Many iconic sounds, lore and festivities are associated with the holiday season, including Santa, trees and sleigh bells.
Although you won’t hear any holiday sounds blasting from the trumpet-shaped flowers of the bell flower tree, you’ll be able to pick up on the alluring vanilla aroma, which is strongest in the evening hours in order to attract moths, their primary pollinator.
Comparable to many other tropical and subtropical evergreen species, the bell flower tree, or Portlandia grandiflora, has deep-green glossy/leathery leaves that contrast attractively with its pure white, sometimes tinged with pink, flowers. Reaching up to 6 inches in length, the flowers offer a cosy place for moths to flutter nearby.
The bell flower can handle the 30 F temperatures that one might experience at Santa’s shop in the North Pole. It will require consistent 50 F temperatures year-round, however, to reach its snow-white bloom, which occurs mainly in the rainy season. If continuously irrigated throughout the dry season, it may bloom year-round.
A slow-growing, moderately sized tree, bell flower can reach heights of 10 to 15 feet, with a slightly smaller spread in warm/humid conditions akin to its native habitat of Cuba and Jamaica. Preferring filtered light — and even full sun at times — it will need an alkaline and evenly moist, well-draining soil to thrive.
Following pollination, the fruit forms into brownish woody pods that eventually turn black when ripe and hold the seeds, which are easy to germinate when fresh. Although medicinal properties may be present, research does not support any known uses at this time, and bell flower’s principal use is that of an ornamental.
Uncomplicated to maintain, with very low susceptibility to pests and disease, bell flower does not disappoint and can hold its own as an elegant focal point in the garden. It is also a great choice for a moon garden, which is primarily designed to be enjoyed in the evening hours when the moon and stars become a part of the white glow, and the scent of the plants is strongest to encourage pollinators to swing in for a sweet treat. Currently in full bloom, bell flower can be found at the west entrance to Gardenia Court in Camana Bay.
This article was originally published in the December 2022 print edition of Camana Bay Times.