Paradise Tree: Beautiful and Useful
And how could any blogger resist leading off with this intriguing quote from the Key West Garden Club? I am a Master Gardener and a Master Naturalist, but I only know so much; so I always check out statistics from experts before posting information about plants. I have a beautiful Paradise tree in my yard, it came from the raffle table at my chapter's program night about six years ago.
|Paradise tree Simarouba glauca|
For the first six years the little tree had a perfect, closed, cone shape; but just this summer I was astounded one morning to walk out and notice that my tree had changed. The canopy had begun to open up, there were open spaces between the layers of branches. It seemed to happen overnight. Proving again that a garden is constantly in motion, which is one of the fascinating things about observing them.
|Pinnate leaves of the paradise tree|
The leaves of the paradise are glossy green and have a roughly textured look that makes it stand out from plants nearby. They are pinnate in form. Pinna is latin for 'feather.' Just as the strands of material that form a feather are joined together on two sides of the shaft, so the pinnate leaves are joined side by side on a common stem, called the rachis.
Plant Creations in Homestead had some fun with this declaration that "Pinnate compound leaves are a sign that this is a intelligent tree."
I think so, too!
The new growth is a completely different color when it first appears. The pinnate structure is very apparent here.
|"New growth emerges as flames of red and gold."|
says Plant Creations
|"Snow effect" of wind exposing undersides of leaves|
I have heard complaints that the paradise tree, like the gumbo limbo, drops its branches in high winds. Our local native growers, though, point out that this is the tree's adaptation to storms; and because it can shed branches when it needs to, it also doesn't fall over.
Which brings us to the next commonly heard statement that the paradise and the gumbo limbo will blow down during hurricanes. I know personally of several examples of both kinds of tree that are hugely mature and have indeed survived all hurricanes to date. On the bicycle trail in Palm Beach, right on the edge of the Lake Worth Lagoon, which the old days we called the Intracoastal, there is a gigantic gumbo limbo with a trunk too big to get your arms around. It has been there at the very least since the early sixties when I first saw it. Several of our FNPS chapter members have huge paradise trees in their gardens.
I think the lesson is that placement is a key factor for ANY tree in a hurricane. As these urban legends are passed around, we have to look to for facts, which are not always on the surface. I found no corroborating support for labeling the paradise as an especially hurricane damage-prone tree.
|Berries deepen to dark purple when ripe|
Speaking of facts brings me back to the opening statement about the paradise being useful. It turns out that when my tree gets a little older it will have flowers and bear fruit. Paradise trees are dioecious, meaning "it takes two." All paradise trees bear flowers, but some have male flowers and some have female flowers. This is the opposite of a plant which is monoecious, where both sexes of flower appear together. The female flowers are followed by fruits that "are sweet and eagerly sought by birds and other wildlife," says Craig Hugel in Native Plant Landscaping for Florida Wildlife. The falling fruits can be a liability if the tree is placed near a driveway or sidewalk.
According the research done by the Key West Garden club, the Paradise seed produces 65% edible oil which is used in baking in Central America and India, and its oil does not contain bad cholesterol. They also claim the fruit pulp is sweet and is used to make beverages when the birds don't eat them, the oilseed cake (what's left after the oil is squeezed out) is full of nitrogen, phosphorus and potash and makes a good fertilizer. Futhermore the shells can be used to make particle board and the termite resistant wood makes furniture, toys, matches and paper. Now that's pretty darn useful! Maybe even more useful than Google!!
I did discover that as the tree matures its roots, which are close to the surface, can become a hazard to paved surfaces, causing upheaval. Although the University of Florida says that these are great trees for median strips. I am fortunate in that my tree is not near either of these things.
The paradise tree is denizen of coastal habitats, preferring moist, well-drained situations in full sun or light shade. It reaches 40 to 50 feet in height if it is happy. Some organic content in the sand will help it feel happy. It may have a crown as much as 30 feet across. That would be in an unrestricted space of course. It can be grown from seed, but de-pulp these and plant quickly, they don't stay viable for long periods of storage. This is a tree for south Florida, although along the coastal borders, it grows as far north as Cape Canaveral.
The research journey for the Paradise tree was so entertaining. I have to end with two quotes I came across. The first from the U. of Florida: "Not particularly outstanding." And the second from our south Florida horticultural bible, A Gardener's Guide to Florida's Native Plants, by Rufino Osorio: "The visual effect as the leaves rustle in the wind, first flashing glossy green and then pale, milky green, is extremely attractive and makes this one of the most visually striking trees native to the United States. It is widely used as specimen or accent tree in parts of southern Florida, even by gardeners who otherwise have little interest in native plants."
Can you guess what I think?
AFTERNOTE: In reply to several inquiries, the photos are all mine - use at will for any project you deem noble.