Hot Hot Heat Part 1: Adventures in Key West

Thanks so much for your patience this last month as I’ve taken a break from the blog! The break has been full of travel, plant baby experiments, spider mites, and updates that I can’t wait to share over the coming weeks. First, I’d like to share my travels!

This past Independence Day holiday, I took to the skies and roads to visit Key West and Miami where I was enamored with Florida’s diverse natural beauty. As I explored Key West and Miami, I found that everywhere there was rich plant diversity and it felt like walking through a tropical botanic garden no matter where I went. There were some amazing plant baby finds on this trip including thriving desert roses in Key West, bizarre cannon ball trees, blue ferns, and (my favorite) hanging gardens at the Perez Art Museum in Miami. Because I want to tell you all the things, I’ve split this trip into a 3 part series!

The Florida Keys are some of the most interesting places I’ve been in the United States because of its tropical climate and geography. The keys themselves are fairly isolated and maintain a prehistoric vibe, especially when you come across the non-native iguanas lounging on the beach. Key West is the southernmost key as well as the southernmost point of the United States with only 90 miles between the bottom of the island and Cuba. Its tropical climate makes an excellent home to both native and nonnative tropical plants that include coco plum, crotons, fan palms, and monstera.

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Coco plum along the road side in Key West.

The drive to Key West was a long one that was bordered by landscapes that varied between swamp land, mangrove forests, and beaches. We made a few pit stops for coffee and walks along the uncrowded beaches and during those stops I noticed a plant that was green all over with waxy, ovular leaves that I’ve never seen before. Luckily, the plant life around Vaca Key was labelled and I found this little bushy beauty is called a coco plum. After some research, I found out that coco plums are a medicinal plant that tribes native to southeast Florida used as medicine. For instance, the Seminole tribe used its ashes to make a liquor that was used in cleansing the body and strengthening marriages. According to Fairchild Gardens, the fruit is entirely edible and has a taste like “cotton candy.” Unfortunately, the coco plums I came across were fresh out of fruit, so I didn’t get to verify its tastiness.

 

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Crotons peeking over the fence of someone’s tropical yard.

Once in Key West I did a lot of exploring around the island looking at the brightly colored houses as well as the equally bright tropical gardens. There were plenty of crotons and monstera out and about which were delightful to see. If you caught one of my recent plant baby spotlights, you’ll know that crotons aren’t native to Florida, but are actually native to Southeast Asia, specifically India, Malaysia, and islands in the South Pacific. Crotons are part of the spurge family, otherwise known as euphorbia. Crotons have the potential to become invasive if not kept in check, but according to the National Invasive Species Center is not considered a threat.

 

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The Heron House’s courtyard was a tropical oasis. From left to right: desert rose, traveler’s palm, and crown of thorns.

After much walking around the island, I came back to my hotel, The Heron House, which was the picture of paradise. In the center of the hotel was a courtyard with beautiful landscaping that included fan palms, crown of thorns, and much to my surprise, desert roses. I expected to see palm trees of all kinds in the keys, but definitely not these guys! According to the University of Florida, “crown of thorns is a tropical plant and is only a perennial in Zone 10 or higher.” The University of Florida also writes that even though desert rose is native to arid and semi-arid climates, it can easily live in tropical climates as long as it has full sun and well draining soil. In fact, these native desert plants have been naturalized in Sri Lanka, which is also a tropical climate. So, naturally, I’ve given up my preconceived notion that these plants are dry weather, desert plants. With proper drainage these African beauties have no trouble weathering the hot, humid Florida climate.

 

The Heron House also had two other beauties: traveler’s palms and monstera deliciosa. The traveler’s palms were positioned around the pool and the outside of the hotel, while the monstera deliciosa was the crowning delight of a fish pond and water feature in the dining area. According to South Florida Plant Guide, traveler’s palm is not a true palm and is actually more closely related to bananas and bird of paradise. It’s native to Madagascar and it’s called the traveler’s palm because it collects

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Monstera deliciosa grows over a fish pond that borders the dining area of the Heron House in Key West.

rain water in its leaves and base that a thirsty, lost traveler can drink from when they are in need. Monstera deliciosa is a tropical plant that is drumming up a lot of interest on social media for its stunning green foliage with patterned holes. While many people are keeping these beauties as house plants, I managed to see this plant in all its tropical splendor as it shaded the hotel’s fish pond in the morning heat. According to the National Tropical Botanic Garden’s website, young Monstera plants are pretty nifty in that the seedlings “grow in the direction of the darkest area (not just merely away from light) until they encounter the base of a tree to grow on” and then attach themselves to the tree and grow upwards toward the light. Once the vine begins to grow leaves, it grows juvenile “shingle leaves” that are heart shaped and lack the characteristic patterned holes. It’s not until later that the plant grows its artfully designed mature leaves.

I saw some beautiful plants and scenery down in Key West, but too much of it to share with in words. Take a look through my gallery to see some of the tropical beauty I found around Key West.

With all these fabulous plant babies growing in people’s gardens all over the island, I was excited to see what wonders the botanic gardens in Miami would hold and I can say that I was in no way disappointed. Check out the blog next Sunday for Part 2 of my Hot Hot Heat series which is a feature of the tropical diversity in Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens!

Do you have questions about my visit to Key West or the plants I encountered there? Are you looking to plan a trip? Or do you just have questions about your indoor and outdoor plant babies?  If you’d like to know more about my travels or if you have questions about your plant colony, leave a comment below or feel free to contact The Garden Generalist. I would love to hear from you!

Want to stay in touch with The Garden Generalist? Keep checking the blog for more features, and don’t forget to visit The Garden Generalist on Instagram to get in on weekly plant baby spotlights and peeks from the marvelous places I travel.

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