Abundant Harvests from Mountain Tops

Psalm 72 foretells the Messianic age, when heretofore imaginary phenomena – such as universal peace and prosperity – will become real, replacing the strife and poverty the world has known up till now. Those who took the Earth, the psalmist sings, will reap  “abundant harvests from mountaintops,” a sure sign that things will have changed, since the top of a mountain is usually nothing but barren rock, a most inhospitable site for growing crops.
Perhaps the Messianic age is closer than we think. An article by Otto Martens in this month’s issue of Pacific Coast Nurseryman describes a place with “no courthouse, no jail, no policeman, no sheriff, nobody to make an arrest. No poverty. Everybody has an income. Everybody owns a home.” And, wouldn’t you know it, this same place has a mountain almost 3,000 feet high, at whose summit grow rare palm trees, whose seeds are harvested and exported throughout the world.
This “Paradise of the Pacific” is Lord Howe Island. It is located some 400 miles east of Australia. No human footprints were made here before the arrival of a British ship in 1788.
From this single island, which is only 6-1/2 miles long and 1 mile wide, come four palm tree species that are found nowhere else on Earth. They are classic indoor plants, but may be grown outdoors, in the city and in the Valley, in protected locations.
The most well-known of these plants is the kentia palm (Howea forsterana). If you see a palm tree in a hotel lobby, it’s most likely a kentia. The fronds (leaves) of this palm can extend to 9 feet in length. The kentia is most beautiful when young. As it grows older, its spindly trunk becomes the focus of attention, rather than its voluptuous leaves.
Many front yards in Hancock Park are homes to mature kentias. It must have been stylish, some years back, to plant these palms in that part of the city. But you can grow kentias in the hottest parts of the Valley, too, as long as you give them plenty of shade and regular water.
Readers write:
“How can I start jacarandas from seeds that form in the round capsules found on the tree?”
– Grace Huber, Tujunga
Jacaranda seeds are among the easiest of all seeds to germinate, but you must do so when temperatures are at least in the high 70s – unless you have a temperature-controlled greenhouse or a coil to provide bottom heat. Collect them from large, flat, brown capsules that have already split and then soak them in water 24 hours. It is best to sprout jacaranda seeds in a container or flower pot. Sprinkle seeds over any well-draining potting soil, water, and wait, making sure to keep the container out of the scorching sun. Within two to three weeks, the seeds should germinate. Homegrown jacaranda – like homegrown silk oaks (Grevillea robusta), which are also easy to germinate – can be used as lacy indoor plants.
“We live in a condominium and wonder if you could suggest some plants that will grow in tubs or containers in full sun on our deck. We especially like tropicals.”
– Carmela Villani, Granada Hills
The most reliable palm for full-sun, container-planting is the Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis), the only palm native to Europe. It will grow no more than 6 inches of trunk per year and responds well to fertilization. You should also try the sago palm (Cycas revoluta).
Bougainvilleas and hibiscus do well in containers for a number of years. Make sure they get constant fertilization during the growing season, from March to November. After three to five years, however, these plants – when grown in containers – will start to decline in vigor and will need to be replaced. (If someone has a bougainvillea or hibiscus that looks good after more than five years in a container, please write and tell us how you did it.)
Citrus trees will grow well in containers as long as they are regularly fertilized and root-pruned every other spring. Just don’t expect containerized lemon trees to look lush during the winter, when they have a tendency to defoliate.
“I am interested in suggestions for a tree that is small, preferably under 15 feet, with a wide, umbrellalike canopy, spread for shade. It would be located near a pool so should not drop leaves or flowers.”
– Marta R. Fainberg, Northridge
All trees drop their leaves and flowers sooner or later. That being said, you might consider the gold medallion tree (Cassia leptophylla) and the Japanese pagoda tree (Sophora japonica). Although these trees are deciduous and they actually grow to a height of 20 to 25 feet, their branching is spacious and sparse, so their leaf and flower fall is not excessive.
Tip of the week: If you are looking for a plant and cannot find it in any local nursery, contact Plant Search at www.igin.com or subscribe to Plant Search by calling (213) 878-0771.


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