If you haven’t met the Aroids, now is the perfect time! Step away from your own dysfunctional family and go to Miami to meet this one! The Aroid Family has a big reunion every year at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and you’re invited to the festivities on Saturday and Sunday, September 15 & 16 from 9:30am-4:30pm. The event is presented by the International Aroid Society and the Aroid plants and society members will be on display and for sale (well, the human members aren’t for sale, just the plants). I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some serious Aroid collectors in my time and these people mean business and they’re on to something. These plants are gorgeous, striking, fascinating and unique and have freakish tendencies which other plant families lack. They grow up trees, they hang from trees, they scale walls, they can smell horrible, they can grow huge or be really tiny- the varieties are endless. Many of them have giant leaves which you can cut and place in big glass vases in your home and they last for months. The Monstera or Swiss Cheese Plant even produces an edible fruit. You may have read about Fairchild’s “Mr. Stinky” in the newspaper; he is a Corpse Flower also known as Amorphophallus titanum and he has an enormous and very smelly flower. If you’re lucky, you can meet him. I highly recommend that you visit this show to tour the garden and purchase some Aroids for your own garden. I think you’ll be impressed with the drama they add to your landscape!
It seems that the flashiest and most luxurious landscapes in South Florida include at least one Date Palm. There are several varieties and hybrids such as the Roebelenii (Pigmy Date Palm), the clumping Senegal (Reclinata), and the most massive and stately Canary Island date Palm which is the one that looks like a pineapple and often has ferns growing in the “nut” just below the base of the fronds. However, the True Date Palm which produces the prized edible fruit is the Phoenix dactylifera and is also known by its most popular cultivar name, ‘Medjool.’ So with all of the gorgeous and expensive Date Palms planted all over the place, why don’t we have any dates around here? Dates are amazing; you can throw them in the blender with fruits and veggies to sweeten smoothies or just eat them plain or with peanut butter! They are rich in dietary fiber and also contain antioxidants such as tannins, beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin which are thought to protect against various cancers, are anti-inflammatory and help prevent macular degeneration. If you could find a date around here, you would also find vitamin K, B-complex vitamins, potassium, iron, as well as minerals like calcium, manganese, copper, and magnesium! These palms can be found at high-end resorts, in front of ocean-front condominiums, gracing expensive hotels, framing gated communities, inside malls, and in medians along the beach but no one will ever find a date there in South Florida. If you found these same dactylifera date palms in the Middle East or even in California or Arizona, you’d have yourself plenty of dates. Well, it turns out, these palms don’t produce dates here because they aren’t happy in our climate. They aren’t even grown here; most are shipped in from California and Arizona and are often older trees which have declined in production so they are dug, sold and shipped by a date producing operation to Florida to make room for younger more productive palms. The main reasons that these palms don’t like our Florida climate and growing conditions relate to rainfall and soil. South Florida receives approximately 65″ of rain each year, mainly in the hot summer months as opposed to their preference of 20-40″ of rain when it is hot with low humidity. The water table in South Florida is at 2-6′ so their roots will easily be in water much of the time which is very stressful for desert loving palm trees. There are things we can do to help them stay alive such as planting in sand, in elevated beds and away from water-loving plants but they sometimes remain in a state of slow decline often battling stress induced problems such as Ganoderma butt-rot, Phytopthora bud-rot, Fusarium Wilt, Lethal Yellowing, False Smut, Palm Weevils and nutritional deficiencies. So if you’re looking for dates in South Florida, and there are plenty of reasons to be looking, then you’re going to have to go to find them in a grocery store, which I’ve heard is a pretty popular pick-up location anyway!
I’ve seen Passion defined as a “strong and barely controllable emotion” and also as a “state of outburst of such emotion”. Passion Flower Vines seem to encompass both concepts with their curious varied flowers, fragrance and tenacity as a vine. A few varieties take it a step further and even produce edible fruit!
As a child, I remember first seeing the flowers in advertisements that appeared in various catalogs which arrived to my mother in Virginia. These plants were described as almost alien-like with their crazy structure unlike any other we had ever seen. Luckily, we never purchased them and attempted to grow them that far north, but now that I live in South Florida, I get to see them frequently in people’s yards and at nurseries. No matter how often I see them, they still have the power to stop me every time and make me draw closer to smell or observe them or take their picture.
Humans aren’t the only ones who are passionate about these vines because many varieties attract butterflies who lay their eggs on the newest leaves which will feed their larvae until they reach maturity. In South Florida, there is a native Passion Vine species with tiny flowers and oval leaves which attracts mostly Gulf Fritillaries and Zebra Longwings, the latter being our State Butterfly. It seems that if you have this native Corky Stem Passion Vine or any of the others which feed caterpillars, you will usually have one or the other species of caterpillars but not both at the same time. The Gulf Fritillary caterpillars are orange and black whereas the Zebra Longwings are white and black. The Passion Vine with the bright red flowers will attract hummingbirds and butterflies seeking nectar but are not good host plants for caterpillars.
Native Americans, Aztecs and some people today use these plants medicinally as sedatives and to alleviate insomnia and anxiety. Early Catholic missionaries related various parts of the flowers with symbols of the Passion of Christ, such as the ring of filaments representing the Crown of Thorns, which ultimately resulted in the name of these plants.
In this episode of Eat the Weeds, Green Deane takes us foraging for Passion Flowers and Maypop fruit in the wild. A pretty cool video…