We had a flower shop in Ohio in the early ‘60s, and I went to design classes to learn all I could. The best thing I learned was that we could send $5 to a man called A. James in Orlando and he would send us a box of tropical foliage, including the dark red leaves of the ti plant or Cordyline. We made some really outstanding bouquets with those leaves.
So when we moved to Florida, one of the first plants I bought was a ti plant. It didn’t look quite like the leaves we got from James. I’m still looking for that exact variety, but over the years I’ve collected several kinds and all are beautiful.
There are many varieties of Cordyline. The plants are available in almost any nursery, and the most common variety is the Red Sister. I’m not sure I still have the one I bought in 1987, but I have many of its offspring all around my garden. The plant roots easily from cuttings.
That’s the main reason I’m writing about them at this time. The Red Sister in particular tends to get leggy at its lower levels, so during summer rains is a good time to take cuttings from the tops. The stem you leave will sport two branches for the one you remove.
Cut on a slant just below a node where the leaf comes off and strip away the leaves from the bottom 2 inches of the stem. Take the leaves inside and put them in a vase. They will stay pretty for weeks.
Then cut some of the larger leaves left on the stem perhaps in half or more so there will be less leaf surface to transpire moisture. If your plants are in the shade, you can simply insert the cutting into the ground at the base of the plant and soon it will fill in the empty space.
If your stem is long and woody, cut the woody part of the stem in sections at least 4 inches long and stick them in the ground at the base of the plant, and they will root, too.
This can also be done in the spring, but you need to keep the soil around the plant and cuttings damp but not soggy, and that’s easier with the rain. This trimming takes about five minutes per plant and within a few months the leggy plant is thick and beautiful again with colorful new foliage.
I was selling books in Clearwater one day and coveting, of all the plants in that nursery, the Dr. Brown ti plant. A nice large plant sold for $20. I prefer smaller plants lest I kill them. Eventually, I bought one and have enjoyed it and its descendants ever since. It doesn’t get very leggy and roots easily. I have one with pink and rose markings on green leaves, one called Black Magic with almost black leaves and a few others. I wish I had saved all the names. But we get old too soon, old and wise too late.
All ti plants are grown mostly for their foliage, but it’s interesting when they bloom and rare when they set seed. They like partial shade to sun. Cold has rarely nipped mine back and they have always come back without any covering. The more you prune, the more bright new growth the plant puts out. It has medium drought tolerance and the ones in the ground seldom need water.
Today’s pick it the rex begonia, partly because it would be a good companion in front of a ti plant, but also because it’s beautiful in many shady situations. This is one I coveted as a houseplant up North, until I found out it’s pretty picky indoors. Outside, in partial to light shade, the plant is easy to grow in Florida. It only blooms in the spring but is lovely for its foliage the rest of the year. Mine have come through all our winters, only nipped when it was the coldest, but they came back.
Now’s the time...to tell you I was surprised to find a black swallowtail caterpillar on a stem of Queen Anne’s lace on July 18. These caterpillars will eat parsley, dill, fennel and rue, but none of my books mentioned the Queen Anne’s lace. It hadn’t bloomed very well this year, but I am sure glad I planted it, because the next day I found six more caterpillars. They were all quite large so I didn’t have to feed them long. The first one, a female, emerged July 29. It has the most blue of the species and is a bit larger than a monarch.
Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, freelance writer and author of 12 gardening books who can be reached at [email protected] Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.