Monday, March 1, 2021

Some of my Favorites That Are Disappearing


Horticulture Hotline 03/01/21

  Bill Lamson-Scribner 


While enjoying the beautiful Lowcountry weather yesterday, I observed a few things going on in the landscape. I noticed one of my favorite shrubs is disappearing from the landscape. One observation was my favorite smell in the Lowcountry. Another thing I observed was a small tree I always associate with the beginning of the landscape season and of course, the camellias were catching my eye.


The Banana Shrub (Michelia figo) is a plant that I’m afraid might disappear from the landscape. This is a shrub, not the plant that produces bananas. In the Spring it has creamy yellowish / white flowers that can cover a large area with a sweet banana smell, similar to a banana Now or Later candy. On sunny days the fragrance is the strongest. Banana Shrubs are a little hard to establish, but worth the effort. They grow about as tall as they do wide. Mature ones are about 10 feet tall around town. There are some in the 15-to-20-foot range that I have seen on local plantations. Like many of your traditional plants around here the Banana Shrub prefers well-drained, fertile, acid, sandy loam soil with a high organic matter content. I have never seen any pest on this plant.


The Osmanthus fragrans or Fragrant Tea Olive has always been one of my favorite plants because of its sweet smell. They bloom starting in October with a very sweet fragrance. The flowers are very small. In Charleston with the way the temperatures vary the smell seems to go away on those cold days. Then all the sudden a beautiful day comes and so does the sweet fragrance. I have been told the sun volatizes the oils that give the plant its signature smell on warm days (like the Banana Shrub).


The Tea Olive grows fairly upright and likes sun to part shade (sun brings out the smell). They do not like shearing with hedge trimmers or shears. Horticulturally speaking, I don’t know of any plant that does like shearing. Tea Olives do not like a lot of wind or salt air. I remember after Hurricane Hugo I was involved with replacing the landscape at 1 King Street – The Fort Sumter House (the big white building by the Battery aka White Point Gardens) – and we built a trellis with a confederate jasmine on it to block the wind and salt air, so the tourist and others could enjoy this Lowcountry jewel!


I have Tea Olives spread throughout my landscape. By my front door and front porch, by my sidewalk and driveway (multiple), three by the street for walkers enjoyment, and I even planted one by an area that school traffic backs up near my house so that people could enjoy the sweet smell while they wait in line to pick up their children!


Tea Olives are considered to be pest-free. I know I have never encountered any insects or diseases. They grow tall. I have some over 12 feet tall and have seen some that look like trees at some of the local plantations. There are some new varieties on the market that could be worth taking a look at if you are considering adding this plant to your landscape. Like camellias, azaleas and many other plants, the Tea Olive likes well-drained, fertile, acid, sandy loam soil with a high organic matter content.


The Magnolia x soulangiana (AKA Saucer Magnolia or Tulip Magnolia) is another one of those old school plants that I’m worried is not getting planted enough. This tree blooms before the leaves come out like a Dogwood, so the blooms are very visible. I have seen them bloom as early as late January and they are blooming right now (a white to pinkish / purple tulip shaped flower). Sometimes a frost will take out the blooms early. I have never had pest issues with them and they Saucer Magnolias prefer well-drained, fertile, acid, sandy loam soil with a high organic matter content. One of my favorites as the blooms indicate that preemergent season and the start of spring is just around the corner!


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