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Ask Dr. Hort: Identifying mystery plants and trees

Getting to the root of three mystery plants and trees

Q: I enjoy reading your articles. I wondered if you could help to identify three plants and trees that I have in my yard. Many thanks for your help. Jules Harris

A: The picture with the flowers is the cockspur coral tree, Erythrina crista-galli, a beautiful tree that grows to 15 to 20 feet. It is deciduous, meaning it loses its leaves in winter, and will survive temperatures to about 25 degrees.

Your other tree is weeping fig, Ficus benjamina. It will grow to 40 feet tall and is evergreen. It is cold-tolerant only to about 28 degrees. It grows with many surface roots and over time dangles aerial roots from its branches. It can cause problems if planted in the wrong place.

The swatch of palms is the yellow butterfly palm, more commonly called areca palm in our area, Dypsis lutescens, formerly Chrysalidocarpus lutescens. It is native to Madagascar and, as evidenced by your picture, gets a bit burned by our colder winters.

Purple queen works well as ground cover

Q: I've got several of these plants, shown in the photograph, but I don't know where or when I got them. I'd like to know what they're called. I put some cuttings in a pot. I'm sure I'll have more! Jeff Rodgers

A: Your purple plant is called purple queen or purple heart, Tradescantia pallida, formerly Setcreasea pallida. It is a member of the spiderwort family, which includes oyster plant, wandering jew and the common lawn weed, dayflower. It is often used as a ground cover in full sun. But in the shade it will lose its vivid purple pigment. It roots easily from each node (where each leaf arises from the stem), which makes it very easy to propagate. It does well with irrigation, but is extremely drought-tolerant. Purple queen is a little like the Rodney Dangerfield of the ground cover world: It gets no respect.

Pretty — and poisonous

Q: Can you please identify this plant for me? Thank you.

John Selnekovic, New Port Richey

A: What you have pictured is coral plant, Jatropha multifida. It is one of several jatrophas commonly used in butterfly gardens. Even though the seeds look like nutmeg, beware — they are poisonous.

Coral plant can grow to 20 feet, but is commonly seen less than 6 feet because it is tender to cold and freezes back. Coral plant is quite unusual in appearance, as are many plants in the Euphorbiaceae family.

Need help? Dr. Hort (Greg Charles) answers questions about garden problems. E-mail him at or mail questions to HomeLink, Features Department, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Describe problem in full, and include your name, city of residence and contact information. If possible, include a good-quality photo. Fuzzy ones won't do. Photos cannot be returned.

Ask Dr. Hort: Identifying mystery plants and trees 06/04/11 [Last modified: Saturday, June 4, 2011 4:31am]
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