From the Director’s Desk: Thoughts of a Weed Puller

Dr. C. Craig Tisher

Despite the continuing adverse effects of COVID-19 on our routine activities at the Wilmot Botanical Gardens, a great deal has happened since you received our last quarterly newsletter in May of this year. To begin, I am pleased to inform you that the Board of Directors of the American Camellia Society acted favorably upon our recent application for the gardens to become a member of the American Camellia Trail. We join the Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando and the Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales as the only sites in Florida to achieve this recognition. The American Camellia Trail program was created to recognize public gardens with significant camellia collections in the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf Coast regions of the United States. To gain such recognition a garden must have a minimum collection of 50 cultivars. They must be featured prominently, well-maintained and accessible to the general public. Further, the garden must maintain a register of the camellias, provide their location and identify each cultivar with appropriate signage. Our most recent inventory revealed the presence of 410 camellias, of which 89% could be identified by name. There are 271 different cultivars in our collection at this time.

This year 35 new camellias were relocated to our gardens from the former Gordy camellia garden in Ocala, Florida. Together with other plantings that add color, variety and interest, they form our newest specialty garden, the Mendenhall Family Camellia Walk. This named garden was made possible by a generous gift from Drs. Bill and Nancy Mendenhall, senior faculty in the Department of Radiation Oncology in the College of Medicine. We thank these long-time supporters of the gardens for their most recent gift. The brick paver walkway, a central feature of the garden, allows visitors to easily access the area, and soon three benches will be installed along the walkway to encourage one to linger and enjoy the surroundings.

Late this spring the gardens acquired a beautiful golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii), a gift from a local Gainesville resident. According to Wikipedia, this cultivar is endemic to east central Mexico in the state of Querétaro. It is listed currently as an endangered species in the wild. Our specimen is located in the southeast corner of the Commons.

We have discovered an unusual plant in the Wilmot Botanical Gardens – a lobster claw heliconia plant (Heliconia rostrata), also known as false bird of paradise (see Fig. 1). It is native to Central and parts of South America, but is also found in zones 10-13 in the United States. The hanging lobster claw exhibits pendulous blooms of red and yellow bracts that may reach three feet in length. The source of this plant in our gardens is unknown.

On a less positive note, we experienced the first break-in involving our facilities in late May. Fortunately, the damage was limited to our outdoor storage facility and nothing of real value was removed. However, the area was trashed and two small camellias were removed from the premises. In return, the perpetrators left behind a three-foot crowbar, which luckily they did not use to break into the conference center or greenhouse. Additional security measures have been instituted to provide more protection in the future.

Many of you undoubtedly remember that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we found it necessary to cancel our spring plant sale that was to be held in April this year. We are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to hold our fall plant sale now scheduled for Friday, November 20 and Saturday, November 21. With the on-going threat of the pandemic and the possibility that the university will continue to restrict on-campus activities, it is possible that the sale will be limited to pre-orders and drive-through pick-up.  We have had a positive experience with pre-order sales of camellias during our last two fall plant sales. Conditions might require expansion of this model to replace our more traditional sale format. Regardless, please reserve the sale dates for this fall.

C. Craig Tisher, M.D.
Director, Wilmot Botanical Gardens, College of Medicine