It is said in the Keys that fall is spring and spring is fall. Trees such as the mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni) and gumbo-limbo (Bursera simaruba) are dropping their leaves now, not due to cold temperatures, but a seasonal lack of rainfall during the winter/spring months, which has been especially lacking this year (I believe it has only rained thrice in the past three months I have been down here). Dropping leaves limits a plant's water loss because transpiration occurs primarily through stomata in the leaves. However, no small number of plants are always to be found in bloom in the Gardens here at Kona Kai, even while the mahogany and gumbo-limbo are shedding their leaves to limit water loss. It's much different from up north in temperate regions, where seasons are more delimited, most plants do not flower in fall and the dead of winter, and the majority of plants in the landscape lose their leaves for almost half the year; I'm still trying to figure things out down here with regards to flowering/fruiting/leaf-drop patterns.
If you have ever been to the Keys, you might understand that the phrase "dead of winter" doesn't exactly apply here and that flowering in the winter months can occur in a number of plants, despite the fact that there is a shortage of water during this time. It seems as though there has been an increase in the number of plants in bloom around the property in the past few weeks, likely in anticipation of the rains which usually fall with greater frequency in the summer and fall months. If plants complete their flowering in the next couple months, then they will begin developing fruit, a process requiring elevated amounts of water, in months when rain is more plentiful. Many plants on the property also come from other regions of the world and when plants are moved from their home ranges to different latitudes, their original flowering/fruiting patterns do not change dramatically, so some of the plants in bloom now might be used to flowering in the spring months in their native range, even though this time might not be an ideal time for flowering in the Keys.
Photo on left - Plumeria alba (frangipani), photo on right - Strelitzia reginae (bird-of-paradise).
I recently traversed the Gardens armed with a point-and-shoot digital camera to document some of the springtime beauty at Kona Kai. From the pictures taken (some of which are included in this post for those who do not have Facebook), Gardens Director/Owner Joe Harris put together a photo album for Facebook in celebration of spring, which you can check out by following this link: Spring Flowers at Kona Kai. I was new to the camera and as many of you may know, the auto-focus feature on many point-and-shoot cameras is by no means perfect. It seems like every time I want to take a picture of something, the camera finds a way to focus on anything but the subject of the photo, seeming to think that I can't possibly want to take a picture of the beautiful flowers dominating most of the screen, and that I must certainly mean to focus on obscure objects far in the distance. So, instead of an excellent, sharply-focused close-up picture of an orchid flower, I find that I have a picture that looks like an orchid flower jumped in front of the lens at the last minute like an obnoxious child ruining a photo just as I was snapping a picture of a piece of potting soil in the distance. For his own reasons, Joe chose to include some of my out-of-focus masterpieces in the album, which doesn't bode too well for upholding my Ansel-Adams-level reputation as a photographer, but perhaps it will start a new movement in photography, starting with my own first exhibit, which I'll call something like "Flowers Through The Eyes of Great-grandparents Sans Spectacles."
Photo on left - inflorescence of an unidentified bromeliad, photo on right - Bougainvillea spectabilis (paper-flower).