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


All classes last 6 weeks and are held on Fridays from 10am – 1pm
Members: $125
Non-members: $150 (consider becoming a member!)

WORKING WITH GRAPHITE PENCIL: October 13 – November 17, 2017   Register
If you have long held the desire to learn how to draw then this class is for you. And also, for those who simply wish to take their drawing skills to a higher level.

During this 6-week course, each student will engage in drawing plant specimens as they learn to recognize and create form by understanding the importance of structure, surface texture and light as “value”. Feel the magic of creating “value” as your flower drawing slowly emerges and comes to life with shape, form, depth, and dimension.

WORKING WITH COLORED PENCIL: December 8 – January 12, 2018    Register
For those who simply wish to take their drawing skills to a higher level and those who continue to explore the world of botanical drawing and painting – this class is specifically designed for you!

Students will progress through sound accurate observation and the fundamentals of proportional drawing technique to an understanding of working with color and colored pencil. A step-by-step process will allow the
student to more fully understand the application of color and color blending be it colored pencil or watercolor.

As the class progresses each student will engage in drawing plant specimens as they learn to apply color to hot press paper and understand the importance of structure, surface texture and color perspective

WORKING WITH WATERCOLOR: February 2 – March 9, 2018    Register
This class is designed as an introduction to the botanical art of painting in
watercolor using the Six-Color-Palette.
Here is an opportunity to develop and further refine your understanding
of basic color, color mixing and sound color selection through a step-bystep
approach. Learn to paint wet-on-wet, wet-on-dry and how to apply a
“glaze”, a “wash” and classic English “dry-brush”. Students will progress
to working with botanical specimens as they build confidence and proficiency.

As the class progresses each student will engage in drawing plant specimens as they learn to apply color to hot press paper and understand the importance of structure, surface texture and color perspective

About our Instructor –

Derek Norman and his wife, Ursel, are members of MBG and they are new to our Gulf Coast community, having moved here from Chicago. Derek was born, bred and educated in England before he moved to the States. His graphic works, paintings, drawings and botanical works have been exhibited in Europe and America. He has won Gold and Silver Gilt Medals at the Royal Horticultural Society in London and he is represented in many private and permanent collections including the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Pittsburgh, the Library of Congress, the British Museum and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Florilegium Society.

Select the appropriate class link below to register online. You may also register by calling or stopping by the office (Wednesday – Friday, 9am – 4pm)
If you choose to register online and are a member please LOGIN to your account before adding the class to your cart.

Botanical Art I: Graphite
Botanical Art II: Colored Pencil
Botanical Art III: Watercolor

Amanda Wilkins, Curator of Collections

It’s been awhile since spring plant sale, but now we’re moving into the time when we’re seeing out beloved bees and butterflies return to the region. With that, we’re reminded we have the botanical tools to lure them to our gardens and lend them a hand as they complete their life cycles.

The MarketPlace at the Mobile Botanical Gardens has a host of lovely nectar plants that we know and love, such as Salvias, Coneflowers (Rubeckia ssp. and Echinacea ssp.), and Coreopsis. But we also have many of the plants some species of butterfly need to have to feed their caterpillars.

Well, we’ve got a deal for you!

We’ve developed a wagon of the last few native pollinator plants left from Plantasia, and they’re going to be for sale for $65, more than 10 percent off!

The cart consists of:

  • 1- Alabama ox-eye daisy- Heliopsis helianthoides– Small butterflies, like skippers, love to get nectar form these. They are one of the first things to come up with the spring and the last to go down in the winter. This one likes more sun than most, but can tolerate some shade during a part of the day. Definitely prefers well-drained soils.
  • 1- Indian Blanket- Gaillardia sp.– The red and yellow flowers on this sunflower-relative really get the little butterflies going.
  • 1- Hammock Snakeroot- Ageratina jucunda– I have seen all sorts of bees and butterflies on this plant. Pale blue/purple flowers make a great accent in a naturalistic garden.
  • 1- Stiff Bluestar- Amsonia rigida– The feathery habit of this plant paired with the blue star-shaped flowers will have those butterflies coming back for more. Make sure the site is moist, but well-drained.
  • 2- Golden Alexander- Zizia aurea– HOST FOR: black swallowtails. Ever had black swallowtail caterpillars eat your fennel? Well try this native relative to see if you can get a piece of that licorice action this year. This plant has dainty yellow flowers and ours have been blooming in the nursery since February!
  • 1- Small-flower Pawpaw- Asimina parviflora– HOST FOR: Zebra swallowtails. When you don’t have room for the pawpaw we love to eat (Asimina triloba), you can make some for this shrubby (to 6-8 ft.) one. The rusty, golden hairs on the obovate leaves add an interesting texture to a garden, but it is the bizarre fruits that’ll have you scratching your head.
  • 1- Starry Rosinweed- Silphium asteriscus – The Longleaf Pine Forest at MBG is graced with this plant in the summer time and there are few things lovelier than going out to watch the bees go to town on the disk florets. They love them! The flowers get to a good height (3-4 ft.) so they can be planted behind something for an airy effect.
  • 1- Coreopsis– An all-time favorite of bees and butterflies of all types.


If those don’t trip your trigger, consider adding these to your butterfly hospitality suite:

Hop Wafer, or Wafer Ash – Ptelea trifoliate
Host for: Giant and Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
The common name comes from the wafer-like fruits this plant makes in April and May. It is deceptive, but it is related to lemons and limes (in the family Rutaceae!). It flowers in large, terminal heads and little flies and bees like to collect the oils for their hives. The larva (caterpillars) of two species of swallowtail like to munch on the leaves, so don’t be afraid if you see something eating the leaves.

Sweet Gum – Liquidambar styraciflua
Host for: Luna Moth
The sap from this tree used to be used for making candy. I’ve never tried it, but who knows, maybe it was tasty! We do know, however, that this is one of the host plants for luna moths, those gorgeous, large, green moths we sometimes see in the summertime outside on the porch. If you’ve got a well-drained spot in your yard and a spot in your heart for the lovely rainbow of fall foliage this tree creates, this is the one for you.

Hercules’ Club, or Toothache Tree – Zanthoxylum clava-herculis
Host for: Giant Swallowtail
This gnarly plant is a show-stopper: it has shiny, compound leaves with thorns (well, really botanically prickles) down the trunk. The leaves can be used as a temporary numbing agent, due to oil in the plant. It’s also a reason why the larva of the giant swallowtail likes to chew on it (or maybe they have a toothache too!).The reason the plant has this oil is that it is in the citrus family, as well (family Rutaceae).