Keys Homes
Sunday, August 11, 2013
Madagascar jasmine: The perpetual wedding guest

By ROBIN ROBINSON Special to The Citizen

Bridal wreath flowers begin fragrantly, but end their lives in a pungent stench.

Stephanotis floribunda, or Madagascar jasmine, has attended more weddings than any other flower since it was introduced to the Western world in 1839. Sometimes called bridal wreath, it is a staple of wedding bouquets because of its appealing, highly fragrant aroma and waxy, pure-white hue.

Madagascar jasmine vines cross sun-kissed trellises and fences, trailing clusters of lovely slender-tubed trumpet flowers. It is yet another member of the milkweed family that attracts butterflies. The flowers fade to yellow after a few days, but last well after cutting. The older flowers have a stimulating, pungent stench that attracts the flies and spiders that pollinate them. Plants are hermaphrodites as they have both male and female flowers on the same vine.

The Florida Keys' average daily temperature of 77 degrees is perfect for a vine from Madagascar that enjoys a temperature range from 60 degrees at night to 90 degrees during the day. Stephanotis also likes the high humidity and ocean breezes found in the Keys. In the summer, it needs rain to bloom profusely and in the winter it adapts to the dry season. Flower or leaf drop will occur if the soil is not well drained. Too much water will rot the roots and cause the leaves to yellow and fall.

The small flowers bloom year round on woody vines that grow to 20-feet long. They get leggy if not pruned. Cut all weak lateral growth in the spring. Older plants do not take well to pruning. Star-shaped flowers occur only on new growth. Glossy, deep green, leathery ovate leaves are evergreen in the Keys and grow opposite each other.

This plant has received the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.

Its name comes from the Greek word stephanos, which means "crown" and otis, which means "ear," perhaps because the flowers form in bunches or were used as floral tiaras in ancient times. Floribunda means abundant flowers.

The vine can be propagated using 4-inch tip cuttings dipped in root tone and planted in a small pot. Rooting should occur in six to eight weeks.

The vine produces a 4-inch long, pear-shaped green fruit.

Like love, it may take 12 months to ripen. When the seeds are ripe the two halves of the yellow-brown seedpod will split open revealing 70 to 100 small brown seeds. They are mounted on fluff that looks like the more familiar milkweed puffs. Fresh seeds will germinate in about a week. If the seeds are planted immediately they have 100 percent germination.

Bridal wreath has a few pests such as scale, red spider mite and mealybug but they're generally only a problem if the plant gets too much water.

Stephanotis winds its way around a gardener's heart; like love, growing stronger as it ages.

jazzbirds@comcast.net.

Key West Master Gardener Robin Robinson was a columnist for the Chicago Daily News and syndicated with Princeton Features. Her books "Plants of Paradise" and award-winning "Roots, Rocks and Rain: Native Trees of the Florida Keys," can be found at the Garden Club and on Amazon.com.

This column is part of a series developed by the Key West Garden Club, which welcomes volunteers to work on the historical fort, pull weeds, propagate plants and play in the sandy soil at the West Martello Tower on Atlantic Boulevard next to Higgs Beach from 9 a.m. to noon on Mondays.

For more information visit www.keywestgardenclub.com.

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