Just the other day, in North Hollywood on Sylvan Street, I bumped into two of my favorite trees. One was a pineapple guava (Acca or Feijoa sellowiana) and the other was a mayten (Maytenus boaria).
For people with limited garden space, either or both of these trees are sensible arboreal choices. In Los Angeles, neither is likely to reach more than 20 feet in height, at least not for several decades.
The flowers of pineapple guava are unforgettable not only for their appearance but for their edibility, too. Fire engine red stamens rise up amid a soft layer of wedding white petals. And these petals are astonishingly sweet when you bite into them. As you might imagine, such sugary petals are attractive to birds that, in compensation for their tasty treat, pollinate the guava’s flowers.
Pineapple guava foliage is a fetching blue-green in color. Once established, pineapple guava makes an excellent specimen tree for a container or accent planting but also serves admirably as a subject for a drought-tolerant hedge.
Pineapple guava is native to southern Brazil, northern Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. This ecosystem, while as far south of the equator as Los Angeles is north of it, is at a much higher elevation than Los Angeles and cold plays an important role in the life cycle of its plants. You seldom see a large crop of fruit on Los Angeles-grown pineapple guava trees since a bite of winter cold is necessary to mobilize the nutrients required to set a crop of their fruit. In addition, most pineapple guavas are self-sterile, requiring cross-pollination of two different varieties to produce fruit.
Mayten tree, by contrast, is grown not for its flowers or fruit but for its pendant aspect. Some people consider it a compact, semi-drought-tolerant alternative to weeping willow due to its more narrow form and slower rate of growth. The key to successful cultivation of a mayten tree is to simply let it grow. Pruning is an afterthought and may be put off for years. It can handle both full and partial sun exposures.
It often seems to occur that just when you notice a plant that flowers brilliantly in a certain color that defies easy description, you meet up almost immediately with flowers of a similar color on another plant species. The current color in question is an orange-yellow or gold-yellow blend that is seen both in coreopsis (Coreopsis grandiflora) and certain low-growing but widely spreading, bush lantana cultivars such as ‘Sunburst’ and ‘New Gold.’ Coreopsis and lantana are among a small minority of long-flowering perennials that can handle heavy soil or, in other words, soil that drains slowly due its clay content. As a bonus, coreopsis attracts beneficial insects such as ladybugs and lacewings, while both coreopsis and lantana are visited by birds and butterflies of every description.
Tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii) is a carefree plant that produces mighty towers, up to 10 feet tall, of gemlike pale red flowers. Native to the Canary Islands off the coast of North Africa, this plant needs nothing more than fast-draining soil and an occasional soaking to flourish. After flowering it dies, but it leaves seedlings in its wake that are likely to be transformed into a whole neighborhood of jeweled towers. Soft, silvery foliage is another notable attribute.
Geoff Stein, the Tarzana botanist who, much to our dismay, is moving to Acton, provided a local testing ground for many years for hundreds of uncommonly encountered plant species. One of his success stories is false tillandsia (Aechmea recurvata). This is a bromeliad whose habitat is identical to that of pineapple guava with drought tolerance to match. False tillandsia grows best in partial sun, showing off flowers that range from pink to violet to burnt orange, depending on the cultivar. Foliage might be gold, infused with pink, or just plain green. False tillandsia forms a dense, prickly textured, low-maintenance ground cover.
Although it’s probably not politically or ecologically correct to do so, I must confess to a fondness for the common catalpa tree (Catalpa bignonioides), also referred to as Indian bean or cigar tree on account of its elongated seed pods. At this moment, there are six catalpa blooming magnificently on the corner of Moorpark Street and Cedros Avenue in Sherman Oaks. Flowers may remind you, in terms of their shape, of jacaranda and trumpet vine blossoms. This is not mere coincidence since catalpa, jacaranda and trumpet vines, whether their flowers are purple, yellow, orange or red, belong to the same botanical family (Bignoniaceae). Other than their flowers, catalpa trees have large, heart-shaped, felty green leaves and 20-inch long seed pods than turn from green to dark brown over the course of the growing season. Catalpa is not native to a dry climate such as ours although it does not appear to have been coddled, irrigation wise, in its parkway setting in Sherman Oaks.
Tip of the Week
- A new hydrangea variety (Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Shooting Star’) seems to be everywhere. ‘Shooting Star’ is in the lace cap group of hydrangeas, whose flowers are smaller than mop head hydrangeas but, instead, appear in flat-topped clusters. Hydrangeas grow well as long as they are protected from hot sun. They do require constant soil moisture and, for this reason, it is wise to grow them near the front door so you do not have to drag a hose through your garden in order to keep them hydrated. Fertilize every other month with almost any fertilizer, although some growers are partial to an acid-type formula for azaleas, and they will respond with lots of blooms from now until midfall. You can grow hydrangeas as far north as Acton.