Tuesday, April 12, 2016

This Tropical Tree Calls Out to Me

(If allowed to ripen, the seedlings grow to the size of a small pear)
I put a call out online long ago for help in identifying this tree, rather the seed from that tree. I had admired its shape, intriguing interior, and the possibilities of using it in some artistic way. Sadly, I never got a response.

Then Lo and Behold, an article in our local community paper had the answer. Written by Anita Force Marshall I found out all I ever wanted to know and more. Anita is the head gardener at the Botanical Gardens at Sanibel Moorings Resort ( She lives on Sanibel Island and has been writing gardening articles for many years. Her biography is lengthy and I won’t include it here.

(The pear-shaped seedlings are smaller if they fall off too soon)
The photographs in this blog are mine. The name of this mysterious tree is “West Indian Mahogany.” There was a time when wood from these trees was shipped back to Europe to make fine mahogany furniture, beginning in the 16th century which explains why they are so rare here now. 

They are deciduous trees that are indigenous to Florida. I fell in love with their seeds and couldn’t help bringing them home to see them ripen. 

They open slowly, but once they begin, you cannot stop them. Believe me, I have tried. First spraying the small pear-like casing with hair spray, and then with glue to see if I could slow down or inhibit their outburst.

Inside the seedlings are layered looking much like the grain on a fine piece of wood. The outer shell separates into wooden petals. They are so intricate and beautiful you want to save them at that stage, but you can’t. They simply must explode as they are meant to do.

(I put the small outer pear, and the lower one opening inside a dish of dried decor)
In Marshall’s article, she describes the Pros and Cons of these wonderful trees:

“Pros: Small leaves great for natural soil amendment, drought tolerant, attractive canopy, full sun, attractive bark, salt tolerant, may inspire more outside naps, fast growing, wildlife attractor, native plant, perfect niche for orchids.

“Cons: Daily clean up of wooden fruits, pollinator attractor, may have to invest in a comfortable hammock, may tire of neighbors asking for the pears on your tree, kaboom look out for wooden grenades.”

(The outer wooden petals are beginning to fall off)
The great thing about these 40 to 60 foot tall trees with their massive gnarly grooved trunks and deep textured bark is that they are hardy with little or no pests and diseases. Thank you Anita Force Marshall for the answer to a question I’ve had for almost ten years!

Also in this blog is work-in-progress that I hope to turn into a stained glass painting of sorts. The composition is difficult to see in these photographs, but I think you get the idea.