Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Florida plants revealed

On our trip to Florida I was introduced to a number of plants that I formerly had not seen before.  Some of these made an impression on me and I thought I would talk about those plants a bit.

Lignum Vitae (Guaiacum sanctum)

The common name for this tree sounds more like a Latin genus and species.  Mainly that is because it is Latin.  The words translate to "wood of life."  The wood of this tree is very strong and has had many uses over the years, including structural and medicinal.  I found these trees growing in a couple of planted settings at specific gardens, including Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens and the West Martello tower gardens in Key West (post coming soon).

Lignum Vitae (Guaiacum sanctum) with red seeds showing.

Apparently the tree has very nice royal blue flowers, but we were there after the trees had bloomed and they all had little yellow fruits with red seed pods bursting out of them.  At first I thought the fruits were flowers - yellow with red centers - until I got a closer look.  It wasn't until I came home and looked up photos that I learned the flowers are actually a blue-purple.

Silver Buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus var.sericeus)

Two of the plants on my short three plant list fall in the silver-blue foliage category.  What can I say?  I'm a sucker for this color foliage.  We hadn't been in Miami for an hour before we pulled over and admired this tree.  I did my normal hands-on inspection and found the leaves to be fuzzy and soft like the Lamb's Ear plant (Stachys).  Christie really liked the texture of these leaves.  Buttonwoods were growing everywhere in south Florida, in several different habits.  Sometimes they were small trees, ranging from 10 to 15 feet tall.  Other times, they were grown as little bushes, either natural or trimmed to shape.  Other times they were growing in a pruned hedge.

My lone, lousy picture of a Silver Buttonwood was taken at a nursery which had small shrubs for sale. I can't imagine how I didn't get a better picture on the trip... They were EVERYWHERE!

On our last day of the vacation we were driving from Key West up to Miami.  We stopped on the side of the road and took cuttings of some Buttonwoods and I am really hoping they root for me.  If so, I will try to keep one or two happy in a pot, while transplanting the others in Galveston.  However, I am a little worried that it is not quite hardy enough to handle the Galveston winters.  Maybe I should keep them all in pots at home!

Since I didn't get a very good picture, you should look here and here to see what a mature tree looks like in all it's glory.


Bismarckia is a monotypic genus that is found all over south Florida, the sole species being Bismarckia nobilis.  Since I love silver-blue foliage, this is my favorite palm.  At one point we drove past a tree farm that was just Bismarckia nobilis planted at regular intervals as far as the eye could see.  It was pretty amazing.

Field of Bismarckia palms in south Miami

Young Bismarckia palm in a parking lot in Everglades City

I am going to try to find one of these palms to plant at the Galveston house.  I wonder what the best size is for starting a palm tree on a budget?  Maybe something like the one pictured above.


  1. Did you bring back any seeds from the lignum vitae tree? I really love blue flowers....

  2. I'm pretty sure I drove passed that same Bismarckia farm. They're my favorite palm too! I love them so much it's what I made my flickr account name. When we drove passed that field of palms our entire car let out a gasp and we had to pull a U-turn and go take pictures.

  3. Now I know, that the very first plant I ever bought for mlysef, like 100 years ago, was a Monstera. That brought back lots of memories. It's lovely, and so is your tree. Maybe you can keep it for next Christmas. It would be fun to see how long it would last!?Lilli