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Plant Profile

Beautiful bloomer

By BETTE SMITH

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 18, 2000


Name of plant: Michelia alba (pronounced ma-Shell-eea or my-KEY-leah)

Origin: China

Characteristics: Small, white, very fragrant flowers with leaves similar to avocado. May defoliate in cold weather and is relatively new to the American market. This fast-growing shade tree is popular in China, where it is used as a containerized plant or shade tree. It blooms during warm weather and is a member of the magnolia family. It is related to the banana shrub, Michelia fuscata.

Growing tips: Southeastern exposure is best; it needs protection from cold. It can be grown in a container. Rare in the United States, the tree is plentiful and rooted from cuttings in Southeast Asia, where it is said to be considered good luck and is planted outside temples. The fragrant flowers are picked and worn on festive occasions. Trees usually are propagated by air layering or grafted on a close relative, Michelia champaca, as the seeds are not viable.

Shown: Grown in Florida, this young tree is grafted to root stock from the Himalayas, improving cold tolerance, according to Alan Smith of Tropical Fruit Trees in Largo. To contact him, e-mail zambesi@gte.net.

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