The name Acalypha is from the Greek meaning nettle. The majority of Acalypha are native to the Americas with a few native to Africa.
Acalyphas are easy to grow; they are not fussy about the soil and are very drought resistant. They work well as specimens, informal hedges or planted in groups as a background and wind break to smaller flowering plants. If Acalyphas become leggy, prune to get into shape and use the pruning’s for cuttings.
All Acalypha’s are susceptible to attack from white-fly, meal bug and spider mite. Once infested by any of these it is best to prune out the infected areas.
Acalypha hispida, has large green leaves with a mass of hanging red flowers that give the plant its common name, ‘Red Cat’s Tails’. It does well in semi shade planted in the ground or potted. It is important to remove the dead ‘cat’s tails’.
Acalypha wilkesiana is grown for leaf colour of which there are many different varieties. It can grow into a large shrub and requires plenty of space and full sun to achieve the best colours.
Acalypha wilkesiana ‘Hoffmanii’
Acalypha wilkesiana Hoffmanii is a favourite of mine and an attractive space filler. It prefers light shade. Keep pruned to the required height.
Acrostichum speciosum or Leather Fern, is a mangrove fern and is one of only a couple of ferns that manage to grow in saline water. At the coast this thrives in garden ponds (fresh water). It will grow in full sunlight or shade; but does not like being planted too deep. Once established it gives no trouble but and needs to be kept under control as in no time it can take over a small pond. Young plants move easier and recover faster than old established plants. Palm weavers love to nest and use the fronds for building material.
Note Acrostichum aureum is similar to A speciosum but it is golden in colour.
Family Malvaceae – was Bombacaceae
The common name for this stately tree is the Baobab. It was named after Michel Adanson, the French naturalist who first described the Adansonia digitata.
Most of the Adansonia are indigenous to Madagascar but Adansonia digitata is native to Africa. In the early stages the Baobab is hardly recognizable as the ‘monster’ of a tree it becomes. The Baobab is the largest succulent in the world, shedding its leaves during the dry season. It can store as much as 100,000 litres of water in the trunk and can reach heights of up to 30 metres, whilst the trunk can measure as much as 15 meters in diameter. Radiocarbon dating has provided data on some specimens, which are at least 2000 years old.
Michel Adanson (1727-1806) was one of the most important naturalists of the eighteenth century. Naming Adansonia digitata was in recognition for all his research and work, collecting, recording, and writing volumes on many natural history subjects.
The Adenium obesum or Desert Rose is indigenous to Kenya and other parts of Africa. It is a succulent and stores water in its roots and can go for long periods without water.
The Desert Rose can be planted directly into the ground or into pots. Moving or re-potting should be done in the dry season to give the roots time to re-establish before the rains (Root rot is one of the biggest problems with Desert Roses). Whether planting Desert Roses in the ground or pots don’t plant them too deeply. This helps prevent root rot and the exposed roots add character to the plant.
When growing Desert Roses in pots, make sure the soil drains easily. This is especially important during the rainy season. Desert Roses in pots will grow huge roots and so should be re-potted regularly.
Desert Roses are pretty disease resistant. Occasionally scale attack the underside of the leaves but these can be removed by hand. A yellow aphid with black legs is particularly fond of this plant, their favourite place being around new forming buds, but here a little soapy water sprayed will see to their invasion. I am told the Kula miti beetle is deadly on the plants.
Propagate from cuttings or seeds. Fresh seeds germinate easily; just keep the seed compost on the dry side and once germinated continue to keep the seedlings dry. Cuttings root well, and this is the best way to achieve true plants. Dip the cuttings into rooting hormone and plant in good quality building sand until they root. Then move them on, making sure not to over water, otherwise the cuttings will rot instead of taking root.
The sap of the Desert Roses is highly toxic. It is used to poison arrows for hunting.
The Adiantum aethiopicum or Maidenhair Fern is a delight in the garden but getting the right conditions can be a challenge.
Maidenhair Fern needs to be grown in a coarse mixture, with plenty of compost and manure and it needs to be in the shade. This is quite temperamental plant, until it finds a place that it is really happy. If it is allowed to dry out, the leaves will turn brown and the plant will probably die. It will also die if it is over watered. If your plant looks dead, give it a chance as sometimes, even if it has nothing to show, it may re-sprout. It is free from the usual garden pests.
Adonidia merrillii syn Veitchia merrillii
Adonidia merrillii, better known as the Christmas Palm, was named after Elmer D Merrill, the 20th century botanist. It a moderately fast growing solitary palm that resembles a dwarf version of the royal palm (Roystonea regia). It is easy to grow and drought resistant. It is tolerant of poor soil, slightly salt tolerant and prefers full sun.
Once mature, the palm flowers constantly and proves a great attraction to bees which can be seen in the morning enjoying a feed. Orchids also thrive on A merrillii. The fruits turn bright red before dropping to the ground and germinating, producing thousands of young plants.
Aglaonema was first introduced to the West in 1885: since then it has been hybridized many times, giving leaf variations in great numbers. The Aglaonema is closely related to the Dieffenbachia and the Arum family and enjoy the same humid, shady ’jungle ‘area for growing. The soil should be kept damp.
In Asia Aglaonema are considered to be a lucky plant, and even reputed to have predicted a winning lottery ticket number! Propagation is by dividing
Aglaonema are poisonous and can irritate the skin.
Aglaonema costatum The dark green leaves with the white spots makes it rather special. It likes to grow in deep shade with good moist soil and lots of compost. It is pest free.
Aglaonema marantifollum grows in the garden and makes a most attractive ground cover. It hates cold conditions and so thrives at the coast in shady areas. It does better with good soil that has lots of compost.
The Genus is named to honour Frederich Allamand, the 18th century Swiss botanist. This tropical shrub originally from South and Central America. .
Allamandas love the sun, and do well on the sea front, withstanding the salty sea breeze. They are extremely drought tolerant. They are vigorous climbers and do well when trained on trellises or arches, or used to cover an unsightly wall but they need strong support to climb on. They can suffer badly from the fungus Coleospo-rium.
Allamanda blanchetti has funneled shaped reddish maroon flower. This is not as free flowering as the yellow varieties and the flowers fade when grown in full sun.
Allamanda cathartica is the largest flowering yellow variety.
Allamanda schotti has smaller yellow flowers. It flowers freely year round.
Alocasia or Elephant ears, is a large family with 79 species of which all are tropical or sub-tropical. They can grow very large if they are given the right conditions. They can be grown in the ground or pots and the medium should be rich. They prefer shade, but can grow in full sun in which case they require more water and feed, – the leaves may get burnt.
Alocasia amazonica grows well outside but requires full shade and has to be kept on the dry side. Too much water or direct sun and it certainly goes into a decline.
Alocasia macrorhiza is easy to grow and can take a fair amount of sun.
Alocasia plumbea is happy at the coast. This young plant has just produced a flower.
Alpinia purpurata, a native to Malaysia, is a showy plant that flowers easily and these last a long time. To be at its best, it needs to be planted in rich soil with frequent top dressing of compost and manure and a fair amount of water. It grows well in part shade or full sun and does well in large pots. There is a pink variety. Propagation is by division.
Alpinia zerumbet likes a rich soil in full sun or partial shade. Like other Ginger’s it needs good rich compost and manure and as much water as can be spared, and in return it will produce beautiful flowers that resemble sea shells. It is not as free flowering as Alpinia purpurata.
There is some confusion regarding the Amaryllis and the Hippeastrum. Most of the flowers called Amaryllis are in fact Hippeastrum. The true Amaryllis is a small genus, with only two species, which are native to South Africa and found in the Western Cape. Amaryllis belladonna often called the Belladonna Lily – or ‘naked lady’ (because the flower appear on a long stem before the leaves) is the best known.
The name Ananas is taken from the Tupi (people) word ‘nanas’, meaning “excellent fruit”. Circa 1398 the pine cone was originally called a pineapple but some three hundred years later the name was changed to “pine cone”. In 1493 Christopher Columbus came across the fruit on the island of Guadeloupe. There is a painting by Hendrick Danckerts showing Charles II accepting a pineapple. It is said that this was the first one to be grown in England. It became very fashionable to grow fruit in hot houses, especially pineapples, and houses called Pineries were built for that purpose. It was a symbol of wealth to have exotic fruit displayed on the dinner table; though these were not placed there to be eaten and were often returned to the table for other parties until the fruit became rotten. The cost of producing a pineapple in those days was in the region of £6000 in today money.
If grown correctly, the pineapple takes up to 2 years growing before it flowers,; Mine have been moved so are taking longer. The pineapple has approx 200 flowers, joined together to create the fruit. Fruit from pollinated flowers do not have the best flavour and, where pineapples are grown commercially, pollination is discouraged.
The pineapple stops ripening once it is picked, so select one with a good sweet smell. The fruit can be left at room temperature for a couple of days before serving – this will not make the fruit any sweeter but it will become softer and juicer. When eating fresh pineapple it can cause a sore mouth – this is due to the calcium oxalate in the plant, which is found in Bromelaids.
The Annona species originated in South America and now flourishes in most tropical climates. Both the Annona squamosa Custard apple and Annona muricata Soursop grow well with little or no extra attention.
Annona muricata, commonly called Soursop, is an attractive tree in the garden that grows well in full sun but it tends to shed its leaves if salty breezes catch it. The flowers are waxy and shaped like tiny cabbages. Mine seemed to fruit continuously; the huge heart shaped green fruit with shiny, spiky skin sometimes measured 20cm long. It has a slightly acidic taste but is quite palatable and can be eaten unprepared, made into a juice or ice cream. The leaves, seeds, bark, root and fruit are all used medicinally and it is said that Soursop is excellent in the fight against cancer.
Sadly, the specimen growing so well in my garden suddenly for no reason (except too much coral) turned up its toes and died.
Annona squamosa, the Custard apple, also grows freely at the coast. The tree is not as attractive as the Annona muricata but it fruits all the time. Mealy bug, particularly on the fruit, can be a problem.
The species originates from South America. There are 800 – 1500 species though this is only an approximate number as new species are still being found. Anthurium andraeanum is an epiphyte (a plant that prefers to have its roots out of soil, taking nourishment from the air; these often grow on another plant or tree, like orchids). The ‘spathe’ or red part of the anthurium is not the flower; these are tiny and grouped on the spadix. The plant is an hermaphrodite containing both male and female flowers.
Anthuriums do not like to be planted in heavy soil, the best soil mixture being spent chopped coconut husk, mixed with a little proper garden compost (not garden soil). Along with that may add some coral chips of around 1/2″ – 1″ diameter (no smaller). As the plant grows, keep adding more spent coconut husks. Anthuriums like high humidity so it is important to water/spray at least once a day during the dry season, either late evening or early morning. Do not over feed – spent cow manure is the best but excess fertilizer can hurt – less is more. They prefer indirect light but a little direct sunlight will not hurt, especially if it is early morning or late afternoon. To propagate, divide the plant once it has become large enough.
The Anthurium is listed in the NASA Clean Air Study as removing ‘nasties’ like ammonia and formaldehyde from the air.
Anthurium bonpladii. It was quite a surprise when I realised that my plant was an Anthurium as it doesn’t look at all like any others I have. It is very easy to grow. Sometimes it has been in full sun; other times in deep shade, it seems to thrive where ever it is placed.
Anthurium crystallinum. This it is not the easiest of plants to keep looking healthy and at its best. Unlike other anthuriums, this plant does best in a pot on the dry side – too much water or direct sun and it goes into a decline. Once I threw one of these plants away in disgust only to find it a months later, when with no water and no TLC it had recovered and was doing very well thank you. Neglect may be the best method of looking after this beautiful plant!
Antigonon leptopus is native Mexico. It is a fast growing perennial, that is very untidy, It tolerates poor soil, a wide range of light conditions, and covers coral within the reach of sea spray. Once it is established in the garden it is difficult to eradicate as it has underground tubers, which pop up all the time. In Florida it is categorized as invasive species and listed as (Category II invasive exotic).
Aphelandra deppeana is native to the tropical regions of America. It grows well in the garden in full sun. It is a greedy plant and requires rich soil with plenty of humus and frequent top dressing. Don’t pinch off the tips, as this is where the spike of flowers appears. Propagation is by cuttings, side shoots or layering.
Arachnis flos-aeris var
Arachnis flos-aeris var commonly called Scorpion orchid, is native to mainland Malaysia, Sumatra and Java where they can be found growing in the mangrove forests. Treat this like other orchids and plant next to a tree where it can clamber up. They like some protection from the hottest part of the day, but also need good light. Spray at least once a day.
Argemone mexicana is native to Central America and Mexico. Argemone mexicana is a very decorative plant with fascinating leaves and when the flowers appear it is quite beautiful. For a while this struggled in the garden but now it is happy and it is everywhere. The problem is it self-seeds so tiny plants are springing up and they are so prickly, removing them is difficult. Change of heart – this is a nasty invasive prickly weed.
An Artocarpus altilis or Bread Fruit tree is growing in the garden, but it’s going to end up as a failure. Unlike the neem that is able to use the coral to its advantage, this poor tree is not flourishing. It has been in the garden for about six years and, in the beginning, it grew well and produced fruit but, now it has become larger, the poor tree looks sad and will probably die or go into such a serious decline that it will have to be removed.
Asplenium nidus or Bird’s Nest Fern is native to many tropical countries including Eastern Africa. It can grow as an epiphyte or a terrestrial plant.
It needs to be grown in heavy shade with high humidity. It is a greedy plant and likes a top dressing of compost with plenty of humus including spent coconut husks and old cow manure on a regular basis. It is not easy to propagate as there are no side shoots.
The Aster grows happily anywhere in the garden. It does best in containers and mine are near the sea front in full sun. With a little water, it will flower continually. Once a flush of flowers is over, cut back the dead heads, top dress generously, and water – another flush of flowers will follow. It is fairly drought resistant and, without water, will lay dormant waiting for rain. It propagates easily by dividing the plant.
Aster macrophyllus white
Aster novae-angliae ‘Purple Dome’’
Aster oblongifolius ‘October Skies’
The Averrhoa carambola or Star Fruit grows well in the garden making an attractive ornamental tree. It is not fussy about the soil or lack of it, growing well into heavy coral ground. It likes to grow in full sun and is drought tolerant. The sea breeze causes the leaves to fall but the salinity does not affect the roots.
Averrhoa carambola flowers after rain or being well watered and then bears the edible fruit from which it is named. The fruit flesh is crunchy, firm, and extremely juicy, with a texture similar in consistency to a grape. Fruits can be picked while still slightly green and will ripen at room temperature.
The large tree is not in our garden, the image in the center is in the garden. Fruit on the last tree.
Azadirachta indica, Neem comes from India, where it is consider it to be a sacred gift of nature. It has been used by mankind for the treatment of different aliment since prehistoric times. Locally it is called the Kilifi tree although it is not indigenous to Kenya.
In the garden, it is a slight problem, as it is a dirty tree, always ‘dropping’ something – leaves, fruit, or dead twigs. The roots are amore serious problem as they have no respect for the foundations of houses or water tanks so a careful eye has to be kept on any tree that is growing close to a building. It will grow close to the sea but suffers badly from the sea breeze and sheds all the leaves that catch the wind.
The World Health Organization estimates that 80% of the population in developing countries relies on the Neem tree for their medicine.