Amanda Wilkins, Curator of Plant Collections

MBG has received a plethora of calls all wondering the same things: ‘Should I be cutting back my dead foliage?’  or ‘When should I be pruning [insert plant here]?’

Okay, dead foliage first:

I have been hesitant to encourage people to cut back their dead foliage on their citrus, perennials and woody plants. This week is looking quite “spring-like”, but because of the weird especially cold winter we’ve experience I have been warning caution. The reason being the dead foliage protects the plants from biting wind and bitter cold that can get at the living crown of the plant and desiccate the living tissue. If we get one more cold snap before the end of “winter”, especially after this upcoming week of warm weather, you may have more damage in your garden.

If you have already cut it back, don’t worry! Plants are surprisingly resilient. We also have a plant sale coming up, so you can use it as an opportunity to fill in those new dead spots!


Many people have reported their satsumas and kumquats have dead foliage and tips on them after the cold. This is normal, given the crazy weather we’ve had. Your plants will grow new leaves in good time, so don’t worry. To properly cut back the dead tips on any citrus:

  • Identify the where the bark on the tips goes from brown to green
  • Count down four to six buds
  • Make the cut just above one of the buds, making sure it is facing away from the center of the plant!

Sago Palms and Palmettos

Most of the sago palms, Cycas taitungensis and C. revoluta, around Mobile have turned a golden, crispy looking color that certainly stands out as a glaring wound from winter. I know a lot of you are chomping at the bit to get the seemingly standing dead out of your landscape, but I encourage you to be patient with those clippers! Your plants are most likely just fine and they need that foliage to protect their central growing bud from harm (you know, that crazy looking fuzzy swirl in the middle)!

If you are not sure if your plant is still alive, sago or palmetto, look at the foliage. Even if it is brown, if most of the fronds are still standing erectly then your plant is fine. If the foliage is hanging down and starting to fall off, the plant is dead and should be removed. If you’re still not sure, email me at the Gardens ( with a picture of the whole plant.

The best time to cut the dead-looking foliage off is once the center bud starts to elongate. If you can’t wait until then, then wait until you feel confident spring has arrived.

Timing Your Pruning

I wish it was as easy as giving some quick advice when it comes to pruning. I really do. Unfortunately, it is a fairly complicated business and if not understood properly can forever sentence you to a life without flowers in your garden. Who out there has a mophead or lacecap Hydrangea that “never blooms”? Yep, I thought so.

A few tips though:

  • Timing is everything! Make sure(!) you know what species of plant you have before you go after it with the shears. Get to know when it flowers and other habits it has so that way you are not cutting it back at the wrong time. For example, there are three types of Hydrangea we commonly grow on the Gulf Coast. Two of them flower on old wood (Hydrangea macrophylla) and one of them flowers on new wood (Hydrangea paniculata). You can cut back the one that blooms on new wood in the winter without issue, but if you cut back one that blooms on old wood you cut next season’s flowers off!
  • Make sure to keep your tools clean! Spray the blades with isopropyl alcohol in-between plants in your garden. Think about it this way: would you want your doctor going at you with a recycled needle? I think not! Make sure to scrub off debris before storing your tools.
  • There are times when you don’t need to worry about timing: When a plant is getting in the way of your walkway (clearance) or is growing into another plant; and when there is dying, dead or diseased wood (make sure to remove the material completely from your garden!).
  • “Pruning Winter” ends at the end of February/early March. Anything after that you run the risk of

Okay, I will try to give you the quick and dirty on the more common plants you might be going after this time of year.

Crape Myrtles

Winter is the time to prune these back. We won’t talk about “crape murder”. You prune your plants the way you want (or visit the Gardens to see what crape myrtles can really look like)!


Winter is the time to prune these back as well. I understand a lot of folks are dealing with plant behemoths they may have let go too long. We may have to deal with that at a later date.


“Azaleas after” is all you have to remember. Prune them after they have finished flowering, whatever cultivar you have. Evergreen azaleas are very forgiving with pruning, but if you have any deciduous/native/Aromi azaleas, don’t prune them too harshly. Only prune them if their branches are crossing or if they are growing in the wrong direction.


Valentine’s Day is the beginning of pruning season for Camellias. If your Camellias haven’t bloomed by Feb. 14, then hold off until after they do! June is a good time to stop pruning.


Valentine’s Day is the beginning of the pruning season for roses too. Roses bloom on new growth, so you can cut them back fairly heavily, if your taste dictates. Many rose cultivars will also continue to bloom if you cut off them spent blossoms. Drift® and Knockout® roses are two such types!


If you have any other questions or concerns, feel free to email them to me at I always appreciate accompanying photos!

I look forward to seeing you around the Gardens!


Written by Amanda Wilkins


Camellia grijsii flowering in the Kosaku Sawada WinterGarden, with display label.

I gave a tour to a group of visiting botanists a couple weeks ago. These were people who dealt mainly with the natural world, but can still appreciate gardens. One of the ladies was reading a Camellia label in the WinterGarden and exclaimed, “Hey! That’s where I’m from in Georgia!” She beamed as one of the other scientists took her photo with the beautiful pink flowers.

Visitors take a picture of the display label of Osmanthus heterophylla ‘Kaori Hime’ to remember the name of the plant they saw.




Knowing and understanding the “origin” of a particular plant or cultivar helps put the plant into the wider context of the plant kingdom and of cultivation around the world. Think about it: looking at a tree and thinking ‘it’s just a tree,’ but suddenly you see it is from a specific region in China or was a cultivar developed in a town near where your family was from? That plant has just taken on a whole new meaning to you.

One of the most important things that sets a botanical garden apart from any other garden is the presence of labels telling you what plant you are looking at. To have that, you need knowledgeable staff members who know plants, how to research them, and how to properly communicate that information to a broad audience, from laypeople to scientists.

We are fortunate at the Mobile Botanical Gardens that we have a staff who can! In the past, diligent volunteers did their best to make sure each plant was labeled with a metal tag and a label that could be seen from the path; however, this was not consistent throughout the Gardens. One of my jobs as curator of plant collections is to come back behind them, record the names in our master plant database, and then make sure the name is correct. After all of that, a newly formatted label is made.

Dissecting the flowers of Camellia grijsii to determine whether it was properly identified.

The new labels contain several pieces of information: the scientific name; the cultivar name (if it has one); a common name (if it is not a repeat of the scientific name); the plant family it is in; the accession number, which corresponds to its entry in the database; and then we’ll call it the “origin” information.

What is the “origin” of a plant? We define it many ways at the Gardens. For species that can be found in the wild, it is where they are native to. For the azaleas and Camellias, the origin is the breeder or registrar of the particular cultivar. We do this because these are significant collections at the Gardens. For other plants that are cultivars (we’ll table this term for another time), it will generally say “Garden Origin.”

Camellia sasanqua ‘Sakura’ was collected during a trip to Japan a few years ago. It was in cultivation there, but no one knows the details of its origin.

It seems every time I walk through the Gardens with visitors, the question arises: “what does ‘Garden Origin’ mean?” The long and short of it is that it comes from a garden. It is just that simple, yet here is a lot of meaning packed into that little term. Really, it means that at one point in the history of horticulture, man came along and selected it from the wild or selectively bred it for the purpose of growing it in a garden. Which garden? How long ago? Where did it come from? Who selected it? Sometimes it is easy to know if there is a lot of literature about that particular group of plants or if it is a relatively recent development; but sometimes time has shrouded the origins in mystery and we may never know. For the sake of consistency and sanity, we choose to roll all of this simply into “Garden Origin”.


Come visit us at the Gardens from Wednesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Last entry is at 3 p.m., so come early! The Gardens are a private non-profit and rely on donations and entrance fees to survive. It is $5 for non-members, and free members and for children under 12. Join me for the monthly Walk with the Curator every second Thursday. The next walk is Thursday, January 11 at 10 a.m.

by Amanda Wilkins

If you are curious about other plants associated with Christmas, join us for “The Botany of Christmas” with Fried Nation on Friday, December 15, from 2-4 p.m. Learn more here

Nothing says the Christmas season like a brilliant, red Poinsettia. All the big box stores seem to have had just a few of them available before Thanksgiving for those eager beavers who just love starting Christmas early (those folks have probably been enjoying the trickling stream of holiday tunes on some of the radio stations too…). But, what is it about these incredible plants that makes us associate them with the Christmas season?

Most folks would probably say it’s the beautiful red color of the poinsettias that complete the classic Christmas look. Nowadays there are more than 100 different cultivars (“cultivated varieties”) that come in varying shades of white, pink, red and everything in between. Even still, red is still the number one seller, which makes sense because it blends in with most Christmas color schemes!

Poinsettia “flowers”

Bringing the botany back in: One of the coolest parts of this plant is that the red (or white or pink, if that’s your style) “petals” are really colored leaves called bracts. The true flowers are actually those weird yellow things in the middle. If you got out your handy-dandy hand lens and took a closer look, you’d really see how alien those flower look! Anyway, so the “petals” are colored leaves in poinsettias, and this is a common characteristic in the family Euphorbiaceae that stems from the loss of true petals due to adaptations to harsh environmental conditions and other evolutionary factors. Many other species in the genus Euphorbia have been able to bring their “petals” back too. Isn’t botany fun?

The scientific name of poinsettias might also help us answer our question though. Scientists would call them Euphorbia pulcherrima Willd. ex Klotzsch, meaning “very beautiful Euphorbia” in Latin. It’s important to note that there are more than two thousand species in the genus Euphorbia, so it’s good to know we picked the “very beautiful” one!

The other answer to what makes us associate poinsettias with the Christmas season is that they naturally bloom this time of year; and what botanists mean by “this time of year” is short days and long nights. Poinsettias are particularly sensitive to light and the length of the night. You may have heard the old wives’ tale of “putting your poinsettia in the dark will make it flower”. Now don’t go sticking your poor plant in a closet to make it flower again! What the tale speaks to is the importance of long “nights” to inspire flowering in poinsettias. I remember listening to the painstaking lectures in university talking about short day, long night plants; and how the presence of any light during those “long nights” could actually break the “night” and make the plant’s internal clock start over. For a poinsettia grower, this is critical to understand because if you don’t you can have a house full of beautiful plants with no color!

Kula, Maui

 Modern horticultural science has taken the humble poinsettia to the next level though. Poinsettias in the wild are tall, spindly shrubs native to Mexico. Native plants possess red bracts, but they tend to be in a sparse whorl around the yellow flowers, and are thin and not nearly as brightly colored. Through modern breeding techniques and meticulously-controlled greenhouse production, growers are able to bring bushy, dwarf, uniform, brightly-colored plants to a shelf near you (although, heaven forbid when they’re covered in glitter!). Poinsettia production starts all the way back in March when most growers order their plugs from seed companies, and the growing really gets going in October with very specific light, fertilizer and plant-growth-regulator regimes. If you want a sneak peek, check out a grower guide here:



Toxic Plants?

I get asked a lot about whether poinsettias are poisonous or not. The short answer is ‘Yes, they are, if any part of the plant is ingested.’ Poinsettias are in the family Euphorbiaceae, the spurge family, which explains why you’ll see white “milk” dripping when you accidentally brush by the plant and break off one of the leaves. It’s this sap that is full of alkaloids, and it can cause some mild skin irritation in sensitive people and nausea and vomiting in pets and humans if ingested. That being said, you’d have to eat hundreds of leaves to actually die from poinsettias. You’d probably stop eating after the first bite though, because those alkaloids make the plant’s parts so bitter it deters most animals from munching. But, if Fido takes a bite he’ll probably just be pretty ill. The best you can do is make sure the plant is out of reach of pets, and children are not at risk of brushing by it and damaging the plant. If you do break a part off, just wash the sap off with a mild soap. Trust me, there are some nastier members of the family!

Saturday, September 30th
9am – 1pm
at Mobile Botanical Gardens

Gulf Coast Herb Society Member: $30
Non-members: $35

Special Speaker Felder Rushing, the Gestalt Gardener
“Stress-Free Gardening with Herbs”
– Growing easy culinary and other useful herbs through all seasons and senses.

Includes Tasty Herb Treats, Lunch, Door Prizes, Shop the Tents, Enjoy the Herb Demos

Registration Opens August 15th – Make checks payable to GULF COAST HERB SOCIETY


Saturday, October 28

Members $50
Non-members $65

Explore the Splinter Hill Bog with Fred Nation and discover the many unique and fascinating plants that grow there. Depart by bus from MBG at 9am and return around 3pm. Lunch will be included.

Fred Nation is a field botanist, environmental consultant, free-lance photographer and writer, who lives in Daphne, Alabama with his wife Maureen. Fred teaches various seminars on habitats and ecosystems for Weeks Bay Reserve and conducts workshops on invasive exotic plant controls and plant identification for the USDA Forest Service, The Cooperative Extension System, and Weeks Bay Reserve. He has identified and nominated 25 Alabama State Champion Trees.

Nature and Landscape Photography with Julie Andel

October 26th – December 7th (Thursdays*, 1pm-3pm)
Members: $125
Non-members: $150
*No class on November 23rd

Julie Andel, Instructor.

Learn how to capture the beauty that surrounds you! This six week course will cover topics such as camera settings, exposure, composition, photography tools, photographing gardens, a special module describing using smartphones or similar devices for photographing the garden, and critiques of photos. Each weekly class will have a 30 minute lecture with a power point presentation and be followed by an hour long garden walk to practice the methods or topics covered in the lecture. Julie will provide hands on training to the students during the garden walk.

The only requirement is to bring your camera and your camera manual.

Take a look at Julie Andel’s website!

Online sale throughout the month of July

Our Ginger sale and order pickup is on Saturday, August 5th at MarketPlace from 9am – noon

Gingers are wonderful plants for a tropical look during our hot and humid summers – and are root hardy! From the dramatic Curcuma elata – Giant Plume gingers to the short Kaempferias that make a good summer groundcover with their decorative foliage there is a ginger for most shady places in your yard.

And here’s an archive from Bill Finch for a refresher course on Gingers for the Mobile Area.

Also take a look at Tim Chapman’s talk on Gingers that was held here at MBG a couple of years ago!

Aechmea gamosepala – Matchstick Bromeliad

Alocasia ‘Borneo King’

Alocasia ‘Mayan Mask’ – Dark Masquerade Elephant Ear

Aloe humilis ‘Andhogp’ –  Spineless Aloe

Alpinia formosana – Pinstripe Ginger

Alpinia galanga – Greater Edible Galangal

Alpinia zerumbet ‘Variegata’ – Variegated Shell Ginger

Alpinia zerumbet – Shell Ginger

Alternanthera ficoidea ‘Party Time’

Amorphophallus konjac – Voodoo Lily

Billbergia saundersii  – Brazilian Bromeliad

*Bromeliad neoregella ‘Fireball’ – Dwarf Bromeliad

Bromeliad nutans – Queen’s Tears

*Clivia sp. – Orange Clivia

Colocasia ‘Maximus Giagante’- Giant Colocasia

*Costus barbatus ‘Red Tower’ – Tall Spiral Ginger

Costus comosus x productus ‘Pheonix’ – Spiral Ginger

*Costus pictus ‘Red Stem’ – Red-stemmed Short Spiral Ginger

Costus pictus – Painted Spiral Ginger

Costus spicatus –  Orange Spiral Ginger

Crinum asiaticum ‘Variegatum’ – Giant Variegated Crinum

Curcuma  ‘Garnet’ – Dwarf Garnet Hidden Ginger

Curcuma ‘Scarlet Fever’ – Scarlet Fever Hidden Ginger

Curcuma alismatifolia – Siam Tulip

Curcuma elata – Giant Plum Ginger

Curcuma inodora – Pink Hidden Ginger

Curcuma longa – Turmeric

Curcuma petiolata ‘Emperer’ – Variegated Hidden Ginger

Curcuma petiolata ‘Snow Drift’ – Variegated Hidden Ginger

Curcuma sp. – Hidden Ginger

*Curcuma x laddawan  – Pink Hidden Ginger

*Dichorisandra thyrsiflora – Blue Ginger

Elettaria cardamum  – False Cardamum

*Globba globulifera – Pink Globe Ginger

*Globba schomburgkii  – Dancing Girl Ginger

Hedychium ‘Anne Bishop’ – Butterfly Ginger

Hedychium ‘Ayo’ – Butterfly Ginger

Hedychium ‘Daniel Weeks’ – Butterfly Ginger

Hedychium ‘Dr. Moy’ – Butterfly Ginger

Hedychium ‘Elizabeth’ – Butterfly Ginger

Hedychium ‘Kinkaku’ – Butterfly Ginger

Hedychium chrysoleucum – Brush Ginger

Hedychium coccineum ‘Disney’ –  Brush Ginger

Hedychium coccineum ‘Orange Brush’ – Brush Ginger

Hedychium coccineum ‘Tara’  –  Brush Ginger

Hedychium coronarium – White Butterfly Ginger

Hedychium flavum – Yellow Butterfly Ginger

Hedychium thyrsiforme – Pincushion Ginger

*Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Red Wave’

*Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Snow Queen’

*Kaempferia ‘Grande’ – Giant Peacock Ginger

Kaempferia pulchra ‘Bronze Peacock’ – Bronze Peacock Ginger

Kaempferia pulchra ‘Silver Spot’ – Silver Spot Peacock Ginger

*Manihot esculenta ‘Variegata’

Monstera sp.  

Musella lasiocarpa – Golden Lotus Banana

Plumeria sp. – Assorted Plumeria

Scadoxus multiflorus – Blood Lily, Firecracker Lily

Strelitzia reginae ‘Orange’ – Orange Bird of Paradise

Tradescantia spathacea

Zingiber zerumbet – Shampoo Ginger


July 14th – August 18th (Fridays 10am – 1pm)
Members: $125
Non-members: $150

Derek Norman, Instructor.

Drawing in Colored Inks offers the botanical art student the opportunity to discover the beauty of working with colored inks. Students will first be introduced to the classical tradition of working with sepia ink. Slowly migrating to the use of additional colored inks to realize a new and a fresh dimension in their work. For centuries classic botanical art has relied on pen and black ink to bring forth and reveal the rich botanical beauty and detail of plant species. With the availability of the new concentrated pigmented inks color adds a whole new ingredient to the presentation of plant drawings. Students will discover a whole new way of depicting color in plants to give your work added impact and vitality.

For questions or concerns regarding the materials list do please speak with Derek Norman.

Sale hours at MarketPlace: Saturday, June 10th, 9am – noon

If you love the beautiful water lilies and papyrus at the sugar kettle in WinterGarden, then we have some plants for you!

We will have:

– An Assortment of large to small lotus (Nelumbo ssp.), including our native lotus, Nelumbo lutea
– An Assortment of large to small hardy waterlilies, including a native species
– A few tropical water lilies
– White-topped sedge- Rhynchospora colorata
– Golden Club- Orontium aquaticum
– Alligator Flag- Thalia dealbata
– Calla lily- Zantedeschia aethiopica
Hibiscus moscheutos
Assorted Papyrus

Creating a Water Plants Garden Demonstration/Workshop: 10am

Instructor: Amanda Wilkins

Members $10

Nonmembers $15


All workshop participants are entered in the drawing for a complete pond garden kit (pond liner, plants, pots, rocks — everything except the water) valued at over $200!


What’s Bloomin’ at MBG?
Second Thursday of each month at 10AM

Join Amanda for monthly presentations on the second Thursday of each month. Amanda will present on topics and/or lead groups on collection tours around the grounds and discuss the plants we have in bloom right now. She will share her best growing tips and if anyone can stump her on ‘Name That Plant’ — we will award a free plant to the stumper! Should be fun!

MBG Members – Free
Non-members – $10 at the door

June 8
July 13
August 10
September 14
Wednesday, October 11
November 9
December 14