fringed hibiscus is a fast-growing shrub native to Africa.  Like other hibiscus, it has five petals and a long stigma, but the petals of this plant are divided and the whole flower hangs down, creating a unique, lantern-like effect.

Our records show that Mina and Thomas Edison enjoyed the beauty of the fringed hibiscus, purchasing at least one plant for the Estates in 1908.  Hummingbirds are known to visit the flower and it’s likely that is one of the reasons the Edisons, both avid bird lovers, planted it on their grounds.

Fringed hibiscus will grow in full to part sun although a full day of Florida’s summer sun is probably too much.  During drought, water heavily once a week.  Individual flowers will bloom for just one or two days but the plant should be in bloom during most of the warm months.  The shrub may reach ten feet in height and spread five to six feet on average.  Mature plants should recover from a light freeze.  Fringed hibiscus may also be grown in pots or hanging baskets.

You can see our mature fringed hibiscus behind the large bougainvillea near the Moonlight Garden.  Plants in six inch pots are available for $12 at the Estates Garden Shoppe.

Plant Spotlight: Dwarf Poinciana

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On June 17th

by Britta Soderqvist, Estates Plant Curator

Dwarf Poinciana, Caesalpinia pulcherrima

This is a fast-growing shrub or small tree, growing up to 12 feet in height and sometimes 12 feet in width.  It blooms best in full sun and tolerates drought well.  A variety of flower colors are available, although the yellow and red variety (pictured above) is most common.  Flowers can appear year-round but are more prolific during the warm months.  The Dwarf Poinciana is thought to have originated from the West Indies and the tropical Americas.

Unlike its larger “cousin” the Royal Poinciana, the Dwarf Poinciana can grow in cooler temperatures.  It has been known to survive in temperatures as low as the high teens.  During extreme cold, it may die back to the ground but will likely recover.  Dwarf Poincianas will bloom when potted but they do better when planted in the ground. 

If you love the look of the Royal Poinciana Trees that are blooming all over McGregor Boulevard but don’t have the room for such a large tree, consider purchasing a Dwarf Poinciana from the Estates Garden Shoppe.  Plants in 6 inch pots are $10 and have been selling quickly. You can see our Dwarf Poinciana in full bloom next to the fountain between the Edison Main House and the Moonlight Garden.

Plant Spotlight: "Buttered Popcorn" Tree

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On June 9th

by Britta Soderqvist, Estates Plant Curator

There is a tree at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates whose small white flowers smell like buttered popcorn!  It just started blooming in late May.  The plant’s name is False Rubberwood (Mascarenhasia arborescens) although the common name is not really used much.  We typically refer to it as the “buttered popcorn tree”.  It grows to about 20 feet high and although the online resources say it prefers full sun, ours is growing in partial shade.  The False Rubberwood is native to tropical regions of Africa and requires a moderate amount of water . 

Visitors can smell the flowers on the tree that is next to the kapok tree behind the Banyan Café.  It’s fairly difficult to find these in Florida but the Estates Garden Shoppe has a few of these trees for sale in pots.