Some plants are recognized for their visual beauty, for their fascinating shapes or smells, for their rarity, or for their ethnobotanical or research value. Many offer combinations of these characteristics.
We invite you to experience these plants. If you live near one of our gardens, make a date to see these plants first hand by visiting tours.ntbg.org and selecting the garden of your choice. Regardless, we hope you enjoy seeing some of these remarkable creations of nature.
The Kampong Featured Plant: Tamarind
While the exact origin of tamarind (Tamarindus indica) is uncertain, the tree is probably native to tropical Africa and reached other parts of the world through human transport. A slow-growing evergreen tree, tamarind is long-lived and produces dense, spreading canopies with drooping branches. Groups of fragrant, yellow flowers, spotted or streaked red, hang from branches and are followed by brown legumes with brittle skins. The fruit contains smooth, attractive seeds embedded in sticky, sweet-sour tasting pulp. The pulp of ripe fruits is used in many food preparations: jams, beverages, ice cream, sauces, chutney, syrups, condiments and garnishes, candies, and soups. Its young leaves and flowers are also edible.
Tamarind is an ingredient of Worcestershire sauce and various parts of the tree are used in a wide range of medicinal treatments. Valued as a source of fuel and charcoal, tamarind wood is also used to make furniture, flooring, and tool handles.
It is an ideal xeriscape tree for southern Florida, suitable for seaside locations or large open spaces.A majestic specimen of tamarind planted in the early 1900s grows at the corner of the gravel land leading to the Barbour Cottage.
Best seen: spring and summer
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=10971
The Kampong Featured Plant: Barbados cherry
Native to Mexico, Central America, Brazil, and the Caribbean, Barbados cherry (Malpighia emarginata) is a small ornamental tree with arching limbs and dark green leaves. Its pinwheel-like pink flowers with bright yellow stamens – which are highly attractive to pollinating honey bees – give rise to crimson fruits, somewhat like a cherry, with orange, sour-to-sweet tasting, acid pulp enclosing three small, angled seeds. At The Kampong fruit production is high because of the many beehives nearby.
The fruit has extraordinarily high levels of vitamin C, resulting in plantations being established in Florida, Hawai‘i, and the Caribbean. Today cheaper, synthetic forms of the vitamin have eliminated the need for plantations, but Barbados cherry is widely cultivated in backyards. Fruits are eaten fresh, with or without sugar, or cooked and processed to produce sorbet, juices, syrups, and jams.
The tree thrives in the well-drained limestone soils of southern Florida.
Look for Barbados cherry trees throughout the garden – outside the David Fairchild Museum, along the main parking lot, and west of the Scarborough House/Tyson Dormitory.
Best seen: spring through fall
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=7316
The Kampong Featured Plant: White sapote
White sapote (Casimiroa edulis), a member of the citrus family (Rutaceae), is a robust evergreen tree native to the highlands of Mexico and Central America. One of Central America’s principal cultivated fruits, white sapote is not common outside that region.
Clusters of small, greenish flowers form on drooping branches, followed by green to yellow-skinned fruits resembling apples. Each fruit contains up to five large seeds embedded in a creamy, white or yellow flesh ranging in flavor from bland to slightly bitter to sweet.
The tree is known to contain a number of pharmacologically active substances, one of which is used to induce sleep (hence its Aztec name cochitzapotl, “sleep sapote”). Plant explorer David Fairchild grew white sapote at The Kampong because he felt these nutritious fruit trees held promise for south Florida agriculture. However his efforts failed due primarily to the large seeds, thin skin, and delicate texture, the latter two traits affecting their shipping quality.
Several white sapote trees can be found growing along the limestone wall marking the garden’s northern boundary.
Best seen: spring and summer
The Kampong Featured Plant: Potato tree
The potato tree (Solanum wrightii) is a small, handsome, drought-tolerant evergreen tree from Brazil and Bolivia. Its large, star-shaped, purple flowers fade to pale lavender and white with age, reminiscent of its distant cousin, yesterday-today-and-tomorrow (Brunfelsia species).
Blooming year round, potato tree produces soft, dark green leaves, typically lobed in shape, often with small prickles. Unfortunately this short-lived tree outgrows itself in just a few years under most conditions. Because of their fast growth and abundant foliage, potato trees provide shade and protection to coffee plants that are sometimes cultivated under their canopies.
While not a true potato, potato tree is grown widely in the tropics and other warm regions for its ornamental qualities. Its soft wood makes it especially vulnerable to wind damage. In South America, it serves as a rootstock for grafts of a related species, S. quitoense, a plant with citrus-like fruits.
Visitors to the garden can view an impressive potato tree growing next to the main parking area.
Best seen: year round, particularly in the warm months
The Kampong Featured Plant: Guayacán
Native to coastal and lowland rain forests ranging from Mexico and Central America to northern South America, guayacán (Tabebuia guayacan) is a sight to behold when, after the typically dry winter months, this medium to large-sized tree quickly looses its leaves and bursts into bloom. Loose clusters of bright lemon-yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers open at the same time, offering a dazzling display of color lasting only a few days. Flowers are replaced with long, bean pod-like fruits and a mantle of green foliage, offering abundant shade for the hot summer months that follow.
In addition to its ornamental qualities, guayacán is highly valued for its dense, dark brown wood, making it vulnerable to over-exploitation in the wild. The wood contains unique chemical compounds that make it resistant to decay, thus its importance as a timber for outdoor use, including deck and lawn furniture.
A tea made from its flowers has been used to treat urinary problems and tuberculosis.
The Kampong is home to guayacán and a dozen or more related species and hybrids of Tabebuia. A magnificent specimen of guayacán can be viewed beside the pool, east of the Schokman Education Center.
Best seen: late winter to early spring
Want to see more information on another species in the same genus? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=11901
The Kampong Featured Plant: Jamaican poinsettia
This small evergreen tree, with its succulent, silky smooth leaves arranged in clusters at the ends of branches, is a real show-stopper when in bloom. Showy blossoms, reminiscent of crown of thorns and holiday poinsettias, arise from leaf clusters and consist of small yellow flowers surrounded by a pair of large, bright red, leaf-like bracts.
All parts of Jamaican poinsettia (Euphorbia punicea) tree exude copious amounts of milky sap when cut or bruised, like many other members of the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae). This sap is toxic and a skin irritant, which is probably why it has been used to treat warts.
Native to Jamaica and Cuba where it is rare in both and grows naturally on limestone in dry woodlands, Jamaican poinsettia is listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which regulates trade of the plant to avoid extinction in the wild. Jamaican poinsettia grows well in southern Florida as long as it is not subjected to wind or soggy soils. While slow-growing, it is an important nectar plant, attracting pollinating insects to its flowers.
A magnificent specimen of Jamaican poinsettia grows at the bottom of the stairway leading to the Tyson Terrace of the Schokman Education Center.
Best seen: year-round
Want to see information on a related species? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=5118
The Kampong Featured Plant: Asoka tree
The asoka tree (Saraca indica) grows under larger trees and along streams in rain forests from India to Southeast Asia. Highly prized as an attractive evergreen tree for its handsome foliage and fragrant flowers, the emergence of bright orange-yellow to red blooms in spring and early summer are followed by equally stunning, dagger-like, crimson-colored legumes. While mature foliage is dark green and shiny, young leaves are red, hanging like handkerchiefs.
Believed to be the tree under which Buddha was born, asoka is venerated by Buddhists and Hindus because of its many religious, mythological, and cultural connections, including its association with the Hindu God of Love. The name asoka literally means “without sorrow” and is tied to the belief that the flowers provide protection against grief.
Asoka trees are threatened in the wild, due to demand for its wood and flowers, which also includes a role in traditional medicine. Fortunately they are desirable landscape trees and not uncommon in cultivation.
A magnificent specimen, planted in the early 1990s, grows along the gravel lane which leads to the historic Barbour Cottage.
Best seen: winter and spring
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page (which uses another spelling of the common name) at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=10217
The Kampong Featured Plant: Sapodilla
Sapodilla (Manilkara zapota) is an attractive evergreen tree with a widely spreading canopy of dark green leaves. From small, yellowish, bell-shaped flowers arise round to oval, rough-skinned, seed-filled fruits containing juicy, brownish flesh with a flavor reminiscent of a pear. All parts of the plant exude gummy, white latex when bruised or cut.
While the fruits are highly valued, typically eaten raw or processed, sapodilla is most renowned for its latex, called chiclé, once the main ingredient of chewing gum. In its native range, from the Yucatán Peninsula south through Central America, sapodilla is cultivated in plantations and periodically tapped to extract the latex.
Because sapodilla grows naturally in limestone-derived soils and is salt and drought-tolerant, it’s well-adapted to southern Florida where it is successfully cultivated. Unfortunately, sapodilla trees have escaped from cultivation and have been reported in both disturbed sites and natural areas in southern Florida. Sapodilla was classified as a Category I invasive species by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council in 2009.
The Kampong is home to several cultivars of Manilkara zapota, early introductions of David Fairchild. Most are planted west of the historic Fairchild-Sweeney House together with many other early fruit tree introductions. Seedlings that may establish in the garden from these adult trees are removed as general practice.
Best seen: March- September
Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=7423
The Kampong Featured Plant: Candlestick senna
Candlestick senna (Senna alata) is native to tropical America but widely distributed throughout other tropical regions and often considered an invasive plant.
This small shrub displays a spreading branching pattern that resembles a candelabra. At the ends of branches are erect spikes of bright yellow flowers arranged in dense, candle-like clusters. Blooming throughout the year, candlestick senna flowers are attractive to butterflies. When not in flower, this plant displays green- to brown-colored bean-like pods that hang from its branches.
Although frequently planted in warm climates for its ornamental and drought-resistant qualities, candlestick senna is valued as a medicinal plant for the treatment of skin diseases, including ringworm, hence its alternate common name, ringworm senna. In Malayasia, for example, fresh leaves are rubbed directly onto the affected area. Its roots, flowers, and seeds are also prescribed in traditional medicine remedies. Scientific studies have shown the plant to exhibit some antimicrobial activity.
A fine specimen of this member of the bean family (Fabaceae) can be found growing across the road from the David Fairchild Museum, next to the limestone wall.
Best seen: throughout the year, especially spring to fall
The Kampong Featured Plant: Victoria ‘Longwood hybrid’
Victoria water lilies have graced the Lotus Pond since 2007 when it was first populated with a wide assortment of aquatic plants. The ‘Longwood hybrid’ is a giant among aquatic plants with its spectacular and spiny lily pads and exquisite white flowers that open at night. These South American natives are found growing in the calm backwaters of the Amazon River where they produce flowers that last only two or three days. This plant’s varied textures, colors, and shapes offer beauty and grace throughout the year.
The name ‘Victoria’ is a reference to the introduction of Victoria amazonica water lilies to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew during the time of Queen Victoria.
This plant is a favorite of botanical artists.
These aquatic marvels and others can be observed growing in the garden’s ponds.
Best seen: throughout the year
The Kampong Featured Plant: West Indian lilac
West Indian lilac (Lonchocarpus violaceus), also known as lancepod, is a medium-sized tree native to dry areas of the West Indies and northern South America. It is an exceptional autumn bloomer; erect, dense spikes of pea-like violet flowers arise from long, slender stems that arch outward from the main branches and trunk. The fragrant flowers, a great attraction to honey bees, are soon followed by clusters of twisted, flattened bean pods that persist on the tree.
While West Indian lilac is appreciated more for its floral beauty and the shade it provides in yards, parks, and gardens, the tree has long been exploited for other purposes where it grows wild. Its leaves contain poisons that are used to catch fish; they also serve as effective insecticides. Cordage is made from the fibrous bark that is easily stripped from the tree.
Visitors can view a specimen of this splendid tree growing adjacent to the celebrated baobab tree at the western end of the garden.
Best seen: autumn
The Kampong Featured Plant: Green monkey orange
Green monkey orange (Strychnos spinosa) is a small, spiny, deciduous tree indigenous to subtropical and tropical Africa and Madagascar. Although not related to the true orange, its citrus-like, green-to-yellow colored fruits are packed with juicy, edible pulp containing numerous seeds. Like its close relative the strychnine tree (S. nux-vomica), the seeds of the green monkey orange contain powerful poisons and should not be consumed.
While green monkey orange is a traditional food in Africa, the potential of this little-known fruit as a crop for other arid regions has been recognized. Its leaves and fruits are also sources of food for browsing animals, including baboons and elephants. Green monkey orange is used in traditional medicine, and its timber is valued in carpentry and wood carving. David Fairchild produced ashtrays from the dried, hard-shelled fruits which were sold at the Fairchild Garden.
The green monkey orange (aka kaffir orange) has the distinction of being the first tree planted at The Kampong in 1917 from seed introduced from East Africa by David Fairchild in 1902. His original planting, east of the “Wedding Tree” along the limestone wall, can still be viewed today.
Best seen: spring to fall
Want to see information on a relative of this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=10816
The Kampong Featured Plant: Tree spinach
Native to Mexico and Central America, tree spinach or chaya (Cnidoscolus chayamansa) is a large, leafy shrub with succulent stems and broad, lobed leaves. Small, white flowers are borne in flat-topped clusters at the ends of long stalks that extend beyond the foliage. Like some other members of the poinsettia family, tree spinach exudes white sap from stems and leaves when broken, and the flowering stalk may be armed with irritating, stinging hairs.
There is a good reason why tree spinach has also been referred to as the Mayan miracle plant. Young chaya shoots and tender leaves are highly nutritious and can be cooked and eaten like spinach. However, the raw leaves are poisonous and must be handled carefully. Plant parts are also employed in medicinal preparations to treat a wide range of ailments including diabetes, obesity, and kidney stones.
Tree spinach is fast growing, drought tolerant, and disease and pest resistant.
An attractive example of chaya can be viewed at the western edge of the Kampong’s parking lot.
Best seen: spring and summer
The Kampong Featured Plant: Ylang ylang
Cananga odorata, with its drooping branches and bright green leaves, owes its fame to the remarkable yellow green flowers (“like tiny banana skins”) that dangle from stalks along its leafy stems. Powerfully fragrant, the flowers of ylang ylang produce clusters of green fruits that ripen black and form an important food source for birds and bats.
Ylang ylang’s sweet, exotic scent is one of the world’s most celebrated fragrances. Essential oils extracted from its flowers are used worldwide in soaps, cosmetics, and perfumes. In 1921, with the debut of Chanel No. 5, ylang ylang, a key ingredient of this perfume, attained international notoriety. These same oils have been indicated in a number of treatments, including aromatherapy.
Ylang ylang grows in lowland rainforests from Southeast Asia to Australia. It has been extensively cultivated in various parts of the world for meeting the demands of its flowers, lightweight timber, and rainforest regeneration potential (it grows fast!).
A commanding 20 foot-high ylang ylang grows on the main lawn east of the historic Fairchild-Sweeney House, overlooking the picturesque Biscayne Bay.
Best seen: late spring through summer
The Kampong Featured Plant: Tropical lilac An uncommon and underutilized garden plant in southern Florida, tropical lilac (Cornutia grandifolia) derives its name from the profusion of small, lavender-to-violet colored flowers borne in long spikes at the ends of branches. While unrelated to true lilac, tropical lilac offers equally impressive floral displays in summer. Its broad, velvety leaves are pleasantly aromatic and reminiscent of tobacco, imbuing home and garden with a unique fragrance when crushed. Tropical lilac is a fast-growing evergreen tree under 20 feet tall maintained for shade or as a privacy hedge. Like other members of the mint family (Lamiaceae), its flowers are two-lipped, tubular, and attractive to butterflies. It grows under a wide range of light and soil conditions, and is desirable for its resistance to pests and diseases. Native to seasonally moist forests of Mexico and Central America, tropical lilac is used in local medicine, for treating asthma and skin afflictions. Two spectacular specimens of tropical lilac are growing at The Kampong, adjacent to the limestone boundary wall north of the historic David Fairchild Museum. Best seen: May to September
The Kampong Featured Plant: Lignum vitae
What do the British police, San Francisco cable cars, and Dogfish Head Brewery have in common? Lignum vitae! This tree’s wood has been used to make truncheons, electrical insulators, and beer barrels, respectively. The wood is valued for its density and high resin content.
One of the heaviest of all timbers, lignum vitae (Guaiacum officinale) is exceptionally durable. Coined in the 16th century when it was first discovered in the West Indies, the name lignum vitae means “wood of life,” in reference to its medicinal properties.
This small, slow-growing evergreen is native to the coastal woodlands of the West Indies, Venezuela, and Colombia. Lignum vitae now faces extinction in the world due to its extraction for its wood. The tree is celebrated for a profusion of showy light-to-deep-blue flower clusters that have been described as “ethereal luminosity.” Lignum vitae makes an unforgettable specimen tree for small spaces, planters, and xericscapes.
The Kampong is home to several handsome trees of lignum vitae, original introductions of David Fairchild. Collected prior to 1928, these impressive specimens can still be observed where they were first planted: a few feet north of the David Fairchild Museum and at the northeast corner of the terrace of the Fairchild-Sweeney House.
Best seen: March through May (sporadic June through August)
The Kampong Featured Plant: Brazilian rose Brazilian rose (Cochlospermum vitifolium), also known as the buttercup tree, is a perfect choice for The Kampong and other south Florida gardens because it flourishes in our drought-prone, rocky soils. Its conspicuous, bowl-like yellow flowers (up to 5 inches across and a favorite among honey bees!) appear on leafless trees during the winter and early spring months. This spectacle is soon followed by the emergence of deep green foliage that offers shade for the long summer months ahead. Native to Mexico and Central and South America, Brazilian rose has a number of economic uses, ranging from filling for pillows (from the silky wool produced in its seed pods), to cordage and a beer-like drink made from its bark. This species can be grown as a small to medium-sized specimen tree, or maintained in a large planter. Because it is easily propagated from large stem cuttings, it is frequently used as a living fence. The single specimen growing at The Kampong was introduced by Larry Schokman in 1998 from a cutting obtained locally. This splendid tree can be viewed at its location north of the garden road opposite the nursery. Best seen: February through April Want to see more information on this plant? Visit our Meet the Plants page at www.ntbg.org/plants/plant_details.php?plantid=3053