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February and allspice

February 23, 2018
By JOYCE COMINGORE - Garden Club of Cape Coral ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

February is notorious for being a month of surprises. Even though it is the shortest month of the year, always, this year is not without a difference. We are continuously 10 degrees above normal lately, and very dry. Water rationing doesn't usually go into effect until April. As one who doesn't have irrigation, I am suffering. The only surprise is my golden orchids that are busting out all over the lattice screen in my living room patio.

You can definitely start seeds in this weather. The Trafalgar garden is very full of dead plants, what with the cold spell. The compost pile calls. They are irrigated nicely, so it is not due to dryness. Manual labor is now needed to restart it. I really don't think the temps will get in the 50s again. Of course, the broccoli, cabbages and cauliflower are doing great. There is a humongous cauliflower out there.

My son-in-law has been cutting his lettuce leaves at the base and leaving the rooted part, but he complained about the new leaves being bitter. This is what happens when the lettuce flowers and bolts.

All I can think of is, that the heat has brought about a condition similar to bolting. Lettuce doesn't like heat.

Replanting is the way to go right now. Plenty of time for a summer garden start. If you have ground up the dead branches and leaves, let the mulch simmer for a couple of weeks. It will be too hot from decomposing to be of much good mulching. Mulching is what is needed in dry spells, to help keep the moisture in the soil.

Propagation from cuttings do well in springtime, and we are warm enough to have success.

Pruning can be done now. There are probably no cold spells in store. Plenty of plant sales are going on to refurbish your gardens. If you've a mind to travel, the Leu Gardens in Orlando is having its annual Spring Sale on March 10, starting at 9 a.m., entry is free that weekend.

One tree I am interested in is the Allspice Tree. A small to medium sized tree, 20 to 40 feet in height. Its width is 15 to 25 feet. With aromatic and non-distinct, tiny, fragrant white flowers, the leaves are evergreen and a contrast of delight. Small, brown seeds when ground, smell like cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. Mother always shook some in our eggnog.

It is not a combination of spices, as some believe, but the Pimenta Doioica tree. Known as the Jamaica Pepper, Myrtle pepper or Allspice Tree, it has seeds, leaves and bark that are all fragrant, and native to the Greater Antilles, southern Mexico and Central America, and now, all warm parts of the world.

Its name "allspice" was given it in early 1621 by the English, who confused it with black pepper, and thought it smelled like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves combined. The Myrtaceae is a large family of mostly aromatic trees and shrubs, including eucalyptus, guava, clove tree and melaleuca.

Christopher Columbus found it. Attempts to cultivate it elsewhere failed. Jamaica now has a monopoly on its production, the only spice whose commercial production is confined to the New World. Jamaica allspice is considered the best due to its high content of oil.

The English found it popular as the "English Spice." In the Napoleonic war of 1812, Russian soldiers put it in their boots to keep their feet warm. The result was an improvement in odors that has carried over into the cosmetic industry. Pimento oil is usually associated with men's toiletries, especially those with the word "spice" on the label. Breathes there a man, young or old, who hasn't sampled "Old Spice" cologne.

Nutmeg has been used as a breath freshener, to soothe toothaches and a digestive aid.

It became a real asset to flavoring cooking. When using allspice, add during the last few minutes of cooking so you don't lose the aromatic intensity of the essential oils. I can't make a pumpkin pie without it.

Also, oil distilled from the leaves of the closely related bay rum tree is used in bay rum fragrance and flavoring. So, since I already have a bay rum tree growing successfully at my front door, a nutmeg tree would balance my home's facade which faces the south, meeting its full sun requirement. A distinguished white-grey bark makes it stand out in the landscape. Once established, it is drought tolerant. They survive with protection in 9B zones, down to 28 degrees F.

If you can remember to water potted plants, it does well potted on your patio. To survive outs in other than a tropical climate, it may not flower or fruit, but its aromatic leaves are a big attraction.

They are trees that also provide us with food or flavoring, fragrance and on top of all their other attributes, adding to the charm and quality of our tree life dependency.

Thank a tree.

Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener, hibiscus enthusiast and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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