Tantalizing Tropical Marginals
by Craig Presnell, Florida USA
Click images to enlarge
Water Rose Cactus
Water rose cactus (Pereskia bleo) is a primitive member
of the family Cactaceae and the least succulent of the
cacti. Native to Panama and Colombia, this beautiful shrub reaches
a height of 1-2 m (3-6 feet), and grows along river banks and
in association with emersed Echinodorus. The stems do
have spines typical of the family, but what is not typical are
the large, flat non-succulent leaves. The blooming period is
said to be from summer to fall and numerous rose shaped flowers
colored a bright red-orange are produced. Protected in a shadehouse,
the bloom has continued well into the winter. The flowers produce
odd shaped, non-edible fruits that are bright yellow.
Water rose cactus starts easily from cuttings that can be placed
immediately in damp soil without a drying period. A tropical
plant, it is hardy to USDA zone 9b, but the leaves are deciduous
at temperatures below 5 C (40 F). In summer, it thrives in constantly
moist soil, humid air and light sun to bright shade. Winter care
includes protection in zones colder than 9b and drier conditions.
Fire fingers (Sanchezia nobilis) is a tropical in the
family Acanthaceae from the lowlands of northern South
America. It is an evergreen, herbaceous shrub that ranges in
height from 1.5-2 m (4-6 ft). Known primarily for its vivid foliage
of light green leaves with yellow-white veins, in early summer
it does produce an inflorescence of yellow bracts with red flowers.
In addition to its bold tropical appearance, the flowers attract
both butterflies and hummingbirds.
Listed as hardy to USDA zone 9a, it will drop its leaves at temperature
of 5 C (40 F) or less. A heat lover, it does best at temperatures
above 20 C (60 F) and requires constantly moist but not saturated
soil. It prefers partial shade, but also does well in areas that
receive morning sun. In winter, water can be reduced and, in
areas colder than 9a, it can be treated as a house plant.
The water banana (Typhonodorum lindleyanum) is named
for its resemblance to a banana plant, but is actually a large
aquatic aroid. Endemic to Madagascar and neighboring islands,
this impressive aroid can attain heights of 3.5 m (12 feet).
A tropical perennial, it will tolerate temperatures to 20 C (60
F) but prefers temperatures in excess of 25 C (77 F) and high
humidity. The bloom is a spadix characteristic of members of
the Arum family; with a prominent white spathe, the bloom
is reminiscent of Peltandra sp. flowers.
Unquestionably, Typhonodorum is best used as a specimen
plant in the tropical water garden. It grows well in full sun
and its roots in still waters. Leaves as large as 150 cm (5 feet)
on a long banana-like pseudostem are the reason for the common
name of water banana, but the sagittate leaves more closely resemble
the leaves of Alocasia or Peltandra. The seeds
produced are as large as 3 cm (1+) and edible.
In as much as it is hardy only to USDA zones 10-11, winter protection
is a must. The plants to some degree will grow to fit their containers,
so potted plants can be moved to a heated greenhouse when the
whether cools. The larger the pot, the larger the plant, the
more greenhouse space required, but it is a specimen plant that
to me loses some of its appeal if dwarfed too severely. The alternative
for hobbyists that can provide the plant with an early start
is to save seed. At temperatures above 25 C, the seed sprouts
readily in saturated soil. Given warm temps, full sun and ample
fertilizer, the sprouts grow quickly and really ... if you can
overwinter a banana (Musa), you can most likely overwinter
Typhonodorum. For a little more effort you could then
have a water banana, rather than a banana in water.
Pandan (Pandanus amaryllifolius), a tropical plant
in the screwpine family, is a staple in southeast Asian cooking.
Also known as Bai Toey, Rampe and La
Dua, the fresh or wilted leaves are added as a flavoring
agent and can also be used as a green food dye.
The plant itself grows to be an herbaceous shrub up to 2 m (6
feet) in height. Long, narrow, blade-like green leaves grow directly
from the trunk in fan-shaped sprays. As the plant matures woody
aerial prop roots are formed. Several interesting observations
lead researchers to think that Pandan has a long history of cultivation
and may actually be a cultigen or anthropogenic plant
that is to say, it is not a naturally occurring plant, but is
derived from artificial selection and/or alteration by man. The
facts that suggest this are: pandan is the only member of the
screwpine family with aromatic leaves; it rarely flowers and
then only sterile male flowers are produced; and it is not known
to occur in the wild.
A perennial, the pandan plant is hardy to USDA zone 9, but
is frost tender and so must be protected or the leaves will be
lost. It grows best in shade to filtered sun and requires constant
moisture and regular feeding with a general use fertilizer. We
use a 14-14-14 top dressing and supplement it with 20-20-20 soluble
diluted to half strength. It is resistant to pests and in some
areas the dried leaves are used as a cockroach repellent.
Given its low maintenance, edibility and tropical look, the
pandan is an interesting addition to any water garden.