Still a Big Hit

Posted On 25 Feb 2009
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Found on the Eolian island of Vulcano, Chamaerops humilis Vulcano is a mutant of Chamaerops humilis with great cold resistance, it can survive temperatures to -14°C.
According to Venerando Faro, who with his two sons Michele and Mario runs Piante Faro in Carruba di Riposto (Sicily), this palm is really something different to the current Chamaerops humilis (Mediterranean fan palm) in the way that its shape is more compact and bushy with lots of spiky grey-green fan shaped fronds. In addition Chamaerops humilis Vulcano is smaller, growing less than 20 cm each year. The Vulcano palm reaches a height of 1 m whereas its more common counterpart Chamaerops humilis reaches up to 1.5 m. In southern Europe Chamaerops humilis Vulcano makes a nice accent in a shrub border, whereas in northern Europe this palm is more suitable for patio containers and indoor decoration. Chamaerops humilis Vulcano comes in pot sizes 18-28 cm. Piante Faro sells around 70% of these palms to wholesalers in Germany and the Netherlands. The remaining 30% is destined for the Italian market.

Born on the island of Sicily, the founder of Piante Faro, Venerando Faro is very familiar with Opuntia vulgaris, also known as Opuntia ficus-indica, and which in Italian is called “fico d’india”. In Sicily, this cactus grows wild and cultivated to heights of 3.5–5 m. The cactus flowers in May followed by fruits which ripen from August through October. After chilling in a refrigerator for a few hours and minus their thick, spiky skin, the fruits are edible. The fruits of the Opuntia from Etna are not edible though, stresses Venerando Faro when adding that this cactus is only meant to be an indoor plant.
“As a grower you are always looking for innovative products. One day, seeing this cactus growing wild everywhere, I wondered how this cactus would perform as a pot plant. Ten years ago we set up a stock of mother plants and a limited production of a few hundred plants. We cut pads from the mother plant after which the pads root very quickly in a volcanic soil mixture. Our present day production of Opuntia from Etna is around 50,000 plants each year. One of the biggest challenges to be overcome was to get the plants to fruit. We discovered that abstaining from watering the plants for a certain period initiated the fruiting of the cactus.”
Opuntia from Etna comes in colourful trays and pot sizes 12, 16 and 20 cm. One tray contains six plants. The 12 cm Opuntia is definitely Faro’s bestseller. 9% of the Opuntia production is sold to wholesalers in Germany and the Netherlands, which in turn sell the plants to garden centres. The only disadvantage of the Prickly Pear would be the spikes, but as Faro says, “A cactus wouldn’t be a real cactus without the spikes.”

Pot protea: “Such a small plant with such a big impact.” This is one of the very positive reactions Flora Toscana received on its stunning presentation of pot proteas. Flora Toscana is a cooperative of 160 growers of which 10 are growing these plants. Way back in 2000 Flora Toscana and the Australian protea breeder Proteaflora set up their first trial of pot proteas, which today has resulted in a range of eight different varieties in red, white and pink. According to Luca Quilici, commercial director Flora Toscana, one of the best performing varieties is Little Prince with its compact shape and bigger, shiny green leaves. In northern Europe the plants should be used as patio plants since they have little frost resistance. The plant is sold when it presents a minimum of three stems with half open flowers. Wholesale prices range from €15 to €18 depending on the number of stems. “These relatively high prices are easy to explain: the mother plants produce only a limited number of cuttings each year; the cultivation from cutting to end products takes about two years; the crop is rather difficult to stir and requires a balanced fertilization,” explains Flora Toscana’s Maria Castellani.
She adds: “For northern Europe, the best way to sell the plants is when the flowers are medium open. We would also like to stress the importance of fast transportation; pot proteas are rather sensitive to dark and dry circumstances. Apart from the fact that the demand is low anyway, we prefer not to sell pot proteas during the summer since they run the risk of becoming too dry during transport. As soon as possible after arrival the buyer should put the plants in a luminous place.” Flora Toscana exports 80% of its pot proteas, with the Netherlands, Germany, Portugal and France as the main markets.

Telopia is another exotic beauty from the proteacea family which has been developed by Flora Toscana.
Quite commonly found as a tree in Portugal the rest of Europe is about to discover the pot telopia with its large, beautiful flowers. As a pot plant the red varieties perform the best, since the leaves of the white varieties are not as attractive. Flora Toscana produces around 50,000 telopia each year. Just like the other members of the proteacea family telopia is not very frost resistant and is therefore only suitable as a patio plant.

Hardenbergia is a climbing plant with exceptional flowering capacity. Flora Toscana is growing four varieties of Hardenbergia violacea: Happy Wanderer (colour violet),
Pure White (colour white), Free ‘N’ Easy® (colour white with violet edge) and Candy Wrapper® (colour cerise). These varieties are protected by the Community Plant Variety Rights. Origin is Australia, minimum temperature -7°C, height 2 m. Place in full sun or partial shade and during the growing period water it well. Flowering period: Winter (January-March).

The cycas panzhihuanensis originally came from the Szechuan region in China. The German company, Roozen, presented this plant as the most cold tolerant of all cycas. One big advantage of the novelty cycas is the fast growing rate; Chinese growers report 60 cm of trunk growth in only five years. Cycas panzhihuanensis is protected by breeder’s rights and can withstand temperatures of -12°C.

Aromatic plants: On the occasion of IPM Essen Mario Roba, managing director Merloflor, proudly presented its wide range of aromatic plants. Roba is an expert when it comes to rosemary, lavender and thyme. His new bred Rosmarinus Gorizia Blue is presented as the most frost resistant and bushy rosemary. According to Roba the plant keeps its compact shape even after five years in the garden, unlike the more common rosemary which tends to fall apart after a few years. Also worthwhile mentioning is the latest rosemary being developed by Merloflor which could be used as a stunning new element in hanging baskets. Merloflor also produces other edible herbs like parsley and fennel. For flat leaf parsley there is a market yet to be discovered in northern Europe where people are mostly only familiar with the curly leafed variety of parsley. Flat leaf parsley has a stronger flavour, this opinion is backed by chemical analysis which finds much higher levels of essential oil in the flat-leaved cultivars. Flat leaf parsley is often used in the Italian kitchen.

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