Thursday, January 20, 2022

Tropical Ornaments Abound

Black Bat (Tacca chantrieri)

Black Bat (Tacca chantrieri)

Mike Malloy

The holidays are here again.

Soon, we’ll be unpacking colorful ornaments and decorating our trees. Wouldn’t it be great if we could enjoy festive decorations year round? Well, here in Naples, we can. The tropical jewels that bloom in our gardens are as beautiful as any or-nament you can buy at the store.

The Dombeya, for example, every home in Naples should have at least one of these beauties. The Dombeya, also known as tropical hydrangea, starts bloom-ing in the fall and usually continues blooming until summer. It’s hands-down the most spectacular winter-blooming plant. Dombeya thrives in full sun to partial shade. Remember, more sun means more flowers.

Medinilla magnifica is one of the most magnificent plants I have ever seen, hence the name. It is a real show-stopper. Because of its size and the length of time it takes for its panicles to develop from flowers into berries, it blooms practically year round. It’s a very hardy shade-loving plant with average water



needs. The only downfall of Medinilla magnifica is that it’s hard to come by and can be quite expensive. It’s well worth the extra effort and money, though, so keep searching.

Curcuma is another spectacular plant that blooms in the fall and early winter. Its flowers are very large and flamboyant. After blooming, curcuma rhizomes will continue to grow and may surprise you next year with several more flowers. Even not in bloom, it is still stunning because its foliage is so large and lush. Curcuma thrives in the shade and can be easily divided. Incidentally, the spice turmeric comes from the rhizomes of the curcuma longa.

There are more than 100 species of medinilla, also known as Philippine orchid. I’m just going to concentrate on one, the common medinilla (cumingii). Its large brilliant blooms are pink at first but then change to a cranberry or purple color. Several of mine bloom year round, but they are at their peak in late fall and



win-ter. It thrives in mostly shade to total shade and has average water needs.

Brunfelsia spp, more commonly known as Yesterday-Today-and-Tomorrow, is a real dazzler that reliably blooms in late fall and winter. It starts out purple before fading to blue and eventually turning white. It’s also extremely fragrant.

Another shining star in Florida’s winter landscape is Firespike. It comes in red, magenta, purple and pink. Firespike blooms from fall to spring. Its blooming cycle coincides with the return of the ruby-throated hummingbird to Florida every win-ter. Firespike is an eye-catcher and a favorite among hummingbirds in South Florida.

Another seasonally appropriate plant is the black bat flower (Tacca chantrieri), also known as Cat Whiskers or Devil’s Flower. It begins blooming in October, just in time for Halloween. If the black bat is too spooky for you, it also comes in ghostly white. This plant thrives in the shade.

These are just a few of Mother Nature’s exquisite ornaments that are blooming right now in our

Medinilla magnifica

Medinilla magnifica

gardens. My upcoming series of articles will focus on winter bloomers that will sparkle in your garden during the holidays and throughout the winter. KEEP BUTTERFLYING!!!


Mike Malloy, local author and artist known as “The Butterfly Man” has been a Naples resident since 1991. A Collier County Master Gardener, he has written two books entitled “Butterfly Gardening Made Easy for Southwest Florida,” and “Tropical Color – A Guide to Colorful Plants for the Southwest Florida Garden”, and currently writes articles on various gardening topics for several local publications. Mike has planted and designed numerous butterfly gardens around Naples including many schools, the City of Naples, Rookery Bay, the Conservancy and Big Cypress. Bring your gardening questions to the Third Street Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings or on Thursdays at the Naples Botanical Garden where he does a Plant Clinic or visit his website, He also can be heard every Saturday at 4 PM on his call-in garden radio show, “Plant Talk with Mike Malloy,” on 98.9-WGUF.

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