Stemmadenia - Perfumed Milky Way
Scientific name: Stemmadenia galeottiana, Stemmadenia littoralis
Common names: Lechoso, Milky Way Tree
Origin: Tropical America
Stemmadenia, or Milky Way, is considered to be one of the most beautiful tropical ornamental trees in the world. The fragrance of abundant flowers is outstanding. Not every gardener knows about this tree since it's so rare, while it is as great as famous Perfume trees (Michelia champaca and Cananga odorata). Its large white fragrant flowers of unusual shape are super-fragrant. When in full bloom, perfume fills the area with a soft, very pleasant, musky sweetness, somewhat resembling Raphiolepis, or carnations mixed with cinnamon.
Stemmadenia is an eye-catching small size tree with a multi-layered canopy from the same family with Plumeria and Tabernaemontana. It is originated from the coastal rainforests of Tropical America. The Spanish name Lechoso (Lecheso) is given for its milky sap. This sap, abundant and sticky, is poisonous, as of all plants of Apocinaceae family, although it is used medicinally by intigenous people of the region. The tree combines showy, fragrant blooms with vibrantly glossy foliage and salt tolerance that makes this species a good choice for planting near the coast or anywhere in the tropics or subtropics, particularly in small gardens. It is quickly gaining pupularity in South Florida as it performs so well in seaside gardens with alkaline soils. The plant is very tolerant to soil, including alkaline, as long as it is well-drained and humid. The tree can even tolerate a little sea spray.
It is one of the best choices for container culture. When planted in a ground, it may reach 15-20 ft tall; while in a pot it can be kept under 6-7 ft, doesn't require much of a pruning, stays compact and bushy. Another "convenient" property is that this plant tolerates shade while still blooming profusely. In fact, filtered light for it is much better than full sun to maintain healthy, dark green waxy foliage. The paired oval leaves are about 6 inches long and create very tropical look.
White yellow-centered tubular flower is about 2 inches size, pin-wheeled, which makes it recemble some Tabernaemontana species. All Stemmadenia flower petals overlap to the left! A massive rofusion of flowers carpets the ground with fallen blossoms. Following the blooms are small, twinned, leathery, arching fruit that are ribbed longitudinally and turn orange as they ripen.
The tree is somewhat cold sensitive and requires cold protection if you have even occasional freeze; but the fragrance is worth the hassle. In nature, the flowers start to appear after drought period or at the beginning of the rainy season, but providing regular water and warmth, they may occur at any time of the year. In favorable conditions, the tree blooms from middle of March till December non stop. You may grow it on a patio using 7 to 15 gal container and enjoy fresh perfume for many months of the year.
Picture of the actual plant for sale,
in 3 gal container, 4 ft tall
(picture taken September 2007):