Saturday, May 28, 2011
CoontieOn a trip to MacClay State Gardens in Tallahassee, I was impressed with the use they had made of Coontie (Zamia pumila). Under tall, spreading live oaks, it had been used as a groundcover. Many of them were grouped together, and I thought, “Wow! That’s beautiful!” Immediately I was reminded that I need a several acre spread to accommodate all of the plants that I want to grow.
Coontie is an evergreen, palmlike perennial shrub that has fine textured, leathery, fernlike foliage. Blooms appear in spring followed by elongated fruit (cones) 3-6 inches long. Seeds are covered with red or orange-red flesh. Male and female reproductive parts are on separate plants.
It is the larval plant food for the atala hairstreak, and large populations sometimes defoliate large plantings. Like most larval plant foods, it recovers and grows new foliage. We in this area don’t need to worry about that, because atalas don’t live this far north. Ability to pull its stem into the earth keeps the plants safe from fire and predation by herbivores. Large storage roots yield an edible starch, a characteristic that earned it the name Seminole bread.
Coontie has been in existence for centuries. It is actually a cycad, a group of plants that were once the dominant vegetation on earth. It adapts to a wide range of soil from alkaline to acidic; loam or sand. Plants should be spaced 36 to 60 inches apart for groundcover use.
Performance is best in some shade. Salt tolerance allows it to be planted near, but not directly on the beach. It is perfect for woodland and shady gardens and is very tolerant of drought.
Though pests are usually not a problem, Florida red scale, which may be fatal, must be controlled. Other problems include sooty mold, mealy bugs, and scale. Plants that are too large or that are infested with scale may be cut back to the ground to produce new foliage.
Coontie is difficult to transplant because of long tap roots, so transplanting and division are rarely successful. Plants should never be removed from the wild. Seedlings sometimes come up around the mother plant. Seeds germinate well but seedlings are very slow growing. Sow immediately after harvest.
Zamia pumila has many synonyms, such as Zamia floridana, Z. angustifolia, Z. integrifolia, and about 42 others. There appears to be a wide-leafed form and a narrow-leafed form. A less hardy relative, the cardboard palm (Zamia furfuracea), is also available. The popular, though not native, sago palm (Cycas revoluta) is another member of the cycad family that grows well in our area.
Coontie is effective in mass plantings or may be used as a border or accent. It is also quite happy in pots, urns, or other containers either indoors or outdoors. I’m determined to find a place in my landscape for a few of these beautiful landscape plants. I wonder what I’ll have to dig up in order to have them. Maybe some azaleas?
At a Glance
Say: ZAM-ee-uh pu-MIL-uh
Family: Zamiaceae (Cycad family)
Other names: Coontie, Florida Arrowroot, Seminole Bread
Origin: Native to Florida, West Indies, Middle and South America
Light: part shade, part sun
Water Use Zone: low
Size: 2-4 feet tall, 3-5 feet spread
Soil: alkaline to acid; loam or sand
Salt tolerance: High
Saturday, May 28, 2011
CleomeNew Cleome Delights a Fellow Plant Geek
At this year’s plant sale people came bearing gifts, as they usually do. Every-day run-of-the-mill folks don’t know that a plant sale is a place where plant nerds gather. They could no more be kept from such an affair than my country Baptist family could be kept from the annual “dinner on the grounds” on the opening day of revival.
I see the plant geeks every year at the garden club plant sale. They’re the first ones there, and they’re looking for something different. They usually find what they’re looking for since my plant collection is quite extensive, and sharing with others who appreciate or even recognize one of my little gems is one of the joys of growing them.
Often they bring me a cutting of this or that, or a tiny plant or some seeds or bulbs that perhaps I don’t have. I accept these gifts eagerly, for nothing is more important to a plant nerd than a gift from another plant nerd. Through this process I have added some wonderful plants to my landscape.
This year one of the gifts was a cultivar of Cleome called ‘Linde Armstrong’. Characteristic spider flowers in a pinkish-lavender color are held aloft by strong, purplish stems. Although it is a dwarf cultivar, and the leaves and flowers are much smaller than the species, it is unmistakably a member of the family. Three-lobed, palmate leaves give the plant a delicate look. It has quickly become one of my favorites.
Granny grew cleome in her cottage garden in Mississippi. I remember it from my childhood. She called it spider flower. She shared her plants with me, and I planted them in my row of flowers at the head of the family vegetable garden. I remember cutting large bouquets of spider flowers and bringing them inside to decorate the top of the piano.
Cleome is a reseeding annual that blooms showy, spidery flowers on stickery plants that grow four or five feet tall and wide. Showy flower heads six inches wide and loosely arranged have distinctive spidery “cat whisker” stamens. Underneath the flowers, long narrow seed pods form, and the plants grow taller and taller on their stems until, by summer’s end, the flower is held on a seedy stem two or more feet long. All summer hummingbirds and butterflies claim their share of the nectar. Once you’ve smelled cleome, you will always recognize it. I can’t say that it smells good, but it is quite distinctive.
Several cultivars of Cleome are on the market now. ‘Helen Campbell’ is white, and the Queen series has flowers that are cherry, pink, rose, purple, mauve and ruby. The Sparkler series are dwarf bush forms with large flowers. And now, of course, ‘Linde Armstrong’ comes along with small flowers and thornless foliage.
I placed ‘Linde Armstrong’ in a container where I could view it up close. Combined with a large, purple-leafed Alocasia and gray licorice plant to trail over the edge, it has been spectacular all summer. I expected it to grow about 18 inches tall, because that is what most of the literature suggested. When I last measured, it was 30 inches tall and wide and still growing. So much for the literature.
Cleome does best in full sun and fertile, well-drained soil. It is very heat and humidity tolerant. A sprinkling of slow-release fertilizer at the beginning of the summer and again about mid summer should keep cleome growing happily until frost.
I wish Granny could see my new Cleome. I know that she would smile and say, “Well, I’ll swan!” as she clasped her hands together and raised them to her cheek in a gesture of surprise and delight. I know the feeling.
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