Hibiscus That Tastes Like Cranberry Sauce!!!

It sounds like a headline out of the National Enquirer, but it’s true. Hibiscus sabdariffa, commonly known as roselle, not only has the capacity to taste like our popular condiment, but it has other tasty and valuable properties as well.

As with many plants whose usefulness has led to their introduction to lots of places, there is a bit of mystery as to where H. sabdariffa is native. Many experts believe that it originated in Western Africa, although others contend that it is native to a swath of countries from India to Malaysia.

Roselle is a small shrub that matures in the 3-4 ft. range. It produces red flowers 3-4 in. in diameter. The floral parts known as sepals and calyces are used to make a variety of teas and cold drinks around the world. Throughout the Caribbean, for instance, the drink known as sorrel is made by boiling the sepals and calyces of Roselle. In addition, the calyces can be turned into a sauce or pie filling by boiling them with sugar. It is that concoction that is a dead ringer for cranberry sauce in taste.

Dried calyces are pressed into large spheres or cakes and shipped to European countries for use in flavoring liqueurs. The leaves of H. subdriffa are also valuable. They can be cut up into salads or soups, or dried, steamed, or fried in a number of other dishes.

Fiber from the stems of roselle is used to fabricate a substitute for jute in burlap bags, but the plant has long been incorporated into folk remedies around the world. It has begun to gain scientific attention for its possible medicinal properties.

Roselle has a long history in Florida. One authority believes that the plant was introduced to Florida about 1887 from Jamaica. Plants of H. sabdariffa appear to have been grown at the USDA subtropical lab in Eustis in the 1890s, but they were wiped out by the famed 1895 freeze, the same event that gave rise to the legend of Julia Tuttle’s gift of fresh citrus flowers to Henry Flagler as a come-on to extend his railroad to Miami. Just after the turn of the 20th century, roselle was said to be commonly grown in southern Florida; at some point, calyces were sold in local markets. It remained a popular garden crop in southern and central Florida until just past World War II.

With a track record of well over 100 years of cultivation in southern Florida, there’s no question that the versatile roselle can handle the region’s limestone-based soils. Richard Lyons’ Nursery has two cultivars of H. sabdariffa, one with green leaves and one with red leaves. The plants are available in 1- and 3-gal. containers.

Don’t Delay Hurricane Preparation

We’re already well into the 2017 hurricane season, and so far southern Florida has been spared. But recent reassessments by the various tropical weather monitoring entities have led them to predict a higher probability of storm activity than they originally foresaw. Consequently, if you still have some preparations to make, we at Richard Lyons’ Nursery recommend that you take care of them as soon as possible.

With respect to your yard, you should pick up and store any loose containers; an airborne clay pot can inflict lots of damage. Beyond that, your primary concern should be the condition of your trees. Selective pruning can open up the canopy of trees so that wind can move through them more readily. A tree that is allowed to develop a very dense canopy will be more prone to breaking or falling over during hurricanes or even tropical storms.

In Miami-Dade County, a homeowner can call 311 to arrange for a bulky waste pickup. Alternatively, an appointment can be made online at


However, there is a critical issue to consider when assembling a trash pile: Once an appointment is made, the county has nine calendar days in which to make a pickup. If there is a lot of tropical weather activity in the Caribbean, Gulf or Atlantic, you would be safer leaving your trees unpruned, rather than to have trimmings on the ground with a storm looming. This risk accentuates the importance of wrapping up your hurricane preparation as soon as possible.


Imbe: The Queen of Fruits?

A few years ago, a weekly newspaper in southern Africa published an article entitled “Imbe: The Queen of Fruits.” Given the wealth of delicious tropical fruit species, that’s a bold claim. The ownership and staff at Richard Lyons’ Nursery aren’t willing to go that far, but for several other reasons we are confident in recommending imbe (Garcinia livingstonei) for use in your yard.

What the African newspaper was really getting at was imbe’s potential as a food crop. It is a relative of the mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana), the source of a superb-tasting fruit, but ungrowable in southern Florida. Imbe, on the other hand, grows well here and produces a tasty, orange-pink skinned fruit. But because the seed takes up a lot of space in the fruit, it currently has little commercial value. Some day hybridization may resolve that problem; nevertheless, imbe in its current form makes a very good landscape plant.

Imbe is native to a variety of soil types in Africa, and consequently is very forgiving of Florida’s mediocre soils. It is also happy in a broad range of moisture conditions, although it will fruit more prolifically if irrigated regularly. G. livingstonei tolerates cold temperatures down at least into the high 20s. It grows very deliberately to a mature height of about 15-20 ft., and therefore will not outgrow most gardens. It develops an attractive assymetrical trunk. In fact, one commentator has likened its form to “a piece of angular modern sculpture….”

livingstonei— the species is named for THE Dr. Livingstone — produces fragrant flowers and attracts avian life. The fruit is quite nutritious, and there is some thought that it possesses anti-cancer properties. (One study has found that the plant’s leaves contain anti-bacterial compounds.)

The fruit is usually eaten fresh, but also makes a good jam or jelly, and can be incorporated into ice cream and milkshakes.

Imbe is ordinarily dioecious; that is, both male and female plants are necessary to produce fruit. However, in rare instances a single specimen contains both sexes, and such a plant is the source of the G. livingstonei plants available at Richard Lyons’ Nursery.

Chinese Lantern Tree Can Brighten Your Landscape

Dichrostachys cinerea is a long-lived, spiny, moderate-sized Old World legume that may be just the thing to add something unusual to your yard. In the wild it ranges from 5-23 ft. in height, and it bears a resemblance to an Acacia. Its thin trunk produces a rough and often fissured bark. Young twigs are slightly hairy.

The scientific name Dichrostachys translates to “two-colored spike,” and therein is the basis for the plant’s common appellation. The inflorescence is a pendant, fragrant cylindrical spike featuring pale purple or lilac flowers at one end and yellow at the other. The appearance of the flower spike is considered by many to be reminiscent of a Chinese lantern.

D. cinerea has become widely distributed worldwide over the centuries, and accordingly has picked up several other common names. Among the more unusual ones are Acacia Saint Domingue and Kalahari-Weihnachtsbaum, attributable to the influence of European colonialism here and there. Another name, Sickle Bush, refers to the shape of young seed pods.

The Chinese Lantern Tree is considered medicinally valuable in Africa and India. Various parts of the plant are said to be beneficial in the treatment of coughs, epilepsy, toothaches, leprosy, headaches and — ahem — social diseases.

D. cinerea not only has a lengthy flowering season, but it is not at particular about soil quality. As a bonus, it makes a very nice bonsai subject. It is available at Richard Lyons’ Nursery in 3gal.  containers.

We’re High on Grass at Richard Lyons’ Nursery

Ornamental grass, that is, and we’d like to introduce you to some of our favorite species.

Fakahatchee Grass, Tripsacum dactyloides and Dwarf Fakahatchee Grass, Tripsacum floridana: Around most of the world, these grasses are known as Eastern Gamagrass, but folks in Florida prefer to give it a more localized moniker. Native over a large range in the eastern U.S., it’s a bunching grass — distantly related to corn — that grows from 2-10 ft. high. The leaves and stems of Fakahatchee Grass are a purplish color, and flowers are borne on red spikes during the warmer half of the year. This is one tough plant. It prefers moist soils and, in fact, is capable of withstanding periodic flooding, but it can also handle droughts, thanks to its thick, deep-growing rhizomatous roots. T. dactyloides and T. floridana are seldom bothered by diseases or insect pests.

Red Fountain Grass, Pennisetum setaceum ‘Cupreum’ and White Fountain Grass, Pennisetum caudatum: Fountain Grass has become so popular as an ornamental plant that hybridizers have developed a number of cultivars. Originally found in a vast Old World range from Africa to Asia, Fountain Grass has now been distributed into many other tropical and subtropical locales. The cultivar called P. setaceum ‘Cupreum,’ also known as ‘Rubrum,’ grows in clumps to a height of 3-4 ft.

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) of Great Britain has conferred its Award of Garden Merit on Red Fountain Grass, and it’s no wonder. The plant’s strappy, curved leaves are of a reddish hue. The foot-long
inflorescence, colored copper or purple-pink, sits atop a flexible, yard-long flower stalk. For best results, Red Fountain Grass should be grown in full sun on a site that drains extremely well.

Bamboo Muhly, Muhlenbergia dumosa, and Pink Muhly Grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris: These closely-related species not only succeed as stand-alone landscape elements, but they also work well as clumping, tall ground covers. M. dumosa, native to southern Arizona and northwestern Mexico, has lacy, fine-textured foliage and an attractive billowing growth habit It is the taller of the two grasses, reaching 4-6 ft. high. M. capillaris, native over a wide expanse of North America, grows 1-3 ft. high. It is particularly attractive in late summer, when it produces long flower stalks that imbue the plant with a pink to purplish color. M. capillaris is the more drought-tolerant of these species, but both are known for their ease of maintenance.

Tiger Grass, Thysanolaena maxima: This fast-growing Asian native can be used to great effect where a bamboo-like look is sought in the landscape. Maturing to about 10 ft. in height, T. maxima grows significantly taller than the previously-described grasses, and, while it is successful when grown in full sun, it can also perform well in partially-shaded spots. Its distinctive arrow-shaped leaflets attract a lot of attention, and it tolerates temperatures down into the upper 20s. Tiger Grass functions well as a stand-alone specimen or as a hedge for settings in which a screen or windbreak is desired.

All these species are available at Richard Lyons’ Nursery.