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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.