If you’re looking for an unusual plant to fill an empty pot, consider Billbergia nutans. Also known as queen’s tears or the friendship plant, this member of the Bromeliaceae family grows almost anywhere in common soil or no soil and with little care. The plant’s nearly indestructible foliage and unusual blooms provide an exotic accent to a deck, doorway or flowerbed.
History and habitat
Billbergia nutans was named for the Swedish botanist, zoologist and anatomist Gustaf Johan Billberg (1772-1844). Nutans means “nodding,” a description for its undulating blooms.
A native of Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, this bromeliad is also found in Mexico and Central America, Ecuador, Peru and Argentina. Generally an epiphytic in its native habitat, flourishing on rocks and trees, Queen’s tears also thrives on the subtropical forest floor and in the well-drained soil of gardens or containers. As a ground cover, the plant spreads quickly growing outward from the original rhizome.
This monocot’s thick grasslike grey-green leaves with saw tooth edges and pointed tips present themselves in funnel-shaped rosettes. Each rosette, approximately 12 to 15 leaves, can reach heights of over 15 inches. Once a year, in springtime, a long arching pink stem emerges from the rosette’s center bearing one of the most striking of floral color combinations I’ve ever seen.
Imagine this long arching pink stem topped with day-glo reddish pink pendant bracts bursting with flowers.
And that’s not all.
The blooms hang in clusters, tubular in form, with three backward curved pink sepals with violet-blue margins, three reflexed lime-green petals outlined in navy blue to purple, and six protruding stamens one inch long with bright yellow anthers.
The blooms exude nectar. Sticky and clear, these visible droplets are often described as “weeping,” which occurs when the plant is touched or moved. These “tears” in combination with the purple color of royalty that outlines the lime-green petals, is the reason for its common name queen’s tears. Since this bromeliad readily produces new offsets called “pups” that are dividable from the original plant and easily shared. If you are fortunate to receive “a start” from a friend, remember that most Billbergia nutans need two to three years to mature before flowering.
Tolerant of drought, queen’s tears can survive months without water. This plant obtains moisture and nutrients from rain or overhead watering or misting, not from the roots. If you place your plant in a pot with a saucer, do not allow water to accumulate in the saucer, which leads to root rot. Use regular garden soil or planting soil and keep the soil slightly dry. Repot and/or divide when the rosettes overgrow their container. Billbergia nutans prefers partial shade and can scorch in full sun. A location beneath an overhang or tree is best.
Queen’s tears is hardy for USDA Zones 8-11. My plant, which I obtained as an offset from a friend, grows outdoors in a pot – a sturdy survivor of several Vacaville winters.
Launa Herrmann is a Master Gardener with the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Fairfield. If you have gardening questions, call the Master Gardener’s office at 784-1322.
When planning your USDA zone 9b garden, begin with the trees that love mild winters and hot summers.
The time to plant trees is now 🌳
Consider your garden’s “microclimates”, whether warmer or colder than the average within your hardiness zone, sun exposure, space available and soil type. Always check the recommended hardiness zone for the species and cultivar before making a final selection for your home orchard.
Native to Central America, the avocado (Persea americana) has been cultivated since at least 500 B.C. This subtropical tree grows in zones 8 through 11. The three different types of avocados vary in their cold tolerance. The Mexican cultivars tolerate frosts down to 16 degrees Fahrenheit, Guatemalan down to 24 degrees and West Indian down to 32 degrees. Avocado trees can grow to over 60 feet tall under ideal conditions.
The lush fruits of citrus trees (Citrus spp.) make them a desirable addition to your zone 9b garden. In general, the many cultivars of lemon, lime, orange and mandarin thrive in zones 9 and 10. A few, such as pummelo and grapefruit, need extra protection if frost threatens.
Grown in climates from temperate to tropical, the fig (Ficus carica) grows in zones 5 through 10, depending on the cultivar. Native to western Asia, figs have been cultivated throughout the Mediterranean since at least 5000 B.C. The Spanish brought figs to Mexico in 1560 and to California’s San Diego Mission in 1769. ‘Chicago Hardy’ is the hardiest of the figs, grown in zones 5 through 10. Other fig cultivars, such as ‘LSU Gold’ and ‘LSU Purple,’ prefer the warmer temperatures of zones 7 through 10. Most figs are self-fertile but produce a larger crop when a second tree is planted nearby.
Plant loquat trees (Eriobotrya japonica) in zone 8 through 10 gardens. You can prune the 10- to 25-foot tall evergreen trees to a shrub or tree form. The small orange fruits are described as a combination of a plum and kumquat. Loquats do well in full sun and partial shade.
Persimmon trees are native to Asia (Diospyros kaki) and North America (Diospyros virginiana). The Asian species thrive in zones 6 through 10, while the native trees are more cold tolerant, growing in zones 4 through 10. The cold and heat tolerance of both species depend on the particular cultivar. The fruits of native persimmons, and some of the Asian cultivars, are lip-puckeringly astringent until fully ripened.
The pomegranate (Punica granatum), a native of southern Europe and middle to western Asia, thrives in zones 8 through 10. It attracts hummingbirds and bees to its orange-red flowers and produces rounded fruits filled with juicy sacs that contain its edible seeds.
New Cultivars of Old Favorites
In general, many favorite fruit tree species have minimum chilling requirements. The winter chilling requirement is a range of hours each year that hover just above freezing, between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. The three basic ranges are high at 1,000 chilling hours or more, medium at 700 to 1,000 chilling hours and low at less than 700 chilling hours. There are a few cultivars that require few or no winter chilling hours, which are suitable for USDA plant hardiness zone 9b.
Planting your own apple (Malus domestica) orchard in zone 9b requires heat-tolerant and low-chill varieties. Among the apple trees that thrive in the mild winters and hot summers of zone 9b are ‘Golden Delicious’ (zones 4-9); ‘Anna,’ ‘Ginger Gold’ and ‘Granny Smith’ (zones 5-9); ‘Ein Shemer’ (zones 6-9) and ‘Cinnamon Spice’ and ‘Dorsett Golden’ (zones 5-10).
Like apples, most apricots (Prunus armeniaca) require more chilling hours than zone 9b can provide. There are a few low-chill varieties, including ‘Garden Annie’ and ‘Tropic Gold’ (zones 6-9). There are also a variety of apricot hybrids (Prunas salicina or Prunas cerasifera x Prunus armenica) available. Of these, ‘Cot-N-Candy’ and ‘Summer Delight’ apriums (zones 7-10) and ‘Candy Stripe’ and ‘Flavor Supreme’ pluots (zones 6-9) will all produce a good harvest in your zone 9b garden.
Natives of Asia, the Asian pears (Pyrus pyrifolia and Pyrus ussuriensis) thrive in a wide range of climates, from zones 4 through 10. There are thousands of cultivars available in Asia and several dozen in North America. The crisp, apple-like fruits smell and taste like pears. Add two different cultivars to your garden to ensure a good crop. ‘New Century’ (zones 4-9) and ‘Hosui’ and ‘Korean Giant’ (zones 7-10) are among the cultivars that will produce fruit in zone 9b.
European-Asian pear hybrids (Pyrus communis x Pyrus pyrifolia) will grow and produce fruit in your garden. ‘Flordahome’ (zones 8-10), ‘Leconte’ (zones 8-9), ‘Hood’ and ‘Spaulding’ (zones 6a-9), and ‘Maxie’ (zones 5-9) are among the possibilities. Some cultivars are self-fertile; plant two to ensure a good harvest.
Though sour cherries (Prunus cerasus) require more chilling hours than your zone 9b garden can provide, you can still grow a few sweet cherry (Prunus avium) cultivars. Your cherry orchard might include sweet and juicy ‘Lapins,’ ‘Sam Sweet’ and ‘Starking Hardy Giant’ (zones 5-9). When selecting cherry trees, consider your available space. Dwarf and semi-dwarf trees are suitable for most home gardens. Standard trees grow up to 30 feet tall with an equally wide canopy.
Most North American native pawpaw trees (Asimina triloba) prefer the colder winters of zones 4 through 8. Low-chill cultivars include ‘Mango,’ ‘Shenandoah’ or ‘Wabash’ (zones 5-9). Pawpaw trees grow from 12 to 25 feet tall and equally wide, depending on the amount of sunlight they receive. The trees tolerate partial shade, making them a good choice in gardens that are shaded by walls, buildings or larger trees in the afternoon. Two different cultivars are needed for pollination and fruit production.
Peaches (Prunus persica) and nectarines (Prunus persica nectarina) are essentially the same species. Nectarines are a smooth-skinned subspecies of the peach. Peaches ‘Desertgold,’ ‘Galaxy’ and ‘Newhaven’ (zones 5-9), as well as nectarines ‘Crimson Gold’ and ‘Flavortop’ (zones 5-9), are among the better choices for home gardens in zones 9b.
From ‘Burbank’ to ‘Santa Rosa,’ Japanese plum trees (Prunus salicina) offer a wide range of cultivars suitable for zones 5 through 9. European plums (Prunus domestica) also grow in zones 4 through 9, with a few cultivars suitable for zone 9b.
Protect Your Trees From Freezing Temperatures
To successfully grow subtropical and tropical fruit trees in zone 9b, monitor weather forecasts. When a frost is predicted, protect your trees by covering them with fabric or plastic sheeting “suspended on poles”.
Weigh the edges down with bricks, rocks or boards to prevent cold air from seeping under the coverings. A heavy layer of mulch, at least 4 to 5 inches, placed over the root ball and thorough watering before the temperatures drop also help protect the tender roots of cold-sensitive trees.
Be sure to remove plastic off your tree as soon as the sun rises. The sun will heat up inside the plastic and do more harm than good. Use plastic as a last choice.
Over the years, i stopped covering plants. I found they were capable of survival on their own. It became exhausting and now I only keep choices suited for 9b growing!!
Plants are first mentioned in the Bible in the first chapter of the first book: “Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth grass, theherbthat yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind…”(Genesis 1:11). Throughout the ages, the Hebrews have attributed holiness to many species of plants. The Scriptures associate feasts, rites and commandments with many plants and their cultivation. Early written information about herbs is found in the Bible back to the time of Moses or even earlier. In Exodus 12:22 Moses tells the children of Israel how to save their children by using the herb and lamb’s blood.“And you shall take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin.”In Numbers 19:6, 18hyssopis again mentioned. Also, in 1 Kings 4:33 God gave Solomon wisdom, “And he(Solomon)spoke of trees, from the cedar tree of Lebanon even to the hyssop that springs out of the wall…”Psalms 51:7 refers to this plant:“Purge me withhyssop,and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”While pride is symbolized by the majestic cedar of Lebanon in Jewish tradition, the lowly hyssop represents modesty and humility. At least eighteen plants have been considered for the hyssop of the Bible, but modern botanists have generally agreed that Syrian majoram (Origanum syriacum)is the likely plant. It seems to fit well with these verses. It was used to cleanse homes defiled by leprosy or death and came to symbolize cleanliness. Its fragrance and taste led it to be prized by the ancient Romans and the Greeks before them. Bridges and grooms wore crowns made ofmarjoram. It was also quite likely prized in the kitchen, as it is now.
In the New Testament a sponge soaked in sour wine or vinegar was stuck on a branch of hyssop and offered to Jesus of Nazareth on the cross (John 19:29). Hyssop-Oregano was often gathered in bunches and used as a brush or sprinkler for Jewish purification rituals.
Mint (Mentha longifolia) or horsemint is thought by many Jewish scholars to be the mint referenced by Jesus in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42 in His discourse with the Pharisees. It along with anise or dill and cumin grow wild in parts of Palestine, mint being the most common. The Pharisee taxed himself lightly if he paid the tithe of mint, for it was too common and too easily cultivated to be of much worth, even though it was valuable as a medicinal herb. It was one of the plants subjected to the ban on sowing and gathering every seventh year. Jesus’ lesson on hyprocrisy is told by Matthew and again by Luke, and mint is the one herb mentioned by both. The Greek wordHeduosmos, ormintha, means “having a sweet smell” and refers to “a sweet-smelling herb or mint.” The plant derives its name from Mintha, a Greek nymph who was transformed into the herb by Persephone after Persephone learned that her husband, Pluto had loved the nymph. Several varieties of mint grew in Israel, but horsemint is the most common and probably the one referred to by Matthew and Luke. Horsemint is still found today in the Holy Land and is cultivated at Aleppo in Syria. It is much larger than theother mints, reaching a height of three feet or more, with lilac flowers. It grows in moist, sunny places where it tends to run wild. It has been confused withMentha spicata, or spearmint. The Hebrews used mint as a strewing herb at home and in the Temple, prizing its clean and aromatic scent. They served mint at the Spring Passover Feast of the Paschal Lamb, and today it is one of the “bitter herbs” of the paschal feast.
In Israel the branched inflorescence of theSalvia dominicais one of the several salvias thought to have inspired the design of the menorah, seven-branched candelabra, or lampstand. Other scholars believe Judean sage (Salvia judaica) may have been in view.Judaicais from the HebrewYehudah, or Judah, the name given to the mountainous southern part of the land of Israel. The Bible describes God’s instructions to Bezalel of the tribe of Judah, one of Moses’ Israelites, to make an ark, altar and table of acacia wood:And he made the lampstand of pure gold; of hammered work he made the lampstand. Its shaft, itsbranches, its bowls, its ornamental knobs, and itsflowerswere of the same piece…”(Exodus 37:17).Sagehad already proven its value as both a flavoring and a medicine, so it is hardly surprising that it appeared in religious symbolism.
It’s a little too soon for Speed Weeks 🏁 in Daytona so it “must be “Seed Weeks”! 🤪
If you are following this blog, then you will see it’s already time to transplant the seeds that were just in baggies!
“Recycling” the days trash into useful vessels
What a difference a few days makes. Shhh, had to eat all the Krispy Kreme donuts to put the box to good use! Oatmeal box, egg crate, toilet rolls, dog food box; etc!
“Recycling” all in a days work as well!
The Lettuce and Calabrese Broccoli actually sprouted in 2 days and grew quite fast. I had to use a skewer stick to push roots down further into soil. Tomorrow they’ll be jumping out to the garden by themselves!