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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Mar 17

The Tropics

Posted on March 17, 2017 at 2:03 PM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi 

Earlier this week I returned from Jamaica to find birds chirping, daffodils showing off their bright yellow petals, sun shining and temperatures ranging close to 70 degrees. Quite the unexpected welcome home, since when I left Lassen, temperatures were dropping into the 30s and snow was on the ground while brisk winds were blowing.

Ixora
Ixora coccinea
While home did its best to mimic the tropics, it was still a far cry from the white sandy beaches, lush tropical flowers and ocean filled with beautiful fish of brilliant colors, shapes and sizes. The people of Jamaica were equally amazing and went out of their way to make us feel at home. While walking through the resort gardens one day, I sought out one of the gardeners to ask the name of an unfamiliar plant. The gardener, Cher, stopped what she was doing, led me to several plants growing nearby and introduced me to the beautiful genus Ixora. She explained that it comes in different sizes and is used in various bordered areas throughout the resort. We then talked about other plants. When I mentioned my background, she asked if I had seen their nursery. She dropped what she was working on to walk some distance to the growing grounds and gave me a personal tour. I was truly touched by her outreach.

Several days later while attending a special dinner, I was seated next to the resort manager. I complimented him on his diving staff and also the gardener who so willingly gave of her time. At that point he asked if I had met the head gardener, Oshio, and arranged for me to take a private tour of the resort gardens the following day. Needless to say, this gardener couldn't have been more thrilled.

Oshio
Oshio, the head gardener 
Oshio met me promptly at the appointed time and spent a few hours showing me around the grounds. He told me about various tropical plants that we temperate-climate dwellers know primarily as house plants, including various ficus, palms and orchids. As we walked, he snipped samples of tropical flowers including hibiscus, bougainvillea, datura, ginger, and the ever-so-sweet plumeria and night-blooming jasmine. He demonstrated palm tree pruning techniques and the importance of protecting the center frond—the heart of the plant—from damage. It was a lesson for me as I always managed to kill the Chamaedorea elegans that my grandmother grew in her home by inadvertently snipping out that dead-looking center frond. Little did I realize that that was the heart I was cutting away! After all these years, I'm still learning new lessons about pruning.

While in Jamaica, I also toured the Black River, named for the amount of peat that settles at the bottom giving the water a black appearance. Mangrove trees grew in abundance with roots extending from treetop down to the river to feed on the rich peat beneath. The trees also supported an abundance of captivating wildlife.

The tropics provide a perfect environment for lush plant growth. Daily rain showers keep the large leaves clean and allow the plants to accept maximum sunlight for optimal photosynthesis. Warm humid days and evenings supply just the right amount of heat and moisture without the need for irrigation. Here in Marin, our love of tropical plants is largely limited to houseplants, unless we are lucky to live in certain microclimates that support such beauty. Nonetheless, this gardener's passion for flowers was fulfilled.

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