Recently I joined a Saturday Garden Walk at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. These walks are monthly tours of the gardens led by members of the horticulture staff who point out the plants that fit the theme of that tour. The walks usually attract 15-20 participants who learn where to plant each featured specimen, how to care for it, and what to expect from it during the growing year. The theme for the December tour was “Ornamental Grasses and their Cousins.”
The guides explained that grasses are Monocots, one of the two types of flowering plants. The other type is a Dicot, and generally it’s fairly easy to tell the two apart. When their seeds sprout, Monocots have a single leaf while Dicots have two. Most Monocots have narrow leaves with parallel veins. Dicots have broad leaves with a network of veins. The roots of Monocots are fibrous and Dicots have a main taproot. Count the flower parts – Monocots have flower parts in multiples of three while Dicots’ flower parts are in multiples of four or five.
Besides grasses, some other Monocots you may recognize are bamboo, palms, orchids, wheat, rice, and bananas. Go to http://monroe.ifas.ufl.edu/mg_training/2013_training/Week_02_2.1.13/Botany_2013.pdf for more interesting facts about basic Botany, including more details about Monocots and Dicots.
My primary focus at the December Garden Walk was ornamental grasses, but I also learned a lot about bamboo and palms. Most of these plants need full sun or partial shade, are drought resistant, and will thrive with minimal care once established.
Some of the grasses we saw included Fakahatchee Grass, which grows to about four feet tall and extends to six feet when it produces flower stalks in late spring to mid-summer; Red and Purple Fountain Grasses, which have burgundy foliage and plumes until frost, after which they provide good color for winter interest; Muhly Grass, a native that has lovely pink plumes in late fall; Lemon Grass, which is used in Thai cooking or teas; Pampas Grass, which sports tall white plumes in summer; and Maiden Grass, which may not do well in our heat and humidity unless you select the thin-leaved types such as “Gracillimus.” Check out this youtube video, which will show you some additional ornamental grass varieties: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-HVXfGDajg.
Depending on variety and growing conditions, the palms we saw can grow from 10 to 60 feet (or more) tall. The Hardy Bamboo Palm was the shortest variety (to around 10 feet), and it prefers the most shade. It makes a nice statement when planted alongside trees or large bushes. The Pindo or Jelly Palm tops out at 20 feet, and is slow-growing. Many people enjoy eating its fruit. The Windmill Palm, a moderate grower, may grow to 30 feet tall. It requires more water than other palms, but the spectacular foliage may be worth the extra effort. The elegant Queen Palm thrives in full sun and is a fairly fast-grower that can get to 40 feet tall. Its long fronds are lovely swaying in the wind, and the “swishing” sound they make is very pleasant. The tallest palm we saw was the Washington Palm, sometimes called the “Petticoat Palm” because of the way the dead fronds look when they hang below the live ones. We were told this is a desirable look, probably because it requires a cherry-picker to trim the dead fronds as this tree reaches its full height of over 60 feet. You can learn all about growing palms in north Florida at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep359. This publication also lists the kinds of palms that do well in our neck of the woods.
Bamboo can inspire you or scare you, depending on whether it is the running or the clumping variety. All running bamboo is best grown in pots because it will take over your landscape if left on its own. Many gardeners have planted this kind of bamboo directly in the landscape to provide privacy or to screen out an undesirable view, only to find they must constantly keep its growth in check if they wish to have a yard at all. If you wish to have bamboo, plant the clumping kind. It can provide the same privacy and screening results without all the hassle. Confirm its mature size, branching habit, and height before purchase, because the clumps get larger over time, and some varieties can get as high as 60 feet tall. Flavidorivens Bamboo has culms with stripes in several shades of green. It’s a tight clumper that has very few branches close to the ground and a moderate grower that can get to 35 feet tall. Sunburst Bamboo sports bright yellow and green culms up to 45 feet. Its low-branching habit may require additional trimming to show off the color. Weaver’s Bamboo gets up to 60 feet with erect growth and no branches near the ground. The granddaddy of all the bamboo we saw was the Giant Timber Bamboo, which has tight clumping erect culms with wide leaves. If you’d like to learn more about bamboo, go to http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/clumping-bamboo.html.
Grasses, palms, and bamboo can add color, texture, and new interest to your garden. Why not plant a few Monocots in your yard as you Grow your own?
Aline Clement is a master gardener with the Duval County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS.