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April 8th, 2020

Clusia – A Tropical Classic

by R.S. Walsh

Clusia (Clusia Rosea) lends both an exotic and classy look to our Florida tropical landscape. The leaves are thick with a leathery texture, are rather large at 4-6” and teardrop-shaped. Clusia, once established, are both drought and salt tolerant making them a natural choice for our island environment.

While this plant is low-maintenance and trouble-free, they do branch out close to the ground and can get very wide. They make excellent privacy hedges as well as large accent plants for the landscape. The Rosea is the native variety and has pinkish-white flowers that appear in the summer, usually at night, that might last through the morning on cloudy days. They appear at the tip of branches and are followed by a light green, poisonous fruit about 3 inches in diameter. These fruit turn black and split open revealing bright red seeds in a black, resinous material. This black material in the fruit was once used to caulk the seams of boats resulting in its nickname ‘Pitch Apple’.

Another interesting nickname for the Clusia Rosea is Autograph Tree. You can scratch your name onto a leaf and as long as the leaf remains on the plant you will always see your autograph.

Another popular variety of Clusia is (Clusia Guttifera). This variety can be a lovely hedge or accent plant and is occasionally available in tree-form as well. This variety has slightly smaller leaves, but still has a large scale appearance. The leaves are in a tighter pattern and actually makes a nice hedge.

Clusia are evergreen shrubs that will grow in full sun to partial shade. They are moderately fast growers. The Rosea gets bigger and as a shrub can be kept to between 8 and 10 feet tall and wide. As a tree, you can grow the Rosea to as much as 25 feet tall. The Clusia Guttifera variety can be kept to a height of 6 feet, or it can be allowed to grow taller as a privacy hedge. These plants should only be trimmed by hand and only sparingly to keep its natural shape since its leaves are so large. Actually only the branches are trimmed. Do not cut across the foliage, in order to keep the whole leaves intact.

For a classic yet exotic hedge or specimen tree, the Clusia is a very good choice.

This plant column is a joint effort by all at In The Garden, a Sanibel garden center, located at 3889 Sanibel Captiva Rd, Sanibel, Florida.

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