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What’s Blooming in Paradise?: Screw Pine (Pandanus utilis)

By Staff | Mar 9, 2011

First impression

Tropical, exotic, long linear leaves clumped in masses on tennicule-like stems. The slender gray trunk is small in comparison to its dense canopy. This tree has slim mangrove-like legs between its trunk and the ground. Long whiteish fuzzy fingers are partitioned with two creamy white and green flower bracs. Pollinators are all around and I detect a faint perfumed scent lingering in the breeze. Don’t get lost in these twisted torturous branches, now blooming at the Botanical Gardens of the Sanibel Moorings.

Upon further investigation

Our Screw Pine is a member of around 650 species of trees and shrubs from Madagascar and the tropics. It is not related to the Pine tree family, but classified among the monocots, which are related to grasses, orchids and palms. This beauty is great by itself as a specimen plant or used as finals for impressive entrances. Considered an evergreen tree whose mature height can be 20 to 30 feet, it is perfect for our temperatures of dry climates and coastal areas. Plant in partial shade to full sun in a well drained area. Its stiff, sword-like leaves are two to three inches long and olive green in color. But be careful — they can have tiny teeth along the edges that scratch. The Screw-like arrangement of its dense leaves is how its got is name; they are attached to unbelievably curvy, curly slender gray branches. The Pine name comes from the lovely pomegranate like fruit the female tree produces. It could have reminded our ancestors of a pine cone. Our star comes in either male or female trees and luckily both genders flower. The female flower is closer to the leaves and the male flower is long and cascading. The flower is in the form of a white and green slender brac. Two bracs encase each seed segment of cotton-like fuzz. The female flowers eventually turn to a lovely dimensional fruit. Our male tree is noted for his sweet fragrance and oodles of pollinators. The flower, as you can see, is not attractive but very interesting! We do not have a female tree in the garden, but have plans to plant one for our resident male in the future.

The mature trunk is palm-like — smooth cement gray and straight. Young trees start out with a rough sharp textured bark. As screw pines grow larger, they produce prop roots around the base of their trunks. These legs are always a conversation piece and make this tree unique. They are its main reason for survival in flooding and heavy winds. Pandanus is the native word for roofs, which is what its leaves are harvested for now and in days gone by. Today these tough, stiff leaves are still a favorite of weavers for mats, baskets, hats, and toys.

Pros

Unique bloom, does well in sandy soil, likes full sun, easy to maintain/prune, discover your hidden artistic weaving talent, salt-tolerant, drought-tolerant, great for specimen in a small garden, brings in the pollinators, dimensional tropical tree, survivor of strong winds and rain.

Cons

Daily clean up when shedding leaves, non-native status, may grow tired of neighbors asking what kind of tree that is, slow grower, brings in the pollinators, leaves are toothed and sharp.

Conclusion

Screw Pine is an architectural whirlwind with a very unique bloom. Don’t get dizzy with its zigs and zags in our tropical eye-catching garden. Don’t wanna miss this bloomer!