Maybe it will grow in Florida, despite what they say


By CHARLES REYNOLDS, Halifax Media Group

Going by the book is a good idea for workers at nuclear power plants — but for gardeners, not so much. I won't dwell on the lengthy list of popular landscape plants that gardening books advise Central Florida homeowners not to cultivate, except to mention that it includes bird-of-paradise, copper leaf, ti plant, crossandra, angel's trumpet, Australian tree fern, croton, snowbush, frangipani and jaboticaba.

Now, all but the last plant mentioned — jaboticaba, a remarkably hardy fruit tree — make sense because they're vulnerable to cold damage.

Most gardeners, however, realize these beautiful tropical plants can be injured by hard freezes but are also aware such mercury-dropping events have become relatively rare. And if they do occur, folks will wait for the cold-stricken plants to recover, or they'll install new specimens.

At the opposite end of the by-the-book spectrum are plants deemed "too Northern" to succeed here. High on the list of such plants just a decade ago are several that are now wildly popular in Central Florida. In the late 1990s, for example, when landscaping a property, I tried to obtain a plant I'd heard was widely used in California as well as in several Southeastern states. The plant was flax lily — now among our most extensively cultivated plants — but the nursery managers I'd contacted had either never heard of flax lily or declared it inappropriate for our climate.

Another plant I wanted at that time was Loropetalum, a Chinese shrub well known in Northern Florida but rarely offered by nurseries on the peninsula. In fact, I couldn't find any for sale and got the same negative response from growers: "It won't grow here." Now, of course, several cultivated varieties of Loropetalum chinense rubrum are widely available.

I'm not criticizing nursery folks: I realize growing and selling plants that — according to local lore — won't thrive is a risky move in a risky business. But that doesn't mean gardeners shouldn't be adventurous and at times ignore "the book." Indeed, plant lovers have — to a large extent — always been the ones who expanded the boundaries of horticulture by trying plants the experts insist won't succeed here.

Numerous palms, vines, fruit trees and flowering shrubs and trees have been introduced by hobby gardeners, not by professionals.

 Charles Reynolds, a Winter Haven resident, has an associate degree in horticulture and is a member of the Garden Writers Association of America.

Last modified: December 26, 2013
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be published without permissions. Links are encouraged.