A Flowering Tropical Tree for Northern Cherry Trees
Like so many residents of South Florida, I am a transplanted northerner. As a young horticulturist in Wisconsin, I remember the glorious show of soft pink flowers of the flowering cherry and crabapple trees in March and April. Here in Miami, we are almost out of luck trying to re-create the look of such trees in our subtropical climate, until rather recently. Less than 20 years ago, commercial quantities of seed of the Baker’s Cassia tree became available to local nurseries. Soon afterward nurseries started to sell the small plants of this glorious tree, and about 10 years ago gardeners began to see what this tree could really do to beautify our landscape. The results surprised even experienced growers!
Cassia bakeriana, with a spectrum of common names, is easy to grow in our climate and soil, if given ample water and fertilizer throughout the warm months and a fairly dry, irrigation-free rest in the shortest coolest months. Our largest trees at Pinecrest Gardens are planted near the sports field, and grew exceptionally well. The trees flowered in March about 4 years after planting, showing off their extraordinary soft pink fragrant blooms, borne on foot long clusters. The individual flowers are quite large, almost 3 inches across on large trees. The foliage of the tree is lush and dark green, with a curious and attractive soft fuzzy coating to the new growth. The trees grow quite rapidly, and can grow with a broad enough canopy to be substantial shade trees when out of flower. In the last decade, I have heard few criticisms of the species, other than its fondness for water, but such can be said of any fast-growing plant species.
If you are interested to grow a Baker’s Cassia, choose a sunny spot where you can water it regularly during its establishment phase, at least the first 6 months after planting. It can grow quite nicely in most landscape conditions, even with grass planted around the tree. One of the spin-off benefits of planting the tree in a lawn-based landscape is the fallen blooms make a carpet of pink under the broad canopy of the tree. While the species is still a bit hard to find at most neighborhood garden centers, it can be obtained through nurseries and at flowering tree sales. We are lucky to have the Tropical Flowering Tree Society based here in Miami, who promote such new species, and have planted a number of them along highways for the enjoyment of countless drivers.
For those of us who miss the great flowering Spring trees of the north, here is one solution for your garden.
Craig Morell is the head horticulturist for Pinecrest Gardens. You can follow his blog “Ask the Plant Guy” at pinecrestgardenguy.blogspot.com.