Caladiums are from South America, and, like their cousins the elephant’s ears, thrive in a warm climate. The beauty of Caladium is its variegated leaves; these come in many shapes and colours. The Caladium springs into life with the rains, dying back during the dry period, to return when the rains arrive again. Caladiums like well drained soil; and will go backwards if they are in soggy soil. They are happiest in shady areas though a little sun improves the colour.
Calatheas belong to the Marantaceae family and they are easily confused with the Maranta plant. Originally Calathea leaves were used for domestic purposes like wrapping fish, handicrafts and to make quivers for the Nukak people of Colombia.
Calatheas are mostly grown for the foliage, and there is a huge variation of colours and patterns. Calathea needs good rich soil, and they are happiest in jungle like conditions and work well as ground cover with no direct sun light. Propagation is by division when the plant is doing well.
Joseph Banks introduced the Callistemon to Australia in 1789. My Callistemon citrinus survives in the garden enduring terrible neglect. It flowers in spite of not being cared for. We plan to take it in hand and see if we can give it a better life.
The Canna is one of the easiest plants to grow, even quite close to the sea. It likes rich compost that is high in nutrients. They can tolerant fairly dry conditions but do better and are much happier well watered, and mulched to preserve the water. The canna does best in full sun but semi shade works quite well. They can be grown in the ground or in pots and if looked after, they grow huge and are very impressive. Once the flower had died, cut that stem out as it will not flower on it again. Propagation is by dividing or seed.
Carex morrowii is native to Japan. It is an easy to grow either in pots, containers, or the open ground. It likes best to grow in a sunny spot, with a little shade from the hot mid-day sun.
Caryota mitis was first described in 1790 it is native to South Eastern Asia. The leaves have a jagged-edge and subdivide twice, like a fishtail, giving caryota palms the common name ‘Fishtail palm’.
This is the only palm that has leaves that subdivide. A flowering clump emerges from the top of the mature palm, the flowers appearing in threes, the female between two male flowers and, when ripe, the fruit turn a purplish colour. Having produced its offspring that trunk of Caryota mitis dies; (monocarpic). However, when the trunk dies it is hardly noticeable because it is a clustering palm and there are plenty of suckers of different ages and sizes growing up to replace the dead one. My Caryota mitis in the garden are growing in dappled shade and are very happy apart from two that catch the sea breezes. The leaves of these have been badly burnt by the salt air but they are too old to even consider moving.
Catharanthus roseus, native to South and Eastern Madagascar and is called the Madagascan Periwinkle. The name Catharanthus comes from the Greek for “pure flower”. It is an invasive weed but worth having as it flowers freely and fills the garden with white or magenta pink flowers. It survives without any care or attention. The secret is not to let it take over; be selective, allowing it to grow where it is wanted and not where it wants to grow.
Long before modern researchers came on the scene the Madagascar periwinkle was being used far and wide for many different ailments from treating wasp stings to a cure for diabetes, tuberculoses and malaria.
Duke, J. A. Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. 1985; Magic and Medicine of Plants. 1993 tells all. It is said that thousands of children suffering from leukaemia have been saved by this plant.
Celosia spicata. The name Celosia comes from the Greek word kelos meaning burned referring to the flame like flower heads. The Swahili name is mfungu. This attractive plant grows without any care and self seeds abundantly; it is a weed but is worth a place in the garden. Keep it pinched, otherwise it becomes straggly. Once in flower the blossom last for up to 10 weeks. Watch out for red spider mite and, if the plant becomes infested, dispose of it carefully.
In Nigeria the plant is known as ‘soko yokoto’ meaning “make your husband fat and happy”
The plant has many medical uses including treatment for intestinal worms, blood diseases, and lots more.
Chlorophytum comosum or Spider Plant was first described in 1794 by Carl Thunberg, a Swedish naturalist. He described it in his book on South African plants as Anthericum comosum. After several name changes in 1862 its name settled to Chlorophytum.
Chlorophytum comosum is native to South Eastern Kenya and Tanzania. It is a good plant in the garden, making a useful ground cover or edging to paths; it is also a forgiving pot plant.
Clerodendrum paniculatum, sometimes called the Pagoda Flower, produces an abundance of red flowers that are very conspicuous. It grows well in pots or open ground but needs to be in the shade. Cut back after flowering so new branches can develop. It seeds easily around the growing mother plant.
Clerodendrum splendens is native to Western Africa; it is a woody evergreen vine that climbs by twining. It is easy to grow, managing to grow through Petria and Bougainvillea. Cut back after flowering which will stimulate new growth.
The Latin name Clitoria ternatea describes what the flower resembles. It is a perennial vine that has vivid blue flowers, also white. It is easy to grow and can become a menace in the garden as it reseeds it’s self everywhere. Clitoria is a legume so it improves the soil quality, which is a plus!
Cocos nucifera, the coconut palm has been cultivated since prehistoric times and today is one of the ten most useful trees in the world. It is thought to have originated in the Western Pacific region. It is now naturalized across tropical and subtropical areas worldwide.
The term coconut can refer to the entire coconut palm, the seed, or the fruit, which is technically not a nut. The name is derived from 16th century Portuguese and Spanish “cocos,” meaning “grinning face,” from the three small holes on the coconut shell that resemble human facial features.
At the top of the tree is the growing point, a bundle of tightly packed leaves, which, if damaged, can cause the tree to die. Opened flowers provide honey for bees. The coir can be woven into strong twine or rope and, being resistant to sea water, it is used for cables and rigging on ships. No other palm will withstand as much wind and salt spray. Germination of un-husked nuts is easy but slow; plant the nut sideways in its permanent position (this should be sunny) so the whole nut is covered; keep it watered.
Golden Malayan Dwarf
Cocos nucifera Golden Malayan Dwarf’ does not refer to the size the palm will eventually reach, which can be up to 60 feet, with a spread of 25 feet. The ‘dwarf’ refers to the small size of the palm when the first fruit is ready to be picked. Golden Malayan is a good tree to plant instead of the usual Cocos nucifera as it is has better resistance to the Lethal yellowing disease, which badly attacks Cocos nucifera.
In the garden The Golden Malayan Dwarf is pleasure to have. It grows at the sea front, flowers profusely and produces bright yellow fruits that remain on the tree for months. It is easily grown from seed. These should be planted about 1.5 feet in the ground. Wait and eventually the sprout comes through the ground where it rests very small for a long time. Then suddenly it takes off and in less than two years it is flowering and producing fruit.
These are low maintenance palms with a high tolerance to wind, drought, and salt, but extra water helps with fruit.
The Codiaeum variegatum; or Croton it is one of the easiest and most useful shrubs to grow at the coast. There are many varieties with different shaped leaves and foliage colours combinations. Requiring little water during the dry season it tolerates everything apart from salty water, which immediately causes it to shed its leaves. Full sun gives the best coloured foliage. During the rainy season, top dress with manure. If the plant becomes old and woody it can be pruned back hard and cuttings taken from the prunings. Scale and mealy bug can be troublesome.
Cordia sebestena is native to the American tropics, named after the German botanist Valerius Cordus (1515-1544). This is a tree to be recommended for coastal gardens. It has beautiful luminous red flowers that attract bees and butterflies and it flowers most of the year round. It is not fussy about soil and is drought tolerant. The only drawback is that it is rather badly prone to red-spider mite during the dry season.
Formerly known as C terminalis
The name cordyline comes from the Greek ‘kordyle’. In Hawaiian it is known as the Ti or Good Luck Tree and plants were planted at the corners of boundaries to keep ghosts away. They were also planted near the house to bring good luck. It had many uses: the starchy sweet rhizomes are edible but were also used to as a glossy covering on surfboards. The Hawaiian hula skirt is made from green cordyline leaves using 50 or more leaves for one skirt. Leaves were used to thatch the roofs, to wrap and store food, and for ‘lava sledding’.
Cordyline are happy in the garden where they are fairly drought tolerant. They like to grow in the shade, as the hot sun burns the leaves, and they don’t tolerate the salty sea breezes. Brown margins on the leaves possibly indicate the plant is too dry. They are fairly pest free but can be attacked by scale or mealy. Treat immediately by cutting back and using the cut off stems for cuttings. To propagate; cut the pruned stem into 10-cm lengths and plant – they take very easily.
Costus guanaiensis or speciousus
This is a tall growing plant and needs lots of space to be seen at its best. The foliage is luxurious and gives a jungle atmosphere! It produces rather inconspicuous flowers at the end of the stems.
Costus malortieanus has never thrived in my garden. Where ever it is put to grow it sulks. It flowered once but, since then, it has gone backwards to the point of nearly dying.
Crinum is a genus of about 180 species of bulbous plants. Most of them are extremely tolerant, flowering in sun or light shade, wet or dry soil. They can be lifted and moved and will still flower after the rains. Their one enemy is the amaryllis caterpillar – these can do very serious damage in a short while so keep an eye out for them. They are easy to remove by hand, or cut away the leaf that the caterpillar is hiding in.
Crinum asiaticum is a giant and makes an imposing presence anywhere it is planted. In time it can grow into a massive plant with young babies. The dark green strap-like leaves grow up to 2m long and flower is sweetly scented.
Plant it near the sea front with its architectural appearance and it will become a focal point as well as making a wind break for less robust plants behind. It is so easy to grow. Twice a year they are given a top dressing of good compost mixed with manure and bone meal. All parts of this plant are poisonous and the sap may cause skin irritation.
Crinum jagus was named by James Edgar Dandy in 1939. It is native to tropical Western Africa. It is happiest in a container, in rich soil growing in full shade; and prefers not to be disturbed. The foliage is attractive even when the plant is not in flower. In the wild these grow in swampy areas but too much water under cultivation can cause the bulbs to rot.
Crinum macowanii, better known as the Pyjama lily, and Crinum asiaticum, are native to East Africa and after the rains Crinum macowanii can be seen flowering in Tsavo.
It is not fussy about the soil and is happy in full sun but doesn’t like being moved. To be seen at their best they should be planted in a clump.
Cryptostegia madagascariensis is native to tropical Africa and Madagascar. Originally we mistook this plant for an Allamanda; the look, growth, leaves, and sap led us to believe this. We were wrong.
It requires no special attention and grows mixed in with the A cathartica and schottii.
NOTE: It is extremely toxic to livestock.
Cuphea hyssopifolia or aptly named False Heather is native to parts of South America. It is a beautiful tidy plant that blooms continuously if it is given the correct conditions. It prefers good rich soil with a regular top dressing. Cuphea needs full sun to bloom and thrive.
Cymbidium finlaysonianum is at home on the island of Borneo where it is grown to ward off evil spirits! It needs lots of room to grow – mine broke the first pot and is now in an even larger pot! The potting mixture used is chopped old coconut husks. It receives plenty of water and folia feed. The plant stands on the seaward side of the house and receives the early morning sun and a fair amount of wind, including the salt from the sea breeze. Yearly it sends out lots of flowers.
Cyperus alternifolius is native to Madagascar and one of the Eastern Indian Ocean Islands. It is a large genus of about 600 species. This is easy plant to grow, loves being in water, and will also grow in pots or the open ground as long as there is enough water. The overall simplicity of its form and growth habit makes it highly desirable for a water garden.
Propagating is easy: collect mature leaf heads; trim them down to about 3 inches all around leaving the stem intact; invert this into water and leave it. Soon roots will appear.
Cyperus haspan is a true dwarf papyrus aquatic plant, which is widely found throughout the tropics. It is an attractive pond plant which resembles water reeds and likes having its roots completely submerged, but can grow out of water as long as it doesn’t dry out altogether. It does equally well in full sun or light shade and can grows very fast so needs to be kept in check. It is easily propagated by bending the flower so it is in the water. Soon a new shoot will appear. This can cause it to be classed as invasive in some parts of the world.
The Cyrtostachys renda, better known as the Lipstick Palm, comes from Southeast Asia where is native to the coastal swamps. To do well it requires good soil with a high sand content and high humidity. It grows in full sun or shade. Most importantly it must be kept damp at all times, but not soggy.
This is a clumping palm and will produce suckers freely in abundance which may be removed and replanted or left in place. Feed monthly with a soluble fertilizer.