Arno KingThe golden gardenia

When we think of gardenias, we often think of the perfumed, waxy, white, double flowers of Gardenia jasminoides. However the genus consists of some 140 species and not all of them are white. In fact some of my favorite gardenias are the golden ones – the ones with yellow-orangy flowers. There are quite a few related species and this is where it gets a little tricky – for they can be tricky to identify. While they may not be white, they all release a strong gardenia perfume.

The last flower on the tree

The last flower on the tree

The Golden Gardenia (Gardenia carinata) is probably the most famous of this group. Keen plantsmen Anton van der Schans and Paul Plant had both alerted me to a specimen in the Brisbane Botanic Gardens at Mt Coot-tha but I had never been able to find it. With better directions I finally tracked it down last Saturday. The ground was covered in dead flowers showing that a spectacular display must have produced a few weeks earlier, but I was only able to find one flower – the last flower of the season – which luckily was low enough for me to photograph. I have made a note in my diary to visit the tree in early November this year when I hope it will be at its peak.

Gardenia carinata has large golden flowers

Gardenia carinata has large golden flowers

Is the tree in the gardens really Gardenia carinata? Perhaps it is or perhaps it is a related species. It is large, it has large broad flat leaves and large broad petalled flowers. The tree is about 8 metres tall and 5 metres wide. The leaves are some 300mm wide and 100mm wide. The flowers are around 70 to 90mm across. The tree was probably planted in the early 1980s.

The tree is different in appearance to many other species in this section of the genus that I have seen in Asia. It seems to thrive in Brisbane and I think it would be a prized tree in any garden.

The Golden Gardenia at  Mt Coot-tha is some 8 metres in height

The Golden Gardenia at Mt Coot-tha is some 8 metres in height

One of my prized finds at the Queensland Garden Expo at Nambour last July was Gardenia ‘Soleil d’Or’ (Sun of Gold) This is a stunning shrub covered for much of the year by orangy-yellow waxy, tubular flowers. With its elongated, leathery, shiny green leaves it is a great addition to any garden. Plants that were planted when it was first released in the early 1990s are now 2 to 3 metres tall and would be classed as a large shrub or small tree. I believe this is Gardenia gjellerupii. It was introduced by Hilders Nursery and imported from Thailand. This same species is widely grown in Singapore particularly in the National Botanic Gardens.

Gardenia gjellerupii in the National Botanic Garden in Singapore

Gardenia gjellerupii in the National Botanic Garden in Singapore

 

 

I teach in the Botany Centre at these gardens a few weeks each year and regularly pass these shrubs which are some 2 metres in height. Having some in my own garden was not something I was going to pass up. Since the day they were planted it has hardly rained, and relying on tank water, watering has been restricted. Despite this, my three plants have doubled in size and flowered profusely before Christmas. With some decent rain and humidity they should really take off.

Gardenia gjellerupii flowers during the warmer months of the year

Gardenia gjellerupii flowers during the warmer months of the year

Looking through photos I have taken during trips to Thailand and Malaysia, I realize that what I thought were pictures of Gardenia gjellerupii in these countries is at least 2 different but similar species. Perhaps I have also photographed Gardenia tubifera which is said to be commonly grown as well? Perhaps they are pictures of some other species? I hope one day I will find out.

Flower colour on Gardenia gjellerupii can vary depending on temperature and age of flower

Flower colour on Gardenia gjellerupii can vary depending on temperature and age of flower

 

 

 

If you live in the tropics or subtropics, my advice to you is to keep an eye out for these plants. They are very ornamental and highly perfumed. They also seem to be quite hardy and pest free – particularly in humid tropical climates.

I’m looking forward to seeing my own specimens of Gardenia gjellerupii mature into some magnificent flowering shrubs and I will be keeping my eyes peeled for related species.

 

 

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Arno King

About Arno King

Landscape architect, horticulturist, journalist and keen gardener, Arno is a regular contributor to Subtropical Gardening Magazine. Based in Brisbane, Arno grows a wide diversity of unusual plant species and has particular interests in growing edible plants in creative settings and biological and organic gardening. Brisbane, Queensland

8 thoughts on “The golden gardenia

  1. Paul on said:

    Gardenias are great plants for the garden. So many species including a number of fabulous trees all worth growing for their scented flowers as well as the plant’s shape.
    This shows there is still a wealth of plant species out there waiting to be cultivated and distributed to the gardening public.
    Thanks Arno for highlighting the confusion with the botanic names. One day it will all be sorted out… one day.

  2. How interesting Arno. I had no idea gardenias came in gold, too. Would the Son of Gold require similar growing conditions to the more delicate gardenia

    Thanks Arno. Didn’t know about Gardenias coming in gold. That carinata looks interesting. Flowering when, please? The sun of gold looks like something I could use on the front fence. How sun tolerant is it, please?
    Julie

    They seem to

    • Arno King on said:

      Hello Julie

      Whilst the commonly grown Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides) does best in tropical, subtropical climates, and protected locations in warm temperate climates, many of the South East Asian Gardenias such as gjellerupii and tubiflora seem to like it just a little bit warmer. In a subtropical garden such as your own, I would locate it in a warm protected location (north or east facing).

      I find Gardenia jasminoides thrives in humid subtropical climates such as South East Queensland and its reputation for being delicate has come from gardeners’ experiences in cooler climes. Have a look around and you will see large specimens thriving – often in appalling conditions. Nutrition is of prime importance – particularly minor and trace elements. I find using an organic or biological fertiliser containing balanced ground rock minerals addresses their needs well.

      G. carinata has its main flowering in November – December. I understand it also flowers at other times of the year. I will keep an eye on the tree now that I have located it at last. Availability will be an issues – I have only once seen it for sale at a nursery – many years ago.

      • Thanks for that information, Arno.
        Sorry my comment seemed a bit jagged. Think I started it twice and forgot to delete repeat sentences. Have noted your comments re gardenia and feed requirements and rock minerals.

  3. robynsnature on said:

    These are gorgeous Arno, I wonder where we can access them for the nursery.

    Robyn
    Ross Evans garden centre

    • Arno King on said:

      Hello Robyn

      Gardenia gjellerupii (“Soleil d’Or”) is grown by a number of nurseries in north Qld. Mine came from Hilders (C and S Nursery) who often supply Bunnings with plants. Limberlost nursery also used to propagate it.

      G carinata is a littel more difficult. We have a good seed source so we just need to convince some wholesalers to grow it again.

      Good luck tracking plants down. I hope we may see some plants at your nursery.

  4. Jennifer Stackhouse on said:

    For poor heat-deprived southern gardeners the golden gardenia you can grow is of course ‘Golden Magic’. Not to everyone’s taste, but interesting golden flowers instead of standard white.

    • Arno King on said:

      Hello Jennifer

      yes you are quite right, ‘Golden Magic’, a cultivar of Gardenia jasminoides has flowers which are not the traditional white. I am fond of Gardenia jasminoides, which does exceptionally well in South East Queensland, and I have grown ‘Golden Magic’ in the past, but I found the flowers did not look particularly attractive on the bush. They reminded me of how white Gardenia flowers discolour on their last day before dropping.

      Golden? I think not. A marketing ploy that can leave people disappointed. Cream, ivory – dirty white? Perhaps I need to try this plant again in association with other plantings. I’d be interested on other people’s thought on this cultivar.

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