I admit that I am a plantaholic, with no reservations or excuses. I have devoted most of my life to the art and craft and occasional science of growing plants. Every plantsman I know has favorite genera or plants. In my case, I have favorite plant families . Fortunately I get to work in a botanical garden where I can grow a wide range of plants within families, and sometimes show off the differences in a genus. One of my favorite genera is Licuala, with which I've had an affinity for decades. There is something elegantly simple about the leaves in the genus. Perhaps my fascination is due to my early reading of the massive Exotica plant book when I was a teenager, seeing the pictures of the plant from far-off Thailand or Java. I always thought of them as tender, fussy plants for collector's conditions, but this is not always the case. At Pinecrest Gardens, we have several species of Licuala, mostly the larger species such as lauterbachii, grandis, ramsayi, peltata 'sumawongii' and spinosa. I stay away from the real collector's items like 'mapu' which need more protected conditions and better water quality than we have here. The genus lends itself well to tropical and sub-tropical gardens, where the species can handle a wide range of growing conditions and water qualities. On Miami Beach at La Gorce Country Club, there are several species of Licuala growing on the golf course, proving that with ample water and fertilizer, some species can grow under "commercial" growing conditions. In Singapore, I saw hundreds of grandis growing as boulevard plantings on Scotts Avenue, and even at shopping malls in Miami, I see spinosa and grandis as massed plantings. The Ruffled Fan Palm is still seen at palm sales, and is still a desirable landscape plant, provided it gets some protection from cold and windy conditions. The palms will show large brown patches of damage, which can take several years to grow out of.
There are numerous species in the genus, and some are mature at just a few feet tall. One of the real jewels in the genus is mattanensis 'Mapu', and even in Miami this is a conservatory plant. Under the right conditions, it looks surreal, with its freckled foliage and dappled-sun patterns. Dr. Jeff Block in South Miami has a great specimen of this species, but he has a conservatory fitted for such conditions, including reverse-osmosis water, acid soil, and total protection from wind.
Many species in this genus are easy enough to grow in landscapes in South Florida. Keep in mind, though, that most of these species come from very stable forest or rainforest conditions, meaning that they need an even supply of water, moist soil, and plenty of mulch to keep the roots supplied with organic material. Some of the species will do well in very sunny conditions, but most like shade in the afternoon. They will propagate from seed quite readily, but be aware they are really slow growing. This explains their relatively high cost ! Most species need to be in pots until they are at least 3 or 4 years old, and would appreciate a lot of organic soil amendments in the planting hole.
This palm genus is one of nearly 100 which will grow in our area. This is another great example of the diversity we have available to us, and another reason why I rail against the frequency of local landscape designs that look like every other part of Florida, rife with Queen Palms and pink Ixoras. We can grow plants in this area unavailable and ungrow-able anywhere else in the country. Let's use the options available to us !!
|the elegant and petite|
enjoys strong light and has some tolerance for cold weather