Tung Oil Tree : Vernicia fordii



The Tung oil tree, Vernicia fordii (formerly Aleurites fordii) is native to Southern China, Burma and Vietnam. Conspicuous red glands at the base of each leaf blade are unique to the species. Before leaves have fully emerged in spring the tree produces copius clusters of white flowers streaked red. In the fall the trees bear large fruits containing 4-5 seeds.  These seeds are filled with oil that is used in paints and varnish. Every part of the tree is toxic. In 1905 David Fairchild successfully introduced this tree to the Gulf Coast states. From the 1920s-50s the American Tung oil industry flourished, although under constant threat from hard freezes and storms. In 1969 plantations along the gulf coast were devastated by Hurricane Camille and never recovered.  These plantations persisted for many years allowing the trees to become naturalized throughout the region.  They are occasionally cultivated for their attractive flowers.  These trees are scattered across Avery Island.  In Jungle Gardens they are particularly noticeable growing on the rim of the Palm Garden path.

Spanish Moss – Tillandsia usneoides


Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) is not a moss at all, but rather an epiphytic flowering plant in the Bromeliad family.  It is found growing upon larger trees in tropical and subtropical climates.  A native to the southern United States, it also occurs in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.  It has even become naturalized in Queensland Australia.  In the US, it is most often seen on Live Oak Trees and Bald Cypress, though it can occur on a variety of trees including Pines.  It produces small green flowers in spring and by fall those mature in to long slender brown fruits.  The seeds are wind dispersed.

Its name “usnseoides” means looks like Usnea, a pendulous Grey Lichen.  panish moss absorbs water directly into the plant body by special scales. It does not derive any nutrition directly from the trees it grows on but it may absorb nutrients in the form minerals that the trees normally shed via their leaves.  Chiggers, though widely thought to infest Spanish-moss, were not seen among thousands of other arthropods identified in one study.

Spanish-moss has been used for a variety of purposes, including  insulation, mulch, packing material, and mattress stuffing.  In the early 1900s it was used commercially as the stuffing for car seats.  Throughout Louisiana it was a popular ingredient in the traditional wall covering material called bousillage.


Scarlet lichen – Cryptothecia rubrocincta



The Scarlet or Christmas Wreath Lichen, Cryptothecia rubrocincta – is a species of lichen common throughout subtropical and tropical regions in the southeastern United States, as well as Central and South America.  It has even been found in a few places in Africa. The body of this lichen forms continuous, circular crust-like patches on tree bark and dead wood.  It is easily recognizable by the prominent red pigment. The older, central region is covered with a red granular texture. Moving outwards from the center, zones of color may be distinguished, first is gray-green, then second white, and finally a bright red rim. The red and green colors of this unmistakable swamp lichen give the appearance of a Christmas wreath, suggestive of its common North American name, the Christmas wreath lichen.  It is most often seen in swamps throughout the southeast on a wide variety of trees.  Sometime the entire trunk of a Cypress tree may be colored by this scarlet lichen.

Japanese Yew : Podocarpus macrophyllus




Podocarpus macrophyllus  Japanese Yew, Plum Yew, Buddhist Pine. 

Perhaps no other exotic tree has made itself more at  home in the forests of Jungle Gardens than Podocarpus macrophyllus the Plum Yew.   Also known as Buddhist pine, this conifer is native to mountainous areas of eastern China and southern Japan and is the northernmost member of the genus, which has over 100 species.

The Plum Yew is commonly cultivated throughout the southern US but rarely has it been reported as naturalized. In Jungle Gardens there is no wooded area that has not been colonized by Podocarpus.  In some locations it is the dominant understory plant.  When growing naturally under the canopy of much taller trees, this conifer assumes a completely different growth habit from cultivated plants that are usually growing in full sun.  Naturally shaded Podocarps are tall, elegant, spectacular trees.  

Since Podocarpus seeds have a colorful, edible, fleshy appendage, they are unquestionably animal-dispersed. These seeds germinate readily.  Often numerous seedlings can be found in the vicinity of mature trees. 

Because Podocarpus is evergreen and does not seasonally shed its leaves, trees retain leaves for many years.  The humid conditions of Jungle Gardens give rise to proliferous epiphyllous growth of lichens and liverworts on foliage of many evergreen trees.  Both lichens and liverworts are slow-growing organisms, their abundance on the leaves of some Podocarpus is a testament to the incredible longevity of those leaves.  

In Jungle Gardens there exists a great diversity in the appearances of Podocarpus trees.  The most pronounced differences are in leaf length and color of newly emerging leaves.  There are trees on which all leaves are very small, only 1.5 inches long, and others whose leaves are 5 and 6 inches long.  These differences are so pronounced as to suggest the trees could be different species.  However, authorities who have visited the gardens and viewed the plants have assured me all are Podocarpus macrophyllus.  In one particular region of Jungle Gardens, the color differences of newly emerging Podocarpus leaves are particularly dramatic.  The most frequent color of new growth is pale green, but some trees display a rich burgundy-red color and still others have bright yellow near white new growth.  These differences are unique to individual trees and apparently of a genetic basis.  

Podocarpus is considered to be a slow-growing tree. Therefore, the presence of large Podocarpus trees growing naturally throughout the forested areas of Jungle Gardens suggests the species has been a part of the local flora for a very long time. 

Japanese Cedar, Sugi – Cryptomeria japonica

Japanese Cedar or Sugi (Cryptomeria japonica)


Cryptomeria japonica, commonly called Japanese cedar or Sugi, is a tall, evergreen conifer with tiered horizontal branching.  The genus Cryptomeria is monotypic and unrelated to the true cedars (Cedrus). It is endemic to forested areas in Japan, and the species has been cultivated for so long in China that it is often thought to also be native there.   Genetic analysis of the most famous Chinese population of Cryptomeria, containing trees estimated to be nearly 1,000 years old, supports the hypothesis that the population originates from an introduction and is not native.
Sugi is the national tree of Japan.  Many huge, impressive Sugi planted hundreds of years ago persist at temples and shrines throughout Japan.  Approximately 13,000 Sugi, planted 400 years ago, line the world-famous Cedar Avenue of Nikkō.  At 40 miles long,  it is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest tree-lined avenue in the world. It is estimated that originally 200,000 trees were planted. The Cedar Avenue of Nikkō is the only cultural property designated by the Japanese Government as both a Special Historic Site and a Special Natural Monument.
Two very large Cryptomeria trees occur in Jungle Gardens. One is located on the right side of the path leading down to Bird City.   With its unique foliage and impressive 24 inch diameter trunk, this grand tree is very easy to locate. The soft foliage is superficially similar to that of Giant Redwood, but longer.  Its small seed cones are brown when mature.
The second, even larger Cryptomeria is in an open, sparsely planted area adjacent to Holly Hedge Road, directly across the road from the famous Cleveland Oak. This truly spectacular Japanese Cedar has a 31 inch diameter trunk.
The two trees in Jungle Gardens are the original wild type of Sugi that occurs in Japan.  Many Sugi cultivars exist today. Both compact and dwarf forms are extremely popular in the nursery trade, so much so that the original natural type found here at Jungle Gardens is seldom seen or available for purchase.