Spring is in the air, but it’s still technically winter! The warmer weather is causing lots of plants to put out new growth and bloom right now, but a particularly spectacular specimen (say that 3 times fast…) in the Discovery Garden this week is the native eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis).
This small to medium tree produces bright, magenta pink flowers in late winter and early spring, before putting out a mass of new leaves. Because of the early and very cold December we experienced, the blooms are even more prolific than usual. A common landscape tree in most parts of the eastern U.S., redbud is often overlooked in central and south Florida because the lack of cold winters often prevents a showy bloom. Redbud like moist but well-drained, alkaline soils and will do well either as a mass planting or a stand-alone specimen in the landscape.
Another great Florida native plant that blooms in the winter months is crossvine (Bignonia capreolata). This vine is fast-growing and high-climbing, with showy flowers that appear in late winter and early spring. The flowers are trumpet-shaped, orange to reddish-orange to red, 2 to 3 inches long in clusters of 2 to 5.
Cross vine will flourish under a wide variety of conditions, and spread by root sprouting if not managed. This vine is one of the first with red, trumpet-shaped flowers to greet returning hummingbirds in early spring. The related trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) is similar, but climbs with ivy-like aerial roots instead of tendrils and blooms later in the summer. Plant the two together, though, and the hummingbirds will have flame colored tubular flowers from which to feed from early spring throughout the summer.
Chickasaw plum (Prunus angustifolia) is yet another Florida native that is currently full of blooms. This small tree forms a rounded mass of slender, thorny branches sprouting from a short trunk. In spring, before the one to two-inch-long leaves appear, chickasaw plum is covered with small, white, fragrant flowers which make the trees quite decorative in the presence of other trees which are often still dormant.
The tiny red fruits which follow turn yellow when ripe, and are extremely popular with wildlife and humans. The plums are either eaten fresh or used to make a delicious jelly.