Sunday, November 30, 2014
The name of this plant, 'Song of India', always intrigued me. Whispers from exotic movies watched as a kid I expect. It was interesting to find out, when doing an internet search on the name, that there is actually an old Big Band performance on You Tube of a composition called 'Song of India'. Was the plant given its English name from that piece of music? Further research also told me that this plant is not actually native to India. It is native to islands like Madagascar and Mauritius in the the Indian Ocean though.
'Song of India' is another one of my loved tough plants. It is not fussy about soil as long as it has good drainage. It thrives in my coral sand soil. It is high drought tolerant and will grow in partial or full sun. It grows slowly and is upright in growth although it widens out in the middle as it gets older. It will grow 4-5 meters high if allowed to grow naturally. Mine is above the height of our house and is part of the boundary hedge planting. Actually, it is one of the few 'Song of India' plants that I have seen that has been allowed to grow to full height. Most are kept cut down to lower than five feet. The mature tree has small white flowers early winter and then a few yellow/orange berries. I have never seen disease or insect problems with it. Strong salt winds may mean some dry leaf drop with lots of dry leaves to rake up on the lawn but the tree does not look bare from it. I like these dry, long lasting dropped leaves to use as mulch in my container plants. I notice that the thick foliage growth of the tree makes it a popular place for birds nests.
The wild native Dracaena relexa is plain green in color so the 'Song of India' is a variegated variety grown by nurseries. There is another variety grown by nurseries called 'Song of Jamaica' which has leaves with stripes of two shades of green. I also have that growing in our boundary hedge and it grows the same way as the 'Song of India'.
'Song of India' is very popular here in Hawaii for tropical flower arrangements. Strong, upright branches are needed for this so the naturally shorter curled branches of my old tree do not work well. Instead, a shrub must be kept topped at easy reach height and then the vigorous new growth harvested when it gets to the required size for selling to floral shops.
We gathered huge amounts of 'Song of India' several years ago to decorate the big white tent for my daughter's wedding reception. We tied clumps of floral oasis on the tent poles and filled them with 'Song of India' branches, big Laua'e fern leaves and long hanging strands of Asparagus Fern.
The leaves of the 'Song of India' are also used in lei making here in Hawaii. The attractive leaf colors contrast well with other foliage and flowers. Although the leaf is a little stiff and pokey it works well in certain styles of lei such as the haku lei and lasts well.
To propagate 'Song of India' I have always used cuttings. I will usually put several cuttings cuddled up together in a large pot of potting media and then leave it in a shady place for several months to grow strong roots. They seem to do better this way than in individual pots. One thing to remember with this plant is to just remove the leaves from the bottom of the cutting but do not trim the upper leaves back as usually done with cuttings. Those leaves will not grow back and the resulting plant will not look so good or you will have to wait for the plant to grow taller for new nicer leaves and then remove the lower cut leaves. I also dip these cuttings in rooting powder to help them get going.
PS April, 2019
After having both Song of India and Song of Jamaica growing in my garden for over twenty years now, I want to add a little note about seedlings. I have never seen volunteer seedlings coming up from Song on India, but the green leafed Song of Jamaica does have seedlings that show up around my garden. I am always pulling them up when I see them these days as I do not want weed trees but of course they could be dug up and potted to grow elsewhere. It does make me not so keen on the Song of Jamaica.
Have just come back from a long trip to find the Song of India and Song of Jamaica trees just covered in blossom. It must have been something to do with weather conditions this year. There is a fragrance coming from the flowers in the evening. I picked some and had it in a vase in the kitchen. As the night wore on the flowers really opened up with beautiful long stamens and then died off in the morning.
Monday, November 3, 2014
My recent three week trip to Iceland was a big change from visiting warm countries in recent years and the bleak but beautiful landscape of Iceland was very different too. Much of the island is rock covered in moss or heath with a few birch forest areas that grow low because of the cold winds. The Viking settlers who arrived in the 900s cut down much of the native birch forest for firewood while their sheep nibbled down the low growing ground covers. It is only in the last few decades that there has been a dedicated effort to grow new forests and stop soil erosion.
The weather is too cold for fruit trees but potatoes and rhubarb were introduced to sunny slopes behind houses over the last few centuries. In the mid 20th century the Icelanders also began harnessing the heat from the hot water springs to heat glass houses so that now they can grow a lot more vegetables and flowers on island. Still, like Hawaii, much of their food is imported apart from the local dairy products, meat and fish.
Iceland is a country that has changed remarkably since WW II gave them airports and opened up their world. A hundred years ago, most of the population still lived on farms and lived off the land and sea. Half of the population was still living in sod covered houses. Now, most of the population lives in the modern city of Reykjavik.
In Reykjavik I really enjoyed just wandering around the streets of the older parts of town looking at all the styles of houses with their lace curtains in the windows. Gardens were usually simply done with lawn, trees and shrubs. There were lots of red berries and rose hips to celebrate the end of summer and everywhere there was moss growing.
Actually, I think my favorite garden in all of Iceland was a simple one that I saw in the town of Hveragerdi. It was a very ordinary square house set in a landscape composed of three kinds of plants....a grass lawn, native birch trees and clumps of the native angelica. It was so very simple and bare that it gave a delightful natural feel to the garden as well as being very simple to maintain. It made me think how one could replicate a similar feeling in a tropical garden. I could see it being done with lawn, Ohia trees and ferns in upland Hawaii but I am not sure what I would use here in the sandy lowlands. Maybe Beach Heliotrope trees but what would go with them? Anyways here is a picture of my favorite yard there although it does not show the whole effect of the place well.
And just to finish off my post on Iceland: Here is a picture of the native Iceland Poppy that was growing next to the footpath just down the road. This is the native original that all the commercial garden varieties were developed from.