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Manihot grahamii

Manihot grahamii
hardy tapioca tree
Just planted – about 5 ft tall
Common name hardy tapioca tree
Family euphorbiaceae
Life cycle shrub/small tree (Z7-11)
Flowers green (summer)
Size 12-15'
Light sun-light shade
Cultural notes drought-tolerant

Fast-growing winter-deciduous small tree from South America with attractively shaped palmate leaves that tremble in the wind. It is hardier than its edible cousin (M. esculenta, commonly grown in variegated form), but sports a similar leaf shape and overall form. In Houston's climate, it is reportedly trunk-hardy, but may still benefit from some judicious pruning in late winter to keep the size and shape manageable. The nurseryman who sold it to me said it will self-seed too – so I may have some gifts for gardening neighbors if this thrives in our garden.

Manihot grahamii

Our specimen lost its leaves on one of its main branches in autumn, well before the weather turned cold. After a frost arrived, the rest of the leaves dropped. I hoped that this was its normal leaf drop pattern, with foliage returning in spring; the little tree looked awfully lifeless and frail. I was even more concerned after the Texas megafreeze killed many trees and shrubs – but was happy to see signs of new growth near the top of the main leaders a few weeks later, leaving just a few inches of deadwood above it.

hardy tapioca tree
Promising growth returning a few weeks after big freeze...
Manihot grahamii
...which developed into full leaves by another two weeks later
hardy tapioca tree
Smooth plump buds in early June...
Manihot grahamii
...soon turning to seedpods with orange bands
hardy tapioca tree
As the pods grow, the orange disappears
Manihot grahamii

In the heat of summer, our tree is constantly shedding leaves: they suddenly go yellow and droopy, and drop soon afterwards. I don't know what causes this; a fellow gardener suggested drought stress, but this was happening even at times when rainfall was plentiful.

In our garden, this plant grows in the following area: foundation border

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Last modified: August 08, 2021
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