Clusia is a large genus of trees and shrubs native to tropical America characterized by their branches, which grow horizontally, and their leaves, which are thick and tough. Despite the size of the genus – about 150 species – the only commonly grown Clusia plant is C. rosea, or the autograph tree, which is native to the Caribbean and is notable for its tendency to grow on top of and strangle other plants.
C. rosea is a hemiepiphyte; it begins its life as an epiphyte – growing on another tree or structure – and then plants itself in the ground once it reaches it. But notably, this tree overgrows and eventually chokes its host tree to death with its roots after it reaches the ground, which has made it a dangerous invasive species in several tropical countries.
The tree has stiff, leathery leaves in dark green or olive that grow to about eight inches long. These leaves are tough enough that they can be carved into, which is where the common name “autograph tree” derives. It also blooms pink or white flowers in long inflorescences during the summer and small green fruits that ripen to black and eventually split open to reveal bright red seeds. These seeds are very attractive to birds and other fauna. Though C. rosea can be dangerous to other plants in the wild, in domestic settings it can be a good houseplant or ornamental tree because of its aesthetic beauty.
Growing Conditions for the Autograph Tree (Clusia Rosea)
The Autograph Tree can grow to be quite beautiful if follow these growing conditions:
- Light: Full sun is best, but they can tolerate partial shade as well.
- Water: They should be watered regularly for the first year or so until the plant fully establishes itself. You can scale back their water after that, although regular watering will help it grow more fully; they’re drought-tolerant.
- Temperature: Warm, tropical heat.
- Soil: Sandy, well-drained soil is best.
- Fertilizer: Fertilize three times a year – in the spring, the summer, and the fall. An organic, granular fertilizer should be fine.
They can propagate fairly easily, by seed or by cuttings. To propagate by cuttings, simply sever the stems and replant in the warm wet soil to allow them to root. This is a fast-growing and hardy plant that is quite easy to propagate, especially in containers.
Due to its quick growth, C. rosea can often overgrow its container. Lift the root ball out as a whole and replace it in a larger container that can accommodate the root system. As the plant matures, it may become too large to be kept in containers at all unless it’s well-pruned. If so, it can be moved outside and used as an ornamental tree or hedge.
Varieties of the Autograph Tree
C. rosea is the only member of the Clusia genus that is commonly grown, though some another Clusia is cultivated in botanical gardens. It behaves similarly to several strangling vines, like the strangler fig (F. aurea) and the bearded fig (F. barbata), but the resemblance is superficial.
The autograph tree tends to spread out fairly wide as it grows.
It should be pruned about once a year, in early spring, to keep it nicely formed. Fertilization will help C. rosea grow fully, and it should only be kept outside in tropical areas. The plant makes an excellent hedge because of its thickness and low maintenance level, and if you grow it as a tree you can also underplant things close to rosea’s base.