Thursday, October 8, 2009

Pineapples, Tourists and Hippie Chicks

I was jogging down Whitehead St. in Key Weird when I heard, “Look honey, it’s another one of those cute, little, carved pineapples.” The sun-pinked, cruise ship, tourist lady looked at her beer-bellied husband who ignored her. He sat on a step in front of the Hemingway House eyeballing a local sun-bronzed hippie girl in a tie-dyed string bikini. The resulting “smack” echoed down the street behind me as I passed.

I stopped jogging when I reached my parked truck. I wasn’t doing any kind of fitness running, just trying to beat the notoriously fast, Key West parking meter timers. While I leaned against the fender sweating and puffing like a rookie angler on the losing end of a swordfish tug-of-war I looked over at a bubbling little fountain with a pineapple on top.
“Hmmm…looks like a blog subject.”

Here’s a little history regarding the significance of the welcome pineapple. Seems it all started with the Carib people way back when. Our boy Christopher Columbus picked up some pineapples and brought them back to Spain in 1493 and the King thought these things were just the best.

When other Spanish explorers sailed back to the Caribbean Islands they figured out that the Carib Indians looked on this fruit as a sign of welcome. If the Spanish set one out at the entrance to a village they would be welcomed in. All the better to swipe any gold the native people had laying around. Nice… real nice.

Anyway, this symbol spread back to Europe, then to the colonies, etc. Key West is and was very much a seafaring town. In days of yore when a Cap’n returned from sea he would impale a pineapple on the porch rail to signify he was back and ready to see visitors. Kind of a waste of good fruit if ya ask me.

Pineapple carvings, statuary, abound on our islands. This very traditional kind of garden art is still alive and well in a very, very untraditional town .

So, I plugged another few quarters into parking meter, spending my hard earned change just for you folks and wandered around Old Town snapping pineapple pix and dodging cranky tourists…by the way, I swear, honest... I never took any photos of good looking hippie chicks.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Nancy's Secret

Licuala grandis
“Shade…I need shade”. The sweat dripped off the end of my nose as I finished the pix of the Ylang-Ylang tree. Another 50’ down Free School Lane in Key West is shady oasis that goes by the accurate handle of Nancy Forrester's Secret Garden. Just trying to find this place is an adventure all its own. I met 2 of Liz and my favorite house guests, Joey and David for a little plant pix adventure there.

Cecropia spp.
I have been there 3 times now and this time the garden was looking a bit overgrown as many gardens at the end of the hot, sweltering, tropical, rainy season do. No manicured paths or nifty annuals in soldier-like borders, nope, just massive trees and palms, intertwined jungle aroids climbing trunks to compete with epiphytes for the sun. Whip out the machete, we’re talkin’ rainforest here!

Tree Fern
The Secret Garden is not Fairchild Tropical garden with its impressive acreage nor Marie Selby Garden with its awesome climate controlled plant house. This spot has suffered the ravages of hurricanes, down turn in the economy and the cramped quarters of Old Town Key West but it and Nancy still hang in there.

Prichardia spp.
Nancy has operated this 1 acre urban, (if ya can call Key West urban) rainforest on a shoestring budget with a minimum of help for 30 years. There is a “$10 per human” donation box at the entrance, well worth the money if you are a plant affectionado(read geek).

Alocasia macrorrhiza cultivar"Nancy's Revenge"
So being the plant geek that I am, I was lovin’ it…especially the shade, deep, deep wonderful shade. I am also an Aroid and Palm geek…Oh, I dig Heliconias and Bromeliads, too…and all Epiphytes and…well you get it.

Cyrtostachys renda
I’m not gonna get into naming the many rare plants here or go crazy with adjectives describing the glories of the foliage. Suffice it to say you will find species here that you may not find elsewhere outside of the aforementioned gardens. I’ll let some of the images speak for themselves.

With my trusty Canon SX 1000 in my sweaty hand I was immediately lost on the labyrinth of pathways that wind under and through the foliage. Coming around a little blind corner I walked smack into a small gray haired woman carrying and huge Blue Macaw on her arm. Backing away from the bird (I’m not really a fan of any bird that can crack walnuts like I crack pea pods) I almost knocked over a cage housing an Amazon Gray. “Dang, these things are everywhere”, and they are. Nancy has rescued a whole mess of Conures, Parrots, Macaws and the like. Good for her, now I know where annual crop of disenchanted Key West wanna-be pirates leave Polly when they head back to suburban Chicago or wherever.

Philodenron spp.
Joey and David(they do like Parrotish birds)talked bird talk with Nancy for a bit as I played David Fairchild, intrepid 19th century plant explorer and promptly got lost again until I spotted the flash(told ya it is deep shade) of Joey’s Canon Rebel XTI with the Tamron 28-300MM lens( naw, I’m not at all jealous!)

We killed a very pleasant couple of hours until the mundane tasks of real life called and I headed back to Big Pine Key leaving J&D to do the Key West Duval Street crawl among the sun baked cruise ship passengers and pirate wanna-be’s. Better them than me.

So if ya ever visit Key Weird take the time to learn a secret…Nancy’s Secret…it’s worth it.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Coco was Right!

“Sheesh, is it ever gonna cool off” was the thought in my mind as I was strolling down Simonton street in Key West, ”91 degrees and 75 percent humidity, is the fall ever gonna get here? It’s October, it’s only noon, I’m on my 2nd. tee shirt and I still smell like a locker room.”

A gentle breeze picked up as I crossed the tiny alleyway known as Free School Lane when suddenly I was inundated with fragrance, far more magical than my gym bag scented shirt.

Flashing back to my last horrid encounter at a Macy’s cosmetics no mans zone, I looked around for an overly made up young woman, tottering on stiletto heels, wielding an atomizer loaded with Channel No. 5. No such department store terrorist was in sight.

I decided to follow my nose down Free School and before me was a lovely tree with long, smooth, glossy leaves.

Yep, it is a Ylang-Ylang (Cananga odorata), a tree that can reach 30’-40’ although this one is about 20’. The yellowish-greenish, 5 pointed flowers cover this nifty tree in groups that cascade down branches. They don’t really hang down but are close to the branch. This fine flowering tree is native to the Pacific Island and does well in the Florida Keys.

Coco Chanel made this tree famous in 1923 by introducing Chanel #5 in Paris saying, "I wanted a perfume that is composed - not hints of roses or lilies of the valley. A woman's perfume - redolent, evocative of a woman. A perfume unlike any other ever made. The ideal scent for a woman."

The Ylang-Ylang is the principle component in this classic perfume.

I guess I’m not as romantic or well spoken as ol’Coco because all I could think of was “This sure smells better than my tee shirt!”