At last, I’m able to sit down and concentrate on part two of my south Florida spring post. You see, for the past week or so, numerous northern friends have traveled south for spring break so they can get a taste of northern summer.
Such is the state of spring in the Sunshine State. Even as I write this, the outdoor thermometer reads 90 degrees in the shade.
Still, my Florida gardening friends have assured me — on more than one occasion — that there are, in fact, subtle signs of spring in zone 10, and if I want to see them, I have to know where to look.
Their words reminded me of one of my favorite films, The Blue Bird, starring Shirley Temple. In it, her character goes on a search across magical lands in search of the blue bird of happiness, which she ultimately finds — spoiler alert — in her own backyard.
Could a search for subtle signs of spring really be that simple? With this in mind, I opened my eyes and looked about.
This is Devil’s Backbone, and like Satan, it goes by many names: Red Bird Flower, Persian Lady Slipper, Slipper Spurge, Christmas Candle Variegatus, Rick Rack Plant, Japanese Poinsettia, Pedilanthus tithymaloides, and Euphorbia tithymaloides. It’s a succulent-like plant that I found, potless, in my neighbor’s trash heap. The soil and roots were dried out and still still held the shape of its former pot.
I brought the plant home and nursed it back to health, ultimately planting it in a large terracotta pot in my front yard. Its bright green leaves — which are more variegated with blushes of pink when grown in shade — and zig-zaggy stems looked almost artificial.
The plant seemed to do well after the transplant, even growing into a small bush. As spring approached, though, the Devil’s Backbone started to drop its leaves. I worried that perhaps its end had come.
Instead, this American tropics native bounced back to life with small pink flowers — bracts, actually — lining the crooked stems. I now have several clippings started to plant in a more shaded location.
Several bromeliads also decided to bloom now, but this, I believe, was more a matter of chance — except for this variety, Guzmania lingulata. Normally grown in deep shade or indoors, I planted these last spring in a bed that was quite shady. Or so I thought. Summer sun crept into the shady bed, quickly dulling the green foliage and browning the flowers.
I thought they were goners. Even my bromeliad buddy, Dave, doubted they would survive the heat of summer.
They did, though, and near the end of winter, I noticed a scarlet red deep in the cup of the plant — and by spring, the bromeliads had reached their brightest color, happy to once again be in the shade of the house.
On the southeast side of the house, lemon blossoms — as sweet as hyacinths — perfumed the air. Someday, I hope blogs will feature smell-a-vision just for this flower.
Across from the lemon tree, I planted a heliconia last year — and there it has remained and grown, without a single flower — until now.
For good reason, this particular heliconia is known as Lobster Claw. Each day, I couldn’t help but stare as more waxy-like flowers appeared, each one stretching and dangling — and each of the “claws” opening up.
Nearby, I had planted several decorative pineapples — “decorative” because they’re not edible.
A neighbor had plucked a few small plants from his garden for me. At first, I was happy with the long blade-like foliage of this member of the bromeliad family, but after a year, I was ready for a pineapple — even the inedible kind.
With spring, the colors of the leaves seemed to sharpen and I noticed in the center of the plant, a single decorative pineapple preparing to emerge.
Despite all this blooming activity in my relatively new garden, one thing puzzled me: were these plants truly spring bloomers or were the blooms just a matter of a springtime coincidence?
I think I needed a larger pool of plants from which to pull, and so I walked to a nearby park. Along the way, I noticed my neighbor’s bougainvillea. While this plant always seems to be in flower, it occurred to me that the colors are brighter and more jewel-like at this time year.
Once in the park, I kept looking for any hint of color that seemed different or new, something that I can say is an actual sign of spring.
Several of the trees had dropped their leaves and on one of these I spotted fresh young leaves, as green as any deciduous tree up north in bloom.
A few steps away, a Bottlebrush Tree — with all of its leaves — was flowering.
And in a spot directly across from the entrance to my street, I noticed a leafless tree with a bumpy — even pointy — bark.
Honestly, I’ve never noticed this tree before. I’m not sure when the leaves had fallen. I wanted to say it was newly planted, but it wasn’t. That tree had been there long before I even arrived in Florida.
Along its barren branches, clusters of ball-like blossoms balanced.
And some of these had opened to reveal large red flowers — a color that’s not exactly subtle, no matter the season.
As I stood there examining this tree, which I now know is Bombax ceiba or cotton tree, it occurred to me that this is my new spring. This is the tree I will anticipate each spring with the same excitement that I had for tulips and daffodils when I lived in New York.
It was also, in a sense, my Shirley Temple moment. I found my bluebird of happiness — and it was in my own backyard.