There’s a flowering tree project taking place in Loxahatchee’s White Fences community, and Adam Pollak is the mastermind behind the idea.
In what is officially called the White Fences Floss Silk Project, Pollak is creating hybrid crosses of floss silk (Ceiba speciosa) trees and distributing them free of charge for people to plant.
“Part of my project is, I’m taking flowers from completely different-looking trees, I’ll hand-pollinate them to get a cross of the two, and then the offspring will hopefully have cool characteristics of the two parent flowers,” he said.
The fast-growing floss silk trees — they grow between 5 and 8 feet a year — bloom in about three years. They are drought-tolerant, on the Palm Beach County Preferred Tree List, and flower from September through December. And, they have small spikes on them.
During the winter, the trees lose their flowers and leaves, but they do not look bare and desolate. The branches and trunk remain green.
“Even without leaves, the tree can still photosynthesize, which is a unique adaptation it has, so it can build up energy in the winter while leafless, so that in the spring, it can push out even more growth,” Pollak said.
Floss silk trees produce avocado-like seed pods that open in March. The fluff in the pods is called kapok, and before synthetic polyesters and nylon were invented, the trees were commercially valuable because the fluff would be used for life jackets, mattresses, pillows and more, he added.
Pollak takes great care in marking the hand-pollinated trees to keep track of the flowers that bloom. Two white flowers with a recessive pink gene might produce a pink flower. Dominant and recessive traits show up differently with various pollinations.
Excel spreadsheets and Google Maps document the types of trees, where they were planted and when, what sort of tree they produce and other details that Pollak meticulously collects.
Floss silk trees produce a great variety of flower shapes and colors, and have been used in South Florida dating back as far as the 1920s.
“As far as flowering trees go, it’s probably one of the best flowering trees for our area, along with the Tabebuias and the royal poincianas,” he said.
The flowers, however, offer a large variety of colors, patterns, shapes and varying levels of fragrance.
Bees are attracted to the pollen, making them great bee-friendly flowers. The tree is not toxic to animals, which tend to enjoy the leaves.
Each pod contains approximately 200 seeds. Pollak is growing two of each cross at his farm and then distributing 10 into the local community.
Each of those 10, he said, will have different flower outcomes.
Pollak started the program three years ago and has distributed more than 400 trees in the past two years. He has several hundred available, which he is looking to give out and have people grow in their yards.
The trees grow in tiers of three branches. After growing upward, the tree spreads its canopy out and produces a great deal of shade. Pollak is growing them in special containers that allow the tree’s tap root to grow down, rather than circling in a container.
Flowering trees fascinate Pollak, who grew up in Coral Springs and saw flowers on bushes and small plants, but not on trees. For the last few years, he has been involved in the Tropical Flowering Tree Society and is currently serving as its vice president.
The White Fences Floss Silk Project, not affiliated with the Tropical Flowering Tree Society, is allowing Pollak to learn about the floss silk tree, produce variations, and bring shade and color to the area.
Silk floss trees withstand hurricanes well, he said, and are underutilized in the area.
While many of his trees have been distributed in Loxahatchee Groves and The Acreage, when pruned, they are appropriate for lots in Wellington and Royal Palm Beach. He even has a few in the corner, blocked off to protect the horses from the spikes, on horse pastures, to provide the horses shade from the strong Florida sun.
The trees are free for the asking and take well to fertilizer and mulch. They cannot tolerate glyphosate (RoundUp), however.
All Pollak asks, after the tree flowers, is for a close-up photograph of the flower, and if the flower is different from those he already has, a cutting for grafting.
To learn more, or to talk to Pollak about becoming part of the project, call or text (561) 790-6406, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
ABOVE: Adam Pollak has hundreds of flowering floss silk trees to give away.