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Mystery plants challenge from Vietnam and Cambodia this week

by Janet Carson | January 31, 2021 at 4:41 p.m.

Mystery plants January 25, 2021

This week our plants all came from our Vietnam/Cambodia trip in 2019. We did a river cruise down the Mekong Delta.

There were many plants I had never seen or heard of before, and a whole host of unique foods.

It was a very interesting trip, and unlike any of our other garden tours. It was a culture I was not familiar with. We had a wonderful time, and learned a lot, but this is one destination I probably would not return to. But I am very glad I went and saw this part of our world.

I started you off easy with a familiar tropical flowering plant called Ixora, occasionally called “Flame of the Woods” or Jungle Geranium. It is native to southeast Asia where it is an evergreen shrub that blooms year-round.

In Arkansas, it makes a wonderful summer flowering tropical.

Beware if they arrive too early in garden centers, where they can get nipped—which happened last spring. They do not tolerate temperatures much below 50 degrees, so wait until May to start moving them outdoors. Orange is probably the most common color we find, but it also comes in pink, red, yellow and white.

It does best in full sun. It is fairly drought tolerant but to keep it blooming all summer, fertilize and water when dry.

Yellow Apricot Blossom Tree is a tree of great significance in Vietnam.

Tet is the name for the Vietnamese Lunar New Year and when we were in Vietnam, it also happened to fall at the same time as the Chinese New Year. It was likened to our Thanksgiving and Christmas all rolled into one. It was cause for great celebrations, larger than normal crowds, decorations all over Ho Chi Minh City with both the real and fake Yellow Apricot blossom tree and cherry trees.

We saw families all dressed up having their pictures taken

so we followed suit and took pictures too.

Homes and businesses order in blooming bonsai apricot trees, some costing thousands of dollars.

Tet marks the beginning of spring, which in Vietnam is usually late January to early February. The Yellow Apricot Blossom Tree is one of the first trees to bloom, and it signifies good luck. The individual petals symbolize longevity, wealth, peace, health and love of virtues, and the more petals a tree has, the luckier it is,

and the bright yellow color represents happiness, prosperity and good luck. We saw these trees in lobbies of hotels, office buildings and being toted behind small scooters. One of our guides compared it as a holiday tradition/symbol to them, as a Christmas tree is for us.

The Strangler Trees prompted a lot of close guesses with Strangler Fig.

We did see some of the Ficus species, but I took pictures of all the plant labels

and the ones I used were from Tetrameles nudiflora – a genus I had never heard of before commonly called Thitpok. It grows as a large deciduous tree and is found across southern Asia from India through southeast Asia and into northern Australia. The tree often contains large hollows in the trunk or branches. It is deciduous, bare of leaves between October and December in Australia and typically January–April in Vietnam. It grows in monsoon forests and drier rain forests, but is also found on creek and river flats.

The ruins in Siam Reap were abandoned after the fall of the Khmer empire in the 15th century, and neglected until the 20th Century. The jungle started taking over. The massive roots look like they are a creature from outer space. There were at least three or four different genus of trees at the ruins we saw. Collectively the trees are called strangler trees, since they kill other trees and have done massive damage to the temples as well.

There were several species of strangler trees, but the two largest trees we saw were the Thitpok and the silk cotton tree, Ceiba pentandra. There were some strangler figs (Ficus) but they were much smaller. One reason the roots seem to be growing in and around the temple stones, is that the stones used to build the temples are made of sandstone which is porous in nature. The roots are able to extract water from the stones.

Ylang Ylang Tree is Cananga odorata.

Native to southeast Asia, where it can grow up to 60 feet tall, this tree is in the custard apple family, related to our pawpaw tree. Ylang Ylang is only grown in the US in Southern Florida and Texas and Hawaii. In Hawaii it has been used to make perfume and for lei’s and garland. We would have to grow it as a tropical container plant. Being a rainforest tropical tree, it prefers a high-humidity environment, evenly moist soil, and constantly warm temperatures.

This plant has unique flowers.

They are supposedly a key ingredient in Chanel No. 5 perfume. A related vining plant Artabotrys odoratissimus is also called ylang ylang vine with very similar flower structures.


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