The Tahitian gardenia (Gardenia taitensis) is an evergreen, flowering, tropical shrub indigenous to Melanesia and Polynesia. It is the national flower of the Polynesian island country of Tahiti, where its flowers are utilized to concoct a perfumed coconut oil used for cosmetic purposes. These fragrant blossoms are also traditionally used in the Pacific to make leis, or flower necklaces. Local Tahitian custom dictates that a gardenia blossom behind the left ear indicates being in a relationship, while one behind the right ear announces being single.
Tahitian gardenia shrubs are members of the Coffee (Rubiaceae) family. These plants grow to heights of up to 13 feet. They bear dark green, 2- to 6-inch-long leaves that have the texture of glossy leather. During the year's warmer months, simple, six- to eight-petaled, snow-white flowers emerge, emitting an intoxicating, sweet aroma.
Hailing from the steamy islands of the tropical Pacific, the Tahitian gardenia flourishes in hot climates. It is extremely sensitive to frost. Temperatures as low as 30 degrees Fahrenheit may be survived for an extremely short time, yet longer exposures to below-freezing or near-freezing temperatures could prove fatal. For best results, keep this shrub in air temperatures above 50 degrees F. In the continental United States, keeping Tahitian gardenias warm year-round outdoors is only possible in the southernmost regions of the country, such as southern California and Florida. In colder climates, Tahitian gardenias may be grown in portable containers and brought indoors in winter.
Tahitian gardenia shrubs require soil with good drainage and a high level of organic matter, as is found in their native environments. They also need acidic or neutral soil (meaning soil with a pH level of 7 or below). Alkaline soil, or soil with a pH above 7, tends to cause Tahitian gardenias to develop nutrient deficiencies. Iron deficiency is often experienced, causing a lack of chlorophyll in the plant's leaves. The result of this process, called chlorosis, is sickly-looking, yellowed leaves. If alkaline soil is harming your Tahitian gardenia, soil may be made more acidic by adding such substances as iron sulfate, sphagnum peat, elemental sulfur, acidifying nitrogen or aluminum sulfate. These soil additives can be purchased at most garden supply stores. Tahitian gardenias also benefit from a 3-inch layer of organic mulch, which aids in maintaining an even soil moisture level.
Sun and Water
Tahitian gardenias enjoy lighting conditions ranging from full sun to partial shade. A regular, yet not excessive, supply of water should be provided.
Salt and Wind Tolerance
One strength of Tahitian gardenias is their ability to withstand extremely windy and salty conditions. This quality makes them an ideal ornamental plant for warm, coastal landscapes and gardens.
Tahitian gardenia bushes are easily propagated by cuttings. Cuttings taken during the summertime are easiest to establish. Propagation by seed is also an option.