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Fragrant plants, like summer cilantro, allspice and bay leaf, can take the heat

the heat and humidity continue. Here are more herbs you'll want to plant to take advantage of those conditions. They grow well, they earn their keep with delicious and pungent flavors, and they're attractive additions to the landscape.

John A. Starnes Jr., Special to the Times


Cilantro is a classic winter herb here, petite and short-lived even then. But papalo, also called summer cilantro, is an unrelated plant in the aster family that thrives here year-round, but especially in summer. The oval bluish leaves are smooth, about an inch long, and potently evocative of true cilantro with a nutty arugula overtone.

Use them raw, sprinkled on just as you serve burritos or tacos: Heat quickly dissipates their scent and flavor. Papalo is an annual, but it reseeds freely via little dandelion-style puffballs. Soon you'll find papalo plants here and there in your yard.

Considered a native of the Southwest and Mexico, it reaches 2 to 3 feet in height with no care, and its graceful, airy form looks right at home in a garden of native plants or a butterfly garden. Look for the seeds at

bay leaves

The sweet bay (Lauris nobilis) tree yields those famous bay leaves essential for Mediterranean and Cajun cuisine. It stays quite small, too, in Central Florida. Be forewarned: Once you've been spoiled by fresh, moist, flavorful bay leaves, those crumbly dried-out store-bought leaves will seem tasteless. Grow bay in a small pot to keep it perennially dwarf. A reliable mail-order source is

Fresh mints

Up North, spearmint and peppermint can be wildly invasive. When I lived in Denver I saw both creep beneath sidewalks and appear on the other side and take off into lawns and flower beds. Some gardeners resorted to herbicides to oust them. For many Floridians, mint struggles in the absence of a period of winter dormancy, living a short time in the garden or in pots. Here's a simple solution: Grow your mint in a 2- or 3-gallon pot filled with a rich, composty mix. Keep it in an inch of water in a drainage dish. Dump the water every three days so as to not breed mosquitoes. Fresh mint for tea, garnishes, spring rolls and Indian cuisine can't be beat for its sublime coolness on a hot day.


The curry tree (Murraya koenegii) hails from India, where its leaves are used to flavor a wide variety of dishes. (No, the curry tree is not the source of curry powder, which is a blend of several spices: turmeric, clove, cinnamon and more.) The curry tree tends to stay small here and is quite happy in our climate. I know of one thriving south of Brandon, where I had a chance to sniff and taste the savory foliage. Logee's sells this one too.


For sinless decadence in your landscape, take the trouble to seek out two closely related members of the Myrtle family, the small tropical trees called allspice (Pimenta dioica) and the bay rum tree (Pimenta quinquenervia). Both boast attractive shiny oval leaves that, when crushed, release astonishingly heady perfumes. The fruit of allspice is powdered to yield the famous spice that evokes the taste and scent of cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper and cloves, and is used in pumpkin pie, Benedictine liqueur and perfumes, as well as pickled fish and sausages. I love to pluck a leaf, crush it and inhale a scent that goes right down to your toes. A tea brewed from the leaves has long been used for pleasure and tummy upsets. The bay rum tree is the source of that famous men's cologne.

Both trees stay small, perfect for smaller yards. Since sustained temperatures of 28 degrees can damage or kill both trees, it is best to grow them in coastal areas of Central Florida, or in large pots you can protect.

Allspice seeds from your spice rack may germinate, but you can order fresh seeds at Or look for these two trees on eBay or by attending a meeting of the Rare Fruit Council. Visit for information about meetings.

John A. Starnes Jr., born in Key West, is an avid organic gardener and rosarian who studies, collects, cultivates and hybridizes roses for Florida. He can be reached at [email protected]

Fragrant plants, like summer cilantro, allspice and bay leaf, can take the heat 08/01/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 1, 2008 1:16pm]
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