African plants thrive in Florida sun


Halifax Media Group

Let’s begin the year with an armchair journey to southern Africa, a region that, for gardeners, may prompt images of succulents and bulbs: Plants that must endure seasonally arid conditions. But some areas of southern Africa are verdant and are home to flowering trees, shrubs and vines.

A genus indicative of southern Africa’s diversity is Clerodendrum, which includes the beautiful glory bower (C. splendens), an evergreen twining vine with glossy, heart-shaped leaves and clusters of scarlet blossoms in winter and spring. Equally fetching is the bleeding-heart vine (C. thomsoniae), with red-and-white flowers most of the year. This popular vine climbs only 10 to 12 feet high and is an excellent choice for a trellis or arbor in sun or light shade.

My favorite African shrub is the elegant butterfly clerodendrum (C. ugandense), a 6-to-10-foot-tall species that bears white-and-violet butterfly-shaped blossoms in loose clusters. This beauty should be provided with moist, organically enriched sites in sun or light shade.

Unrelated to the preceding three species is the Mickey Mouse plant, so named due to the glossy black seeds that, combined with its red capsules and sepals, bear a resemblance to the world’s most famous rodent. The Mickey Mouse plant (Ochna mossambicensis), an evergreen shrub up to 10 feet tall, bears bright-yellow blossoms in spring, followed by those evocative fruits and seeds. It grows in full or part-day sun.

When it comes to cool-season flowers, one of the best south African plants — if you have the space — is cape honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis). This large, scrambling shrub features clusters of tubular, orange blossoms from mid-autumn to mid-spring. Cape honeysuckle, which revels in sunny, well-drained sites, suckers freely, making it a good choice to fill a vacant corner of the garden. Established plants are cold hardy and drought tolerant, with no significant pest or disease problems.

Perhaps the best-known southern African plants are the distinctively flowered bird-of-paradise (Strelitzia reginae) and white bird-of-paradise (S. nicolai). The bird-of-paradise, six feet tall at maturity, boasts orange-and-blue blossoms, while the tree-like white bird — up to 30 feet tall — displays white-and-blue flowers. Both of these herbaceous shrubs bloom intermittently on sunny, fertile, well-drained sites.

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: January 8, 2015
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