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Travel and Beaches

It's Safe To Fall In Love At USF Botanical Gardens

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: July 9, 2013 at 08:41 PM

Take a stroll through the Botanical Gardens at USF and you'll likely fall in love - again and again.

That could make visiting too painful an experience to repeat: Unrequited plant love is one of the top five causes of gardener heartache (according to a biased and unscientific poll).

The people who run the gardens apparently thought of that. In a little shop on the grounds, visitors can find smaller versions of many of the plants they see in the subtropical shade garden, the butterfly garden and the herb and scent garden, to name just a few. Signs posted in front of blushing little beauties in bloom let visitors know, "I can be yours! Let's rendezvous in the plant shop." (That's not exactly what the signs say, but they may as well.)

Kevin Slaughter has been running the plant shop for nine months and is transitioning to the job of head gardener.

"We have a lot of stuff here that's not available anywhere else," he says. "A lot of plants are propagated here out of our own collections - orchids, succulents, begonias, lots of the perennials."

It's free to visit the gardens and stroll its tranquil acreage. But, despite its affiliation with the University of South Florida, the nonprofit garden is member-supported, relying on donations and fundraisers to pay the bills. Plant shop sales help.

The Botanical Gardens are on the southwest corner of USF's Tampa campus, at Pine and Alumni drives. (From East Fowler Avenue, go north one block on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, then east on Pine Drive.) Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. For information, call (813) 974-2329.

Angel wing begonia

There are several cultivars of angel wing, which takes its name from the shape of its leaves.

"The blooms are pretty much the same for all begonias," Slaughter says. "The size may be different, and the colors. They range from white to almost true red."

Angel wings like soil with good drainage, so they do well in a sandy mix. Give them bright shade or filtered light - no direct sunlight. And they don't like the cold. They also prefer being drier to getting too much water.

"Overwatering is usually the biggest problem people have with these," Slaughter says.

Hindu rope

Hoya carnosa

One of Slaughter's favorite plant genera is hoya, which includes about 300 species of tropical climbers, many of them epiphytic vines.

"They're still finding new ones," he says.

Some hoya have unusual characteristics. Darwinii will occasionally have a leaf that curls into a hollow ball. Ants move in and make a home there, and help nourish and protect the plant.

Hindu rope is popular for its unusual spiraling leaves. In containers, it doesn't mind being a little root-bound, Slaughter says, but make sure it has really well-draining soil - a cactus mix is good. It likes humidity, and in the fall you can hang it outside from an oak limb, where it will be very happy.

False aralia

Schefflera elegantissima

A good choice for indoors, false aralia has copper- and green-colored foliage with an interesting saw-toothed edge.

"It has nice texture and nice color in the variegation," Slaughter says.

It grows up, rather than out, and can get up to about 5 feet tall - plant two or three together for a bushy effect.

It likes moderate watering and can take some morning sun, but not afternoon.

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