| B. Rosie Lerner
Sunday Supplement Ads Not Always What
They're back! It's that time of year when the advertisements in the Sunday
supplements promise unbelievable yields, fantastic blooms all summer and
trees that grow as tall as a house in one growing season!
This weekend saw the return of the old tree tomato ad, the one that resurfaces
every couple of years or so. As usual, the seller promises yields up to
60 pounds per plant, and stems that grow to 8 feet tall that supposedly
do not need staking or caging. The variety name is listed as "Giant
Tree," but if it is the same as what previously has been marketed
as a "tree tomato," then it is botanically known as Cyphomandra
betacea, a very different species from garden tomatoes. This tree tomato
is a tropical, semi-woody shrub that reaches up to 10 feet, but the fruit
is more tart and jelly-like than our garden tomato.
If you read the ad closely, the seller is sending out a seed that is
planted in a pot, at about $3.50 each (plus shipping). That is one expensive
plant to be!
A related advertisement promotes a flowering shade tree called Royal
Paulownia that is said to grow as tall as a roof in just one year. The
ad claims that this tree will provide shade and flowers in just one growing
This fast-growing tree, known botanically as Paulownia tomentosa, can
grow up to 10 feet in a single year, but like many fast-growers, it tends
to have brittle stems that break easily in storms. And while Paulownia
does have large, fragrant purple flowers, we rarely see this tree bloom
in our part of the country. The flower buds are produced on last year's
growth and are usually killed in winter. In fact, even the stems of this
plant are often killed back to the ground in harsh winters, so the tree
rarely reaches its mature height of 30-40 feet here in the Midwest. But
even where it thrives, this species does not even closely resemble the
glowing purple scene depicted in the ad.
It's always wise to read all the fine print in these ads. And keep in
mind the old saying, "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably