Although Cleveland weather continues to fluctuate, I am still basking in my memories of Puerto Vallarta and the flora I saw. I promise that this is the last post in which I will tease you with visions of warmth and tropical beauty.
One hallmark of many tropicals is big, bold foliage. The leaves of Terminalia catappa (Almond Tree) are quite large and slightly wavy, meeting in the middle. Although this is a tree, the leaf arrangement reminds me of Rodgersia pinnata, a hardy perennial for the shade.
Another foliage plant I saw was Acalypha wilkesiana, the Copper Plant, used as a hedge. I often purchase this tropical as a four or six inch potted plant in May to use in containers. By the end of the growing season, the plant is two to four feet tall. The 5-8” long, bronzy leaves are mottled with red and purple or red and copper. It can be grown in full sun or partial shade.
One of the large shrubs/small trees that I fell in love with was Caesalpinia pulcherrima which has two common names: Dwarf Poinciana and Pride of Barbados. The foliage is quite delicate, almost like a fern, but the flowers are brightly colored orange or yellow. If I hadn’t seen this plant in bud on the same hill as the similar plants in flower, I never would have guessed that they were the same.
A shrub with foliage similar to that of Caesalpinia pulcherrima is Cassia alata, the Candle Bush. We can grow cassias in Cleveland although they are different species. I had one for several years until it was shaded out by a lilac. Although the foliage is pinnate, it is larger than that of Caesalpinia and the common name is quite apt for this yellow spike that actually reminds me of the turtlehead flower of Chelone.
We’re so used to seeing the large flowered Bird of Paradise used in floral arrangements that I had no idea that a dwarf, Strelizia reginae dwarf, existed. But lo and behold, I saw beds of it on the Malecon and at some of the resort hotels. As you might expect, the foliage, the flowers, and the height are smaller than that of the species.
A large tree that grows on the Puerto Vallarta hillsides is Cybistax donnell-smithii also known as Primavera. I was very lucky to see it in bloom because it was nearing the end of its bloom cycle. The flowers I saw were a beautiful shade of pale yellow but photos I’ve seen in books when I was trying to identify it show the flowers as a more golden yellow. The flowers and leaves remind me a bit of our yellow magnolias.
The flowers of Mussaenda frondosa, the Flag Bush, are unlike any others I’ve ever seen. I suppose they do resemble pink dogwood flowers but they are tightly clustered. I don’t know if the plant naturally grows as a small tree or if it has been pruned to this shape but it is lovely.
Don’t despair. Keep in mind that a tropical ambiance could be incorporated into your gardens with some hardy plants that look tropical and with some tropicals that can be installed once May arrives. Many of these tropicals can be easily overwintered in your basement.