The Ghost Of Spring Present


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.

Devil's Backbone

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.

Devil's Backbone

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.

Decorative Pineapple

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.

Spring Leaves

A few steps away, a Bottlebrush Tree — with all of its leaves — was flowering.

Bottlebrush Tree

And in a spot directly across from the entrance to my street, I noticed a leafless tree with a bumpy — even pointy — bark.

Red Silk Tree

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.

Red Silk Tree

And some of these had opened to reveal large red flowers — a color that’s not exactly subtle, no matter the season.

Red Silk Tree

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.

Red Silk Tree

It was also, in a sense, my Shirley Temple moment.  I found my bluebird of happiness — and it was in my own backyard.

When I logged on today to post this piece, I was notified by Wp
that this is Nitty Gritty Dirt Man’s 5-year anniversary!  
I just wanted to send out a special thank you to all of the people
— gardeners and non-gardeners —
who subscribe, follow, and comment.
You are all as important to my garden as the plants I love.

32 thoughts on “The Ghost Of Spring Present

  1. Happy Anniversary, Kevin! Thanks for 5 years of sharing your humor and knowledge through this blog! I enjoy reading each and every post! Of course, I’ve known and appreciated that sense of humor for many more than 5 years! 🙂 Job well done! Love you! Aunt Pat

  2. Congratulations, Kevin! Happy Anniversary! Since a rather long time I follow your blog and read all of your post. I always like your stories and particularly your personal style of writing very much. You always combine information (knowledge), personal experience, stunning photos and – very important! – humor.
    I enjoyed your today’s post and love all the beautiful blossoms. Nice that you could bring the Devil’s Backbone back to life again! And I agree that blog visitors should get a chance to smell the gorgeous scent of the lemon blossoms. How did you call it? “Blogs shall feature smell-a-vision …” :-)) That would be perfect, indeed!
    I’m now going to have another look at your photos. I need to have a second and closer look at the extraordinary Heliconia (Lobster Claw) …
    Thanks for showing!
    – Michèle –

    • Hello Michele. Thank you so much for your kind words — and I’m so glad that so many of my readers have stuck with me through the changes. The next plant I waiting to bloom is a dwarf Bird of Paradise. Still nothing — but I keep looking! Cheers!

    • Hi Cindy. We have “known” each other for a long time. It’s an interesting world in which we live, we we meet people through blogs and sharing. It’s like talking with neighbors over the fence — only the fence is very, very long. 🙂 Cheers to you!

    • Hi Donna. Even when I lived on Long Island, I was always drawn to hot colors — like exclamation points in a green landscape! And speaking of hot tamales . . . It’s about 90 degrees at the moment, and the weather forecasters have promised us that rainy season is here. Stay warm in your part of the world. . .

  3. Congrats on your five year blogoversary, Kevin! I am happy to have rediscovered you. I always enjoyed your wit, and I am pleased to see your Florida garden, a place that is hotter than Alabama! At least you know you are tropical. Here our weather zigzags somewhere between the tropics and the arctic. The Devil’s Backbone is a fascinating plant. I love these exotic plants with interesting names.

    • Hi Deb. Glad you returned. I have relatives who live in Louisiana, and I know their weather extremes swing from swampy to freezing. In zone 10, it always seems to be hot — different degrees of heat, but hot nonetheless. I’m still getting used to the idea of cold fronts without snow. 🙂

  4. We must have started blogging simultaneously, Kevin. The week of May 1st I also was notified it had been 5 years. I don’t think I ever really thought I’d still be interested, but here we are! 🙂 I have Bottle Brush plants and trees and Bougainviillea but I sure am envious of all your tropicals! That Devil’s Backbone really fascinates me. The colors on the tropical plants are so vibrant and rewarding. It must be so much fun learning about an entirely new-to-you climate! i’m glad you’re challenged just enough to keep it interesting! 🙂

    • Hi Debra. I have to admit, my postings have dwindled — I think because there are so many new things that need to be done. But in the big picture of things, I’m glad that Nitty Gritty Dirt Man is still holding on, and that I’ve had the chance to “meet” so many interesting people (bloggers and non-bloggers). It would be great to have a face-to-face lunch! Hope all is well with you in your part of the world. Cheers!

    • Hey Jason. South Florida is a world unto itself — subtropical. Just a county or two north, and plant life begins to change. The upside is that lots of things can grow here. The downside is that many of the plants I love — many of which you grow in your garden — aren’t suitable for the heat and humidity.

  5. Pingback: Catch Me, I’m Falling | Nitty Gritty Dirt Man

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