Gardenia and Star Jasmine

This is a fragrant time of year in Louisiana. Two of our most sweetly scented flowers are blooming, Gardenia and Star Jasmine.


There are over 200 varieties of gardenia in a wide variety of sizes that are available for landscaping. As pictured above, we have several types thriving in our backyard. The scientific name for gardenia is Gardenia jasminoides; it is also called Cape Jasmine. However, it is actually in the family of coffee plants, Rubiaceae, while true jasmine is in the olive family, Oleaceae. Gardenia is native to SE Asia, and is now used worldwide in gardens in temperate to subtropical climates.

Star Jasmine

Trachelospermum jasminoides has several common names; Star Jasmine, Confederate Jasmine, Asiatic Jasmine and several others. However this plant is not truly jasmine either. It is in the family Apocynaceae, a family known as “dogbane” because several members in it are poisonous to dogs. In our area Star Jasmine vines are commonly used to climb over residential fences.

Eastern Band-Winged Hover Fly on Gardenia bloom

The “Insect ID” app identifies the insect on this gardenia bloom as a Eastern Band-winged hover Fly, Ocyptamus fascipennis. Hoverflies have mimicked the body shape of wasps and hornets, but are actually harmless. They are beneficial to garden plants because they feed on aphids and serve as pollinators.

Cherrybark Oak

Cherrybark oak (Quercus pagoda) is a large and valued Red Oak found in the southern United States. They commonly attain heights well over 100 feet and can have trunk diameters of up to five feet. I have an awesome specimen of this tree in my backyard in SE Louisiana — because of it, my backyard is perpetually shaded in summer.

Cherrybark oak in November (left) and February (right). It gradually sheds leaves from late November through January and already in February next year’s leaves are budding. Also appearing in late February and early March are the flowers of the oak, called catkins — they are small but evident in the picture from February shown above.

Here is a closer view of the flowers (catkins) of the Cherrybark Oak, fallen and draped over a camellia bush. In early March catkins drop from the oak, creating quite a mess and filling the air with oak pollen.

Cherrybark oak’s name reflects that its bark is similar to that of the black cherry tree. Its bark, along with a fallen leaf is shown above in the photo to the left (December). A new leaf in spring (March) is shown in the photo on the right. The scientific name of the tree is Quercus pagoda. The term “pagoda” was used because the shape of the leaf somewhat resembles the roof of a pagoda.

Cherokee Rose

White blooms of the Cherokee Rose (Rosa laevigata) are a common sight along southeastern Louisiana roadways in early March. A native of southeast Asia, in the United States it is an invasive species. It has thrived in the southern US since its introduction here long ago (~1780), and was adopted as the state flower of Georgia in 1916.

Cherokee Rose climbs aggressively over other vegetation forming dense mounds of thorny canes. So, even though its springtime bloom is impressive, it is not always welcome in the landscape.

The name Cherokee Rose comes from its association with the Trail of Tears, the route taken by Cherokees and other native tribes when they were forcibly relocated to the west from the southeastern US.

Southern Trees; Southern Live Oaks with Spanish Moss

Oaks are common both in Minnesota and Louisiana. Like pines, oak species are different in the north vs. the south. Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana ) is a distinctive and beautiful oak species found along the Southeastern Atlantic Coast from Virginia to Florida, and along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas. Live Oaks retain their leaves nearly all year, which is why they are named “Live”. They are not true evergreens because they shed their leaves in the spring just prior to emergence of next year’s leaves.

Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides) is draped across the branches of the oaks in the pictures below. It actually is not moss, but rather a flowering plant in the Bromeliad family. While Spanish Moss uses trees like Live Oak and Bald Cypress for physical support, it is not parasitic. Plants like this that have no roots but absorb nutrients and water from humidity and rain are known as epiphytes.

The pictures above show a majestic Live Oak along the shoreline of Lake Pontchartrain in Mandeville LA. The largest Live Oak registered by the Live Oak Society is only a few miles from this oak. It is known as the Seven Sisters Oak, and has a trunk nearly 40 feet in diameter.

The pictures above show the “oak alley” located in Fontainebleau State Park, a few miles east of Mandeville LA. These oaks were planted around 1850 when the site was a plantation and sugar mill owned by Bernard de Marigny de Mandeville.