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?

Name That Plant X ANSWER: Lipstick Tree

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On August 19th

Congratulations to Colin Brenner for correctly identifying this week’s mystery plant!

Lipstick Tree, Bixa orellana

If you’ve eaten cheddar cheese, you’ve eaten the product of this plant. The seeds of the lipstick tree, or achiote tree, are used to make annatto, a common food coloring. It was once used as body paint, insect repellant, and ink for hundreds of years by people living in the Caribbean and Tropical Americas. Today it is mostly used to add a reddish yellow color to food and you can find annatto in the spice aisle of your local supermarket.

The seeds from the lipstick tree grow within a bright red hairy seed pod on the branches of the lipstick tree. The tree may reach a height of 20 feet if left untrimmed. It is rated for zones 9B-11 and does best in full sun. Although the pink flowers are quite pretty, it’s the seed pods that will really attract attention to your garden. And if you’re a chef, the seeds can easily be processed at home for use in your recipes. The Estates recently lost a large lipstick tree in the severe January freeze but two small ones managed to survive and are behind the large bougainvillea on the Edison property. We also have a few lipstick trees available in our Garden Shoppe.

Name That Plant IX ANSWER: Dwarf Allamanda

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On August 11th

Dwarf allamanda, Allamanda schottii ‘Compacta’

This cultivar is made to withstand our tough Florida summers and look great doing it!  The dwarf alamanda should produce bright yellow blooms all summer and into the fall.  You may be familiar with the allamanda vine, A. cathartica, which produces similar flowers.  Unlike the vine, this cultivar should grow into a small shrub, about four to five feet in height.  It blooms best in full sun but will take light shade and may require some watering during the summer. 

Like all allamandas, this dwarf variety contains a milky sap called latex, which can be an irritant to some people.  This latex is used to make natural rubber and the allamanda vine was one of hundreds of species Thomas Edison experimented with in his quest for an American source of rubber

Not a single fan took a guess at naming this mystery plant, so no winner this week.  Stop by the Estates Garden Shoppe to pick up a dwarf alamanda and peruse the other flowering plants available.

Name That Plant VII ANSWER: Golden Dewdrop

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On August 5th

Last week we tested your plant knowledge and asked you to identify this plant:

Congratulations to Barbra Goodrich Justice for correctly identifying it.  As this week’s winner, Barbra will be awarded her own golden dewdrop plant!

Golden dewdrop, Duranta repens

This Florida native is very versatile – it will grow as a free-form small tree in your yard or bloom just as happily in a hanging basket.  The purple flowers of the golden dewdrop are followed by small yellow fruits, thus the common name of this plant.  It is a great butterfly plant, rated for zones 9B-11, and is drought tolerant once established.  If allowed, it may grow to 15 ft tall by 15 ft wide, but will tolerate frequent pruning. 

Although it is unclear when the Edisons first planted golden dewdrop at the Estates, in 1935 Mina led a tour of the gardens and the golden dewdrop was included.  Come see our golden dewdrop behind the Estates ticket office or view the white-flowered variety across the street next to Mina’s Moonlight Garden.  We have several flowering golden dewdrops for sale in the Estates Garden Shoppe: most are the purple variety and are $6 for a one gallon container.

Name That Plant VII ANSWER: Angel's Trumpet

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On July 28th

Congratulations to Megan Kissinger for guessing correctly, a mere 5 minutes after the contest began!

Angel’s Trumpet, Brugmansia spp.

The large pendulous flowers of this large shrub will surely attract attention in your Florida yard.  Growing to a height of 15 feet, angel’s trumpet makes a great accent plant for homes within zones 10-11 and have been reported to survive in zones 8B-9B.  As natives of South America, they require regular watering and do best in full sun or light shade.  There are several species of Brugmansia and many hybrids have been developed, each with a different color including white, peach and yellow.  Blooms are at their largest at night and tend to “perk up” a bit as the sun goes down.

In a 1931 survey of the Estates, Angel’s trumpet was noted in the gardens. However, the flower color wasn’t recorded so we don’t know which species of Brugmansia the Edisons enjoyed.  Today,  white and peach varieties are on the grounds near the Edison Caretaker’s House.  The Estates Garden Shoppe has a few angel’s trumpets for sale if you wish to plant them in your garden.  Please note that all parts of the plant are toxic if ingested and some people do have skin reactions to the plant material.

Name That Plant VI ANSWER: Shell Ginger

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On July 21st

Congratulations to Patricia Travis for winning this week’s Name That Plant!

Shell ginger, Alpinia zerumbet

A tall landscape plant, shell ginger (or one of the many other gingers available), provide striking background foliage in the landscape.  It may grow up to six feet tall and will continue to spread if given adequate space.  It is rated for zones 8-11 but may not flower if affected by frost.  However, our shell ginger is flowering nicely this year after more than a week of freezing temperatures in January.  Part shade and moist soils are best for this plant.  Although it will tolerate full sun, it is not drought tolerant and may require even more water than a shaded plant.  Shell ginger also makes an attractive house plant.

Like all gingers, shell ginger is native to Southeast Asia.  Although it is in the same family as the ginger we commonly use for cooking, the rhizome (or root) of Alpinia zerumbet is not typically used as a spice: the rhizome of Zingiber officinale is what you typically find in stores.  However, the leaves of Zingiber officinale are not particularly showy, and the plant seems to grow poorly in southwest Florida, so it is not marketed as a landscape plant.  The Estates Garden Shoppe sells shell ginger as well as a variety of other gingers, ranging from variegated forms to gingers with purple leaves and unique flowers unlike anything you’ll see on other plants.  There are several large clumps of shell ginger behind the Henry Ford Statue near the Ford estate and several other examples of ginger on the grounds, mainly by the Edison pool.

Globba Ruby Ginger is currently for sale in the Estates Garden Shoppe.

Name That Plant V ANSWER: Coppperleaf

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On July 14th

Last week we asked you to identify this plant.  Not a single one guessed correctly.  The answer is Copperleaf.

Copperleaf, Acalypha wilkesiana

The multi-colored leaves of this tall accent plant are quite distinct and add a year-round splash of color to the landscape.  Reaching 15 feet in height and 8 feet or more in width copperleaf generally requires occasional trimming to keep it in check.  Copperleaf plants prefer moist soil but will tolerate short droughts once established.  Native to Fiji and the Pacific Islands, it is rated for zones 10-11 but is sometimes grown in colder climates as an annual.  Smaller plants can do well indoors, especially in bright light.

A cultivar of this plant, A. wilkesiana ‘Miltoniana’ was purchased for the Edison’s property in 1908 and was recorded as late as 1936, so the Edisons probably enjoyed this plant for many years at their winter home.  Today, there are many cultivars of the plant and we sell a few cultivars in the Estates Garden Shoppe.

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.

Name That Plant ANSWER

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On May 10th

On Friday, we asked our fans if they could identify this plant:

The plant is the fruit of the pin cushion tree (Sarcocephalus latifolius), sometimes called African peach.  The tree is in the public gardens near the ticket office at the Estates.  The fruit will turn a rosy pink as it matures and it resembles a pin cushion.  Fruits are edible but not very tasty.