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?

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.

Plant Spotlight: Calamondin

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On October 16th

By Debbie Hughes, Estates Horticulturist

calamondin tree

           The calamondin is thought to be a cross between a mandarin (tangerine), and a kumquat thus the botanical name, x citrusfortunella microcarpa.  Calamondins are quite small however when you bite into one of these little gems, your taste buds will perk up. The vitamin-C packed fruit is sour on the inside, but the peel is very sweet.  Many people are not familiar with this mandarin relative, but they were imported from China and have been grown throughout Florida since the early 1900’s.  

            Once picked, the fruit doesn’t last longbut you can juice or freeze them for future enjoyment.  When picking the fruit, use scissors or pruners leaving some stem on to increase the shelf life. Calamondin plants are sensitive to frost and grow best in warm climates.  However, potted calamondins can be brought inside during the winter in colder climates. 

Uses for Calamondin:

  • Ice Cubes: Freeze the fruit whole on a cookie sheet.  Once frozen, store several frozen fruit in a freezer bag and use as ice cubes in iced tea.   
  • Calamondinade: Stir in 1 cup of calamondin juice to 4-6 cups of water adding simple syrup to taste and a pitcher full of ice cubes for a refreshing drink.
  • Calamondin Pie: Substitute juice of calamondin for key lime in your favorite key lime pie recipe. 
  • Calamondin Marmalade: Made the same way as orange marmalade.

            There are several calamondin trees at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates adding to the repertoire of edible plants Mr. Edison grew on the property. The Estates Garden Shoppe has calamondin trees for sale along with many other types of citrus including grapefruit, kumquat, orange, lime, lemon, limequat, and kafir lime.  You can purchase Estates fruits at the Downtown Fort Myers Farmers’ Market on Thursday mornings. 

Click “More” to view Recipe for Calamondin Cake

Read the rest of this entry »

Plant Spotlight: Ackee

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On September 17th

By Dick Dutton, Estates Plant Curator

Ackee, Blighia sapida, Sapindaceae

 ackee fruit

The Ackee (or Akee) is a native to West Africa but found a new home in Jamaica in the 18th Century.  The scientific name, Blighia sapida, is named for Captain William Bligh who took it from Jamaica to England.

ackee hands

The Ackee is related to the Lychee and the Longan and can grow up to 30 feet high.  Ackee fruit opens at maturity, with three cream colored arils, each tipped with a black seed. The edible aril is eaten cooked, but must be mature, fresh, and harvested when the fruit opens naturally. Immature arils, overripe arils, the outer rind of the fruit, the pink membrane under the seeds and the seeds are toxic and can be fatal. When harvested and prepared correctly, the arils are delicious and safe to eat. Ackee and saltfish is highly esteemed in Jamaica, where it is the national dish.

There is a mature Ackee tree at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates just inside the entrance gate to the riverside property on the left.

Plant Spotlight: Dwarf Poinciana

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On August 27th

by Dick Dutton, Plant Curator

dwarf poinciana

The Dwarf Poinciana is a large shrub/small tree that has flowers resembling a Royal Poinciana tree with the advantage of a smaller size. The Royal Poinciana, considered by some the most beautiful flowering tree in the world, is large and can reach 30′ in height with a 50′ spread. This makes the Dwarf Pionciana perfect for smaller yards or lanais where space is limited.

Dwarf Poincianas grow to 8-12 feet and are semi-deciduous, losing their leaves during the winter for a relatively short time. They are easy to grow from seed; germination takes no more than seven days during the warmer weather. There is one tree on the Edison & Ford Winter Estates grounds by the fountain on your way to Edison’s Pier.

Dwarf Poincianas are very popular and are available for sale in the Estates Garden Shoppe located near the Information Booth.

Plant Spotlight: Candlenut Tree

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On August 20th

by Dick Dutton, Estates Plant Curator

 Candlenut Tree

Candlenut Tree, Aleurites moluccana, Euphorbiaceae, Old and New World Tropics

The Candlenut tree is the state tree of Hawaii. It is one of the few trees that has a motto: “Peace, Security and Enlightenment.” The Candlenut tree can grow to 75 feet tall, bears walnut-size nuts and has evergreen leaves resembling the maple in shape.

Parts of the nut are used for cooking, traditional medicine, and soaps. Ancient Hawaiians used the nuts to provide light by stringing them in a row on a palm leaf midrib, lighting one end, and burning them one by one approximately every fifteen minutes. This led to their use as a measure of time, as one could instruct someone to return home before the second nut burned out.

There are three trees growing on the Edison and Ford Winter Estates. Candlenut trees are available for sale at the Garden Shoppe.