Yes, Ponce de Leon, There Is A Spring


A whole new lizard made an appearance.  This one looks like a dinosaur from an old sci-fi film.

A whole new lizard made an appearance. This one looks like a dinosaur from an old sci-fi film.

A few posts ago, I found myself in a bit of a spring funk. On the one hand, I was excited about spring’s arrival — after all, little darling, in the words of Lennon, Harrison, and McCartney, it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter.

When spring arrived, I was in south Florida — where it’s not so much here comes the sun but rather there is always sun. No one but me seemed to notice that the earth was standing a bit more upright as the northern hemisphere tilted toward the sun. In fact, one deejay wondered aloud on air, “Does South Florida even have a spring?”

Of course, South Florida has a spring. I’m just not sure when it actually happened. I think it was that morning when it was about 70 degrees for a few hours.

Many of you suggested I talk to some locals in order to get a better understanding of spring in these parts. And that’s exactly what I did. Feeling a bit like Ponce de Leon in his search for the Fountain of Youth in Florida, I became an explorer in search of my own newly sprung spring.

Since I don’t have a garden here, I turned to the gardens of my neighbors for some springtime inspiration. On one side, my neighbor has a wildly overgrown bed — for lack of a better word — of banana trees. They’re a bit weed-like — and I’m itching to get in there to clean out the dead leaves and stalks — if only to reach up and grab what is just out of reach from my side of the fence.

This is fresh produce.

This is fresh produce.

The neighbor on the other side has a very lush, attractive landscape — including this hidden heliconia.

Hello Heliconia.

Hello heliconia.

Hanging over our shared fence are the branches and blooms of brugmansia, more commonly known as angel’s trumpets. It’s one thing to stand on my side of the fence and take in all of the pendulous blooms . . .

The bells of Brugmansia.

The bells of brugmansia.

. . . and quite another to lay down in its shade and look upward.

Brugmansia.

Brugmansia.

Looking upward into Brugmansia.

Looking upward into brugmansia.

But bananas and brugmansia hardly a spring make. What about bulbs and songbirds, bed cleaning and nurseries stocking up? In fact, nurseries here always seem to be full of potted products — and so the seasons seem to flow seamlessly, perhaps even unnoticeably.

I went in search of experts — and I didn’t have to go far. Charles Livio is the horticulturist for Oakland Park, FL. (Yes, the city has its own horticulturist!) In the summer of 1972, Charles and his family left the New York metropolitan area and arrived in South Florida.

“Yes, our spring is radically different here in our sub-tropical climate,” said Charles via email. “First, let’s throw out that children’s calendar rhyme from up north, ‘April showers bring May flowers.’ First of all, we have flowers blooming all year long, and second, April is not a rainy month here. Our rainy season is normally from late May through early October.”

Echoing this same idea is a regular reader/commenter of this blog, Mary Collins, who is the senior horticulturist at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens in Coral Gables, FL. Like Charles, Mary is a South Florida transplant, having arrived in 1973.

True colors: Heliconia close-up.

True colors: Heliconia close-up.

“I describe the seasons in South Florida like this,” Mary wrote in a recent email. “Winter: December, January, February is cool and usually dry. Spring: March, April, mid-May is warmer, dry and windy.   Summer: late-May, June, July, August, September, mid-October is hot, humid, very rainy, stormy, with June and October often being our rainiest months. Fall: late-October, November is a bit cooler and less humid.”

Now that I have a better understanding of the seasons, I wonder if I’m still missing something. Up north, spring meant excitement. It meant life. It meant green.

But in a land that is perpetually green, where this year’s spring temperatures feel more like a New York summer, where is the excitement?   I mean, there are always shoppers in the nurseries but not in the numbers as up north — and much of that might have to do with the limited time gardeners have in colder climates.

Do South Florida gardeners take seasons for granted?  Why get excited about any season if the changes are barely perceptible? The answer to my question could not have been more obvious. When searching for garden excitement, talk to a gardener.

At the mention of spring, both Charles and Mary responded with the feeling that I feared was lost — and their excitement for spring is infectious.

“Springtime in South Florida is much more subtle than up north, but there are things to look forward to,” wrote Charles. “In late winter/early spring, the purple trumpet trees are in bloom, followed by the pink trumpets, and then the yellow trumpet trees are masses of gold by April.”

There's nothing subtle about the color of this Trumpet Tree.

There’s nothing subtle about the color of this trumpet tree.

Similarly, Mary picked up the call of the trees. “There are several beautiful trees which bloom during the spring, including the shaving brush tree (Pseudobombax ellipticum) with pink or white blooms and our native lignum vitae (Guaiacum sanctum) with beautiful violet blue flowers.”

Several trees experience both fall and spring at this time of year. According to Mary,

“This is the time of year when our live oaks (Quercus virginiana) and mahogany (Swietenia mahogany) trees drop their leaves. The oaks produce small, inconspicuous flowers and new leaves shortly after their last year’s flowers have dropped.  Mahogany trees also produce new leaves shortly after their old leaves have dropped. Both the oaks and the mahogany are described as being ‘briefly deciduous.’”

Briefly deciduous. Now that’s a term that can get me revved up about spring, that makes me want to go outside and get dirty, to try my hand at some seed sowing in this climate. If I were in New York, I would have already started seeds in advance or patiently waited for the soil to warm up to direct sow. The soil in Florida is already nice and warm, so . . .

Charles offers a word of caution to slow down. “If you were to plant your garden down here the same time in the spring you planted it up north, you would be missing 2/3 of our vegetable growing season. Cool weather crops have already been harvested, and the warm weather crops are being picked. Our very warm and humid summers are not conducive to growing most vegetables. If the insects don’t get you crops, the diseases will. However, there are some tropical crops that will produce during our summers, such as cassava [yuca], pigeon peas, malanga [a root vegetable] and chayote [it’s easier to provide a link for this edible tropical plant]. We may not grow apple, pear, and cherry trees down here, but we have mangoes, avocados, and papayas!”

Mary added: “Spring in this area means orchid shows and spring plant sales. This is an excellent time to purchase plants for your own garden. Don’t forget to plant some of our South Florida native species for our native birds and butterflies! It’s a wonderful time to go for a hike in the Everglades! The water levels are at their lowest; the wildlife is found near the remaining water holes, and the ‘Glades prairies are filled with wildflowers.”

So to answer that South Florida deejay who openly questioned if South Florida even had a spring, the answer is, “Yes, Ponce de Leon, there is a spring.” You just have to know where to look and what to look for.  According to both horticulturists, there is one plant in particular that can lead the way.  Bougainvillea is at its brightest and boldest at this time of year.

Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea.

And that’s cause for excitement no matter where spring is springing along.

 

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26 responses to this post.

  1. Spring looks nice there. Pass a banana, I don’t mind them a little hard. Cute little bugger opening the post.

    Reply

    • Hi Donna. I’m with you when it comes to bananas — I’m not a fan of the very ripe, yellow ones. And that lizard is a new one around here. It looks a bit prehistoric.

      Reply

  2. We are snowbirds that just arrived back in Maryland after Jan, Feb, Mar in central Florida. Central Florida is a transition area to your southern Florida climate. Our bougainvilla often gets frosted out, we can’t grow bananas, and our trees do go dormant for a month or two. We get frosts that require water sprays to salvage the citrus most winters. What we like about it is spring pretty much starts mid January and by March is growing hot enough (80+) to make us yearn for Maryland. Except this year, just like the rest of the NE, it was cool the entire time in Florida, while our friends and family in Maryland suffered the worst cold they could remember. Back in Maryland, we see the deer foraged through our garden very heavily, but ate a lot of bittercress, so I have been able to keep up with it this year so far (several hours of weeding and in estimated 2 more hours may have caught up to where I began this weekend (!) Hope you are enjoying learning about S Florida botanics and can start your own little paradise of green before it really heats up! Best to you, Shenandoah

    Reply

    • Hi Shenandoah. The weather here has been outstanding. Many days have been summer-like — but others have felt like the most magnificent spring day (May-like for northern gardeners). I still have a hard time listening to forecasters talking about a could front and it doesn’t involve snow. Enjoy your time in Maryland!

      Reply

  3. Except for the humidity, sounds very much like the seasons in central California. We have had our spring and summer is almost here, especially this week with 90 degree temps forecast. My daddy would be planting cotton now, if he was still around to do that, and if there was to be any water for irrigation this year.

    Reply

    • Hi DK. You bring up a good point about the water issues in California. I’m afraid that discussion happens in south Florida, as well. It’s been quite dry here -=- but I’m told the rainy season is coming. Thanks for commenting.

      Reply

  4. That lizard is so beautiful! I had to look him up – he’s called a Striped Basilisk. I’ve never seen one before.

    Reply

    • I love the name! This is the first time I’ve seen that kind of lizard here. To me, it looks like a lizard from an old sci-fi movie. Thanks for doing the research!

      Reply

  5. Posted by Lori O on April 8, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    Sounds wonderful, Kevin. I’ve got my seeds going up here both indoors (tomatoes, cukes, squash, marigolds, green beans, and various herbs) and out (lettuce, sweet peas, and snap peas). After this long, horrible winter, Spring is exciting.

    Reply

    • Hi Lori. That’s the one thing I really missed this year — the chance to plant seeds and get some life sprouting. In south Florida, I guess I would do that in autumn. I think?

      Reply

  6. A lovely post. That’s the prettiest bougainvillea i’ve ever seen!!!

    Reply

  7. Kevin, you’re so wise to learn about the place where you find yourself this spring and glad you shared it. I never before appreciated the subtlety of Florida’s seasons.

    Reply

    • Hi PBM. I figure that if I don’t have a garden, there still needs to be an outlet. And there’s nothing wrong with learning something new. :)

      Reply

  8. I would have to grow plenty of those brugmansias. It’s such a pain to have them up here in the frigid North….

    Reply

    • Hi Bittster. My neighbors plant is about 10 feet tall and covered with blooms. They don’t last long, but they bloom repeatedly. It’s very striking in the landscape.

      Reply

  9. Brugmansia is so gorgeous! Very pretty! The fruit trees sound amazing there. I hope you enjoy the subtleties of this new spring.

    Reply

    • Hi Indie. I find myself always looking for the subtle signs — and now that my experts have given me a road map, I’m trying to identify the trees they mentioned. :)

      Reply

  10. I’m delighted to read that you are beginning to ask questions and find people who probably really enjoy sharing with you. The fact that they, too, are transplants, must give you a very special way to relate. Soon you’ll begin to realize there’s something very special about being able to read the telltale signs of each season, and feel a little smug that although they are very subtle, YOU can interpret them. In SoCal it’s been 90 degrees for the past few days. It probably won’t be that high a heat in July. I enjoy the peculiarities, and I’m sure in time, you’ll find the same to be true in your South Florida home. I would just love to grow bananas, but we don’t have the humidity! I think I’d be glad to have some if I could indeed grow some of these gorgeous plants. :-)

    Reply

    • Hi Debra. Peculiarities is a great word to use. I think I need a Frommer’s or Foder’s guide as if I were traveling through Europe. :) And desert heat and dryness certainly provides it’s own kind of spring and gardening adventures. Hope all is well with you!

      Reply

  11. Kevin, Good for you that you reached out to local horticulturalists to help you find your Florida spring mojo. I confess that during the two years I lived in Southern California (1969-70), I never did get over missing New England seasons — although I did develop a great fondness for being able to stop at the self-service flower stall along a country road anytime day or night year round and buy fresh cut flowers for the house!

    Reply

    • Hi Jean. I suppose there are pluses and minuses to wherever we call home. I hope you are well and that spring is bringing relief to your winter weary world. Best always!

      Reply

  12. […] « Yes, Ponce de Leon, There Is A Spring […]

    Reply

  13. Kevin the Andromeda’s flower you photographed is beautiful! I’ve never seen anything like it where I live it’d be beautiful to illustrate :) . Hope your well ? So glad that spring is here and its starting to warm up finally! kate x

    Reply

    • Hi Kate. It’s a slow-growing shrub that keeps its leaves throughout the winter. It’s the most beautiful in spring, when bunches of lily-of-the-valley type flowers hang from its branches. Here is a link with more info on Pieris japonica.

      Reply

  14. […] Mary Collins, of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens in Miami, Florida. During my quest to find signs of spring in summer-like South Florida, she explained to me that some species of trees lose their leaves for […]

    Reply

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