On the hunt for a 'Black Flamingo'
Q: Perhaps you can help me find a source for a very attractive plant that is new to me. Several local nurseries advise that they do not have this plant. It is called "Black Flamingo" and has dark green leaves and small varied flowers. It is low growing, but does not resemble a flamingo, nor is it black. The botanical name, I believe, is Chrysothemis palchilla. If you do not know of a nursery carrying this plant, perhaps the readers of your column would know where it could be obtained. Frederic Mild, Palm Harbor
A: You were really close all the way around with Chrysothemis pulchella "Black Flamingo," which belongs to the Gesneriaceae family along with a whole host of houseplant favorites. Most notable are the African Violets, Saintpaulia spp., Gloxinia spp., Columnea spp., Streptocarpus spp., and my favorite genus, the Episcia's spp. All of the gesneriads are very tender to cold, but flower inside quite well.
Probably the best place to start looking for your particular plant would be through the Gesneriad Society (gesneriadsociety.org/index.htm). There is a local chapter. With thousands of gesneriads out there in collections, some society member may be willing to part with a "Black Flamingo," or perhaps you might swap.
You might check with Marie Selby Gardens in Sarasota (selby.org). They too have collections of gesneriads. If you would be happy with a look-alike, a similar plant, Seemannia sylvatica "Bolivian Sunset," was very popular a few years ago and many nurseries stocked it. Good luck in your search!
'Lichens,' and a citrus tree on its last legs
Q: I live in Pasco County, and my orange trees are covered with this fungus. The tips of some branches are also turning brown. The green stuff is also on a magnolia tree and a gardenia bush. Could you please help? Kelli Maw
A: The greenish stuff on your plants is not in itself bad, it just happens to show up in excess on dead wood, plants that are old and stressed, and they are called "lichens" — a symbiotic relationship (live together for the benefit of each other, not a parasite) between a fungus and an algae. They feed on the dead bark and/or branches and come in many colors from white, tan, orange, brown to the predominant color, blue-green.
A sign of clean air (not too much sulfur or heavy metals) is when you see lichens growing as little blue-green puffs on the soil surface attached to organic matter, on dead limbs and the bark of trees and even on rocks, dissolving minerals creating soil.
So be ecstatic that you have healthy lichens, some only grow 1 mm per year.
Now for the citrus tree.
It is dying back for unknown reasons with many leaves looking very nutritionally deficient. Your orange tree is on its last leg with all of the twig and branch dieback. Check around the trunk or large basal branches to see if the bark is peeling off, which is a sign of foot rot, a terminal fungus. It could be canker or citrus greening, both deadly diseases.
So, it's time for a new tree, and enjoy the fresh air.