For all of us who want to have one of the showiest trees in town in our gardens (Royal Poinciana) and just don’t have the room because of their size, here are some of my favorite small trees that can be grown in courtyards, containers and small yards here in southwest Florida that can also be as special as the big boys.
Dwarf Poinciana (Caesalpinina pulcherrima) is the little brother to the Royal Poinciana but a much smaller size. This evergreen shrub that can be pruned and trained into a specimen small tree, usually about 10 to 12 feet in height can grow up to 15 feet. This tree also can be called Peacock Flower and the Pride of Barbados.
The foliage is similar to that of mimosa and comes in a range of colors from all yellow to the red, yellow and orange variety, which is most common, to a rosy red flower combination. It blooms on and off several times a year and tolerates sun to partial shade.
Hibiscus Tree (Hibiscus fijii) This group of small trees is probably the most used here in southwest Florida. The flowers range in size from dinner plates to small lanterns on weeping branches, exploding in every color of the rainbow and almost any combination. Hibiscus starts out as shrubs that are then trained into standards (shrubs trained into a single trunk). They can be used for color and height in gardens, flower beds, or as a single specimen plant. Hibiscus trees make a strong statement when planted singly rather than in mass.
Dwarf Ylang – Ylang (Cananga odorata) First things first, used to make Channel NO.5 perfume, these flowers are very fragrant. I mean total garden fragrant – it will permeate through the entire yard. It grows only to about six to eight feet tall and blooms all year. My large Ylang-Ylang tree in my garden has been blooming for over two years straight and at night we have a ritual of standing in the driveway gasping for air. It likes dappled light to partial sun with average water needs. For very little work you receive big benefits from this little beauty and it will also grow well as a container plant.
Glory tree (Tibouchina) has showy purple, long-lasting flowers that bloom from early summer to fall. Planted in a protected area (from winds) helps with its happiness as a small Florida flowering tree. Partial sun, lots of fertilizer and average water will make this a focal point of anyone’s garden. Heavy pruning in the spring also keeps this tree happy and shapely.
Jatropha Peregrina (jatropha integerrima) blooms all year round with fiddle and oval shaped leaves. It used to be that you could only get this plant with red flowers, not that that’s bad, but now it comes in a pink and coral color. This is a major nectar plant for all butterflies – particularly the Florida state butterfly, the Zebra Longwing. They have been used in the medians in town with great success and give our roadways color. They can reach up to 15 feet high and 10 feet wide but can be held at any size with a little trimming. They have also come out with a ’Compacta’ which grows smaller and more compact only with red flowers. Full sun to partial shade and drought tolerant rounds out some of the bonuses of this small tree. This has been one of my long-time favorites. Not only as a focal point in your garden, Jatropha makes a great hedge and also makes a great container plant.
Desert cassia (Senna polyphylla) grows to about 10 feet. This is the slowest growing plant I have ever come in contact with. My tree has only grown three feet in 10 years, not kidding. It also happens to be the host plant (plant that butterflies lay their eggs on) for the sulfur or yellow butterflies here in Florida. It makes a great focal point for any butterfly garden and for that matter, any garden. Bright yellow flowers appear a couple times a year but bloom a long time, making it seem like it blooms all year. Desert cassia likes full to partial sun and is drought tolerant. Its leaves are tiny and feather like.
Crape Myrtle (Crape myrtle spp.) blooms in the summer until fall. Flowers come in shades of white, pink, red, purple and more. If dead headed right after blooming, the crape myrtles will most likely bloom again. Leaves give fall colors of purple, red, orange and rust, just before they drop for the winter. In the winter the bark of crape myrtle peals and takes on shades of brown, cream, white and gray. In my opinion that makes the crape myrtle one of the showiest trees in south Florida. Trimming in spring will produce lots of blooms because flowers appear on the new growth.
Orange Geiger Tree (Cordia sebestena) is used in south Florida as a container plant, street tree and small shade tree, growing to about 20 feet. The Geiger produces brilliant orange flowers all year especially in June and July. The salt tolerance is high so it does well by the beach. The Orange Geiger is also drought tolerant which makes it perfect for the Naples area. The trees do well in full sun and are used in the medians here in south Florida. With a little pruning they produce a beautiful full canopy. The Geiger’s small fruit have a pleasing fragrance. Geiger trees are also thought of as native trees. They are not.
These are just some of the trees available to us in south Florida. Just ask your favorite nursery and they can get it for you if they don’t already have it on hand.
Mike Malloy, local author and artist known as “The Butterfly Man” has been a Naples resident since 1991. Bring your gardening questions to the Third Street Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings or on Thursdays at the Naples Botanical Garden where he does a Plant Clinic or visit his website, www.naplesbutterfly.com