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February 11, 2009

By Eric Larson

tabernae1Oyez, Oyez Oyes! The Court of Email Veracity and Propriety is now in session.

First order of business is the shocking case of the improper use of a pronoun in “The Plant of the Week” column dated January 29, 2009.  As everyone knows, being a gardener is not gender specific, so the use of the word ‘he’ when referring to a generic gardener exhibited a woeful lack of understanding of the simple rules of gender-neutral speech. While many proclaim the ‘political correctness’ movement a sham and a pox upon Twenty-First Century humanity, the original usage of this term was as a self- effacing joke by liberals and other self-aware intelligentsia, not espoused as a way of life. If it’s politically correct and culturally incorrect to acknowledge and shed light on gender, socio-economic and even race issues through every day figures of speech and small seemingly inconsequential actions, then theaccused is indeed guilty as charged, and is hereby remanded to the custody of his wife, whose editing prowess and good sense will hopefully prevail, turning around the sad spiral of a life spent writing useless columns.

Court is adjourned. All rise.

Our Plant of the Week is most decidedly a greenhouse plant. It’s a native of tropical eastern Africa, where it grows to a height of from 10 to 40 feet. In other words, it’s a shrub or a small tree.  I have had no luck finding a common name for this plant, and in fact my usual etymological discovery has yielded bupkus this time. I have found that the genus name was lengthened from ‘Taberna,’ and before that it was completely different (Ervatamia).  The genus along with over four hundred others belongs to the Dogbane family, Apocynaceae.  This huge mostly tropical family includes vines, shrubs, tree and herbaceous plants.  Fragrance is one very common trait in this family, along with a general tendency to exude a milky sap from leaves or stems when wounded.  Many of the plants are poisonous, but also many are valued for their folk remedy qualities.  In fact several species are said to have almost miraculous qualities as regards health and curing of disease.  There are about a hundred species within the pan-tropical genus of Tabernaemontana, which means that you can find them in all tropical continents.

I really don’t know much about this plant, but it is blooming now in the greenhouse, and as I mentioned earlier, the fragrance is intoxicating.  It blooms year round, but somewhat sparsely: a flower now, a few flowers later on, but generally there is always a bloom on the plant.  It prefers filtered light, and really likes it hot. Some people keep it in a cool greenhouse in winter (allowing temperatures even into the low 30’s F, which this plant will tolerate for short periods of time but will not appreciate) and expectcool greenhouse in winter (allowing temperatures even into the low 30’s F, which this plant will tolerate for short periods of time but will not appreciate) and expect it to defoliate until early spring, when it leafs out and gets ready for a season of soaking up heat.

We prefer to keep the plant close to its preferred milieu, thus not sacrificing leaves and flowering during the winter months.  A regular soluble fertilizer seems to work well in providing for its nutrition, but like watering, one should minimize the applications during the wintertime, as even here its growth slows so it needs less water and nutrients.

This plant is related to the Confederate Jasmine, Trachelospermum genus, which is several species of mostly vines.  They are also very fragrant, less finicky as regards winter care, covered with flowers but only during the summer months.

Please come by the greenhouses to visit us and see our Tabernaemontana and other tropical plants. It won’t be long until the outdoor plants will be up and running, but in the meantime, it’s worth an hour, maybe at lunch, to breathe the good air of Gardenia, Tabernaemontana and others.

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