The Best Kept Secret for Fragrance- The Rare and Easy-to-Grow Tree Lily (Portlandia domingensis syn. Cubanola domingensis)
By Laurelynn Martin and Byron Martin
Introduction: Tree Lily is a wonderfully fragrant shrub from the Dominican Republic that draws attention for its fragrance and form. The 10” white pendulous blooms hang from its lateral branches and emit a rich nighttime fragrance. A member of the Rubiaceae family, it is related to the well-known gardenia and coffee plants.
Blooms: Tree Lily blooms intermittently from spring to fall and plants begin to flower at a young age when only 2’ tall or less. Blooms appear on the lateral branches of mature growth with flowers lasting for up to a week.
Light Level: One of the nicest features about this plant for container gardeners is its adaptation to lower light levels, since it prefers partial sun or even bright, indirect light. Give it some direct sun but not high noon sun.
Soil Requirements: In its native habitat, Tree Lily is often found growing in limestone soils so the potting mix needs to be sweet or have ground limestone added. Most commercial potting mixes will work, as limestone is one of the ingredients typically added.
Growth Habit/Pruning: Its height can be maintained by pruning if you remember that branches that are headed back will need to grow out before flowers will reinitiate. But like most in this family, it is easily pruned and shaped.
Water Requirements: Water when the soil becomes visually dry trying to prevent a wilt and then thoroughly saturate the potting mix.
Fertilize: Feed on a regular basis. Tree Lily is not heavy feeder but fertilize once or twice a week during the growing season with a dilute solution of a balanced soluble fertilizer. The plant can be top dressed with a slow release fertilizer a couple times during the growing season or use a granulated organic in the same manner.
Pests and Disease: Insects are generally not a problem, although like many in the Rubiaceae family, scale and mealy bugs can affect plants if others in the growing area are infested. Diseases are generally not a problem as its roots and foliage seem to be disease-free.
Temperatures: Although it can tolerate cool conditions, even down in to the 30’s or above freezing for short periods of time, it is really a plant that likes warm temperatures. With a minimum temperature of 60°F, it will thrive and grow most of the year. However, if you grow it in cool night temperatures in the north, the plant will defoliate but once the days get longer and warmer it will start to grow vigorously.