Strelitzia juncea Picture courtesy www.newplant.co.zaStrelitzia juncea Picture courtesy www.newplant.co.za Condensed Version:

Strelitzias are a unique group of plants, Indigenous to South Africa, and belonging to the plant family Strelitziaceae. There are 5 different species:

Crane Flower, Bird of Paradise, Kraanvoëlblom, isigude (Strelitzia reginae)

This crane flower is the most commonly known garden strelitzia, forming large evergreen clumps of stiff grey-green leaves and startling flowers that resemble an exotic bird species.The flowers stand out above the foliage, at the tips of long stalks, and are bright orange with purple edges and bright blue tongues. Mature plants are very floriferous, with flowers in autumn, winter and spring; and can eventually reach 1.5m tall and 2m wide.

'Mandela’s Gold' (Strelitzia reginae)

This handsome yellow variety is an asset to any garden, and apart from its golden flowers, its growth habit and requirements are the same as for Strelitzia reginae.

Rush Leafed Strelitzia (Strelitzia juncea)

This rare and sought after variety makes a handsome feature plant in the garden with its long erect, needle-like leaves. Although the leaves are very different to the crane flower (S.reginae) the large orange or yellow flowers, borne on long leafless stems, from May to October, look the same as S. reginae. This species can grows from 1 to 2m tall, with an equal spread.

Natal Wild Banana, Natal Wildepiesang, Igceba, Ikhamanga (Strelitzia nicolai)

This tall, fast growing species is grown not so much for its flowers as for its form; developing tall, bare stems, topped by enormous shiny, grey-green leaves. The whole flower resembles the head of a bird with a white crest and purple beak. This plant needs space to develop, growing 5 to 12m tall and spreading up to 4m; depending on climate.

White-flowered Wild Banana, Kaap Witwildepiesang, Isigude esimbalimhlophe (Strelitzia alba)

This strelitzia is the rarest of three tree-like strelitzia species and an unbranched, multi-stemmed plant with large leathery, green to greyish leaves. It can grow up to 10m tall, and the white flowers appear from May to July. It makes an excellent focal point for a medium to large garden.

Transvaal Wild Banana, Transvaal Wildepiesang, isigude saseMpumalanga (Strelitzia caudata)

This unbranched and multi-stemmed plant blooms from May to July and is closely related to S. alba, with both of them having simple inflorescences with a single spathe, but the petals of S. caudata are light mauve to blue. It grows up to 6m tall with a spread of 1 to 1.5m, producing large leathery green to greyish leaves.

In the garden, the crane flower (Strelitzia reginae) is virtually maintenance free and needs only to be kept tidy by removing the old flowers and leaves. It is used as a bold structural plant, will give a tropical look, and is highly recommended for mass plantings at office parks and schools.

Strelitzia alba, Strelitzia caudata and Strelitzia Nicolai make wonderful specimen plants for medium to large gardens. The Natal wild banana (Strelitzia Nicolai) withstands salty coastal winds, making it a good feature plant or screen for coastal gardens, however, the root system is aggressive, so do not plant it too close to structures and paths. It grows well in large pots for many years, and this would be the best way to grow it in a small gardens.

These beautiful evergreens grow best in the warm, moist, frost-free, and subtropical regions of the country. Although strelitzias are drought tolerant, they all look better in the garden if watered moderately during long dry periods. Although fairly tender to frost, they will tolerate light to moderate frost if they are planted in a protected position in the garden, and are covered in winter until established. 

Strelitzias require full sun to bloom well, but will take semi-shade. They will also adapt to most well-drained garden soils; but thrive in deep, loamy soil. They require little feeding, but a generous mulch of compost applied in autumn, and a feeding in midsummer with a balanced fertiliser like 3:1:5, together with a good dressing of bone meal, watered in deeply, will be sufficient to keep them looking at their best. For pot culture and ideal potting medium is: 2 parts loam, 2 parts sand, 3 parts bark and 3 parts compost.

Strelitzia reginaeStrelitzia reginaeFull Version:

Description, History & Interesting Facts:

Strelitzias are a unique group of plants indigenous to South Africa, and belonging to the plant family Strelitziaceae. There are 5 different species: Strelitzia reginae, Strelitzia juncea, Strelitzia nicolai, Strelitzia alba and Strelitzia caudata.

The crane flower (Strelitzia reginae) is the most commonly known garden strelitzia, and was introduced in England in 1733 and named in honour of Queen Sophia Charlotte, the wife of George the 3rd of England; and a princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, hence the name “Strelitzia”. The crane flower, with its striking form and unusual flowers, has become a favourite garden subject in warm climates around the world; and has adapted so happily to foreign climates that it has even been adopted as the civic emblem of the American City of Los Angeles. In South Africa, the strelitzia, together with the blue agapanthus and arum lily, first appeared on the 50c coin that was introduced in 1965, as part of the second decimal series.

Because they look so similar, it is difficult to distinguish between the different species of tree-like strelitzias like: S. caudata, S. alba and S. nicolai, unless they are growing in their natural geographic locality. Experts however, will scrutinise their inflorescences to distinguish between them. For example, S. caudata is more closely related to S. alba and they both have simple inflorescences with a single spathe, but the petals of S. caudata are light mauve to blue, with the basal lobes shaped like those of an arrow head, and with a tailed lower sepal. The petals of S. alba are white with rounded lobes and the lower sepal is not prominently tailed. S. nicolai has blue petals and the inflorescence consists of several spathes.

Crane Flower, Bird of Paradise, Kraanvoëlblom, isigude (Strelitzia reginae)

The crane flower is the most commonly known garden strelitzia. It grows wild in the coastal regions of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal in warm valleys and thickets, between other shrubs, and along riverbanks and clearings in the coastal bush. It forms large evergreen clumps of stiff grey-green leaves and startling flowers that resemble an exotic bird species. The flowers stand out above the foliage, at the tips of long stalks, and are bright orange with purple edges and bright blue tongues. Mature plants are very floriferous, with flowers in autumn, winter and spring. The crane flower is a slow grower, but is long-lived; and can eventually reach 1.5m tall and 2m wide.

'Mandela’s Gold' (Strelitzia reginae)

This handsome yellow variety is an asset to any garden, and apart from its golden flowers, its growth habit and requirements are the same as for Strelitzia reginae. This variety is especially suited to growing in large containers outdoors. Kirstenbosch Gardens originally released it as 'Kirstenbosch Gold', but in 1996 it was renamed 'Mandela's Gold', in honour of Nelson Mandela. If they are left to their own devices, the yellow forms will not breed true as they will most likely be pollinated by an orange plant. To get a yellow progeny, two yellow plants must be crossed and pollination is usually by hand. This is done by gently scraping the pollen off with your finger or a stick, and placing it on the tip of the stigma of another plant. The flower heads are covered with brown paper bags after they have been pollinated and until the seeds start to develop.

Rush Leafed Strelitzia (Strelitzia juncea)

This rare and sought after variety occurs naturally in the Eastern Cape in only six locations, in an area north of Port Elizabeth to Uitenhage and Patensie. It is extremely drought tolerant, and often found growing on harsh rocky outcrops amongst other drought-resistant shrubs such as Euphorbia, Pelargonium and cycads (Encephalartos horridus.) The name juncea is derived from the Latin, juncus, meaning” rush”and a reference to its rush-like appearance. It makes a handsome feature plant in the garden with its long erect, needle-like leaves. Although the leaves are very different to the crane flower (S. reginae), the large orange or yellow flowers, borne on long leafless stems (scapes), from May to October, look the same as S. reginae. This species can withstand light frost and grows from 1 to 2m tall, with an equal spread. It is slow growing and takes 3 to 4 years to flower.

Strelitzia nicolai. Picture courtesy www.karlgercens.comStrelitzia nicolai. Picture courtesy www.karlgercens.comNatal Wild Banana, Natal Wildepiesang, Igceba, Ikhamanga (Strelitzia nicolai)

This tall, fast growing species occurs in evergreen forests and in coastal dune vegetation all along the coastal belt from the Eastern Cape to KwaZulu-Natal. It is a common feature of the coastal vegetation of East London; and its range extends up into Mozambique and towards Zimbabwe. It is grown not so much for its flowers as for its form; developing tall, bare stems, topped by enormous shiny, grey-green leaves. The whole flower resembles the head of a bird with a white crest and purple beak. The tree flowers throughout the year with a peak in spring and summer. This plant needs space to develop, growing 5 to 12m tall and spreading up to 4m; depending on climate. It is semi-hardy to frost if planted in a protected position. This species makes a striking accent plant and grows easily in large pots.

White-flowered Wild Banana, Kaap Witwildepiesang, Isigude esimbalimhlophe (Strelitzia alba)

This strelitzia is the rarest of three tree-like strelitzia species occurring in southern Africa, and has a very limited distribution in the coastal area around the Garden Route within the Western Cape provincial boundary. It is found in protected gorges and on slopes along rivers. It is an unbranched, multi-stemmed plant with large leathery, green to greyish leaves and can grow up to 10m tall. The white flowers appear from May to July. It makes an excellent focal point for a medium to large garden.

Transvaal Wild Banana, Transvaal Wildepiesang, isigude sase (Strelitzia caudata)

This unbranched and multi-stemmed plant occurs in southern Africa; from Swaziland and Mpumalanga to the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe; and in open, rocky, but moist situations in and near the Afromontane forests of the Southern Cape. It blooms from May to July and is closely related to S. alba, with both of them having simple inflorescences with a single spathe, but the petals of S. caudata are light mauve to blue. It grows up to 6m tall with a spread of 1 to 1.5m, producing large leathery green to greyish leaves.

Uses:

The leaf stalks of Strelitzia nicolai are dried and used to make a rope for building fish kraals and huts; and the immature seeds are edible and tasty. The flowers provide nectar for sunbirds, especially Olive Sunbirds and Grey Sunbirds. Vervet and Samango monkeys feed on the soft part of the flowers as well as on the orange aril of the seeds. Birds and blue duiker also feed on the flowers. Frogs and ducks often shelter in the clumps along rivers for protection.

In the Garden:

The crane flower (Strelitzia reginae) is virtually maintenance free and needs only to be kept tidy by removing the old flowers and leaves. It is used as a bold structural plant and will give a tropical look to your garden. The crane flower is highly recommended for mass plantings at office parks and schools. Birds are attracted by the nectar filled flowers, and when they perch to have a drink, the petals open to cover their feet in pollen.

The rush leafed strelitzia (Strelitzia juncea) is a rare and sought after variety which makes a handsome feature plant in the garden with its long erect, needle-like leaves. It looks wonderful if planted in large groups.

Strelitzia alba, Strelitzia caudata and Strelitzia Nicolai make wonderful specimen plants for medium to large gardens. The Natal wild banana (Strelitzia Nicolai) withstands salty coastal winds, making it a good feature plant or screen for coastal gardens. This lush looking evergreen is effective for creating a tropical effect and can be used to offset hard landscaping, buildings and pools etc. However, the root system is aggressive, so do not plant it too close to structures and paths. It grows well in large pots for many years, and this would be the best way to grow it in a small gardens.

Strelitzia reginae 'Mandela's Gold' Picture courtesy Karl Gercens Visit his flickr photostreamStrelitzia reginae 'Mandela's Gold' Picture courtesy Karl Gercens Visit his flickr photostreamCultivation:

These beautiful evergreens grow best in the warm, moist, frost-free, and subtropical regions of the country. Although strelitzias are drought tolerant, with Strelitzia juncea being extremely drought tolerant, they all look better in the garden if watered moderately during long dry periods. Although fairly tender to frost, they will tolerate light to moderate frost if they are planted in a protected position in the garden, and are covered in winter until established. In colder regions the leaves may be damaged by frost and will require pruning in spring to keep them tidy. This could be quite a chore for the tree species. Otherwise, they are low-maintenance plants that are easy to grow in the garden.

Strelitzias are very tolerant plants which require full sun to bloom well, but will take semi-shade. They will also adapt to most well-drained garden soils; but thrive in deep, loamy soil. They require little feeding, but a generous mulch of compost applied in autumn, and a feeding in midsummer with a balanced fertiliser like 3:1:5, together with a good dressing of bone meal, watered in deeply, will be sufficient to keep them looking at their best. For pot culture and ideal potting medium is: 2 parts loam, 2 parts sand, 3 parts bark and 3 parts compost.

Propagation:

Propagation of strelitzias is by seed, or division of mature clumps in autumn and winter, or in early spring. Division is often the easiest for gardeners, and although the fleshy roots are difficult to dig up, requiring patience and time, division will ensure that the plants remain true to the parent plant; unlike seeds which may have cross pollinated and do not always remain true to the parent plant. Fresh seed can be sown in spring; and under optimal conditions will flower within 3 to 4 years.

When dividing, do not split the plant into too many small divisions, as even large divisions can take about two seasons to re-establish themselves and flower properly again. Plant the divisions into deeply dug holes, filled with fertile, well-drained soil, and a generous dressing of bone meal, or superphosphate.

Pests & Diseases:

Strelitzias do not suffer from any serious pest or disease problems if grown correctly, but may be attacked by scale insects and mealy bugs. In poorly drained soils root rot may occur.

Warning:

Strelitzias, but mainly the seeds, are listed as being toxic to dogs, cats and horses. Although poisoning is rare, ingestion may cause mild nausea, vomiting and drowsiness. If your pet has eaten this plant contact your local veterinarian.

Additional Info

  • Common Name Crane Flower, Rush Leafed Strelitzia, Kraanvoëlblom, Geel Piesang, Natal Wild Banana, Natal Wildepiesang, Igceba, Isigude esimbalimhlophe, Ikhamanga
  • Latin Name Strelitzias
Published in Medium Plants

Mature Phoenix roebeleniiMature Phoenix roebeleniiCondensed Version:

The dwarf date palm is cherished for its narrow, arching, emerald green leaves and elegant stem. The lower leaflets are modified into sharp pointed spines, and the short, slender stem eventually becomes roughened as old leaf bases accumulate along its length.

Although the plant normally has only a single stem, it occasionally produces several. This small to medium-sized palm grows slowly and varies in height according to the climate in which it is grown, from 1.5 to 3m tall and about 1 to 1.2m wide. Once mature, however, it can grow taller.

The dwarf date palm is used extensively as a specimen or background plant, wind break or screen. It is also good combined with other evergreen shrubs in a border. It excels in containers of all kinds, and looks great on patios and by entry ways.

Many nurseries offer it in containers, planted with 3 to 5 specimens, and when grouped like this, the stems tend to curve gracefully away from the centre of the clump, creating an especially attractive arrangement.

Although this palm grows in coastal regions and inland, it is not tolerant of salt spray or saline soils. It grows best in warm, moist regions, but is also semi-hardy to moderate frost if planted in a warm, protected position in the garden. In coastal areas with good humidity, this species prefers full sun, but inland and in very hot and dry regions, it does best in semi-shade. It is adaptable to most fertile soils, as long as they drain well, and is wind resistant. Although the dwarf date palm will tolerate moderate drought once established, it grows quicker if watered regularly in summer.

Semi-mature Dwarf Date Palm Semi-mature Dwarf Date Palm Full Version:

Description, History & Interesting Facts:

This graceful little palm belongs to the Arecaceae genus which has about 17 species, occurring in the tropical and sub-tropical forests of Africa, Madagascar, Canary Islands, Crete and southern and western Asia.

The dwarf date palm is related to the edible date (Phoenix dactylifera) and is a native of Laos, where it grows wild along the banks of the Mekong River, and is cherished for its narrow, arching, emerald green leaves and elegant stem. The lower leaflets are modified into sharp pointed spines, and the short, slender stem eventually becomes roughened as old leaf bases accumulate along its length.

Although the plant normally has only a single stem, it occasionally produces several. Cream coloured male and female flowers are found on separate plants, and are followed by small, purple-black, edible dates on the female plants. This small to medium-sized palm grows slowly and varies in height according to the climate in which it is grown, from 1.5 to 3m tall and about 1 to 1.2m wide. Once mature, however, it can grow taller.

In the Garden & Home:

The dwarf date palm is used extensively in tropical and sub-tropical gardens as a specimen or background plant, wind break or screen. Plant it in groups underneath taller palms for a dramatic effect in the garden. Use clumps of this palm as specimen plants, and to serve as focal point in a mass planting of annuals. It is also good combined with other evergreen shrubs in a border.

Although this palm is single stemmed, many nurseries offer it in containers, planted with 3 to 5 specimens. When grouped like this, the stems tend to curve gracefully away from the centre of the clump, creating an especially attractive arrangement.

The dwarf date palm excels in containers of all kinds, and looks great on patios and by entry ways. It is also a popular indoor pot plant that grows well in shopping malls and other commercial plantings. When planted indoors it requires high light intensity and fast draining soils.

Not only does this rugged little palm look great indoors, it is said to remove formaldehyde and xylene (a chemical found in plastics and solvents) from the air. Just give it a bright spot and keep it out of drafts (and away from where someone could brush against the spines – see Warning).

Cultivation/Propagation:

Although this palm grows in coastal regions and inland, it is not however, tolerant of salt spray or saline soils. It grows best in warm, moist regions, but is also semi-hardy to moderate frost if planted in a warm, protected position in the garden, and kept on the dry side in winter. In colder regions it is smaller and slower growing.

In coastal areas with good humidity, this species prefers full sun, but inland and in very hot and dry regions, it does best in semi-shade. It is adaptable to most fertile soils, as long as they drain well, and is wind resistant. Although the dwarf date palm will tolerate moderate drought once established, it grows quicker if watered regularly in summer. If the soil is fertile, it is not necessary to fertilise this palm, but an occasional feed with a well-balanced fertiliser won’t do any harm. Mulch the roots seasonally with compost to conserve moisture, and regularly remove any dead leaves to keep the plant tidy.

Commercially it is propagated by seeds which will take about 3 months to germinate.

Problems, Pests & Diseases:

Dwarf date palms are occasionally damaged by mites and insects such as mealybugs, scales, weevils, and caterpillars.

Warning:

Be careful when working near this plant because puncture wounds from the pointed spines can cause infections and in some cases, nerve damage; and exposure to the sap can cause dermatitis (skin irritation) in some people. Keep this plant away from children's play areas and walkways.

Additional Info

  • Common Name Dwarf Date Palm, Pygmy Date Palm, Miniature Date Palm
  • Latin Name Phoenix roebelenii
Published in Trees

FlowersFlowersNandina domestica is native China and Japan and was cultivated in their gardens for centuries before being brought to England in 1804. Despite its common name and similar appearance to bamboo, it is not a bamboo at all; its closest relation is the berberis.

Heavenly bamboo is a beautiful erect shrub about 2 to 3m tall, with delicate green leaves which give it a lovely lacy appearance. It produces numerous straight, usually un-branched stems, which spread by suckering from the roots, spreading slowly to about 1 to 1.2m in diameter. There are also several dwarf cultivars, ranging in height from 0.5 to 1.2m. In the spring the new foliage emerges as bright bronzed red, turning green with maturity. Clusters of creamy-white flowers are held well above the foliage and appear sporadically throughout summer. In autumn and winter nandina's really come into their own, with their fiery red leaves and shiny red berries; the berries ripen in late autumn and persist during winter, providing a valuable food source for birds.

Heavenly bamboo is wonderful to use almost anywhere because it does not have invasive roots and will grow in full sun or semi-shade. It is great to plant near foundations, and if tucked into a corner can reach the eaves of the roof. It shows up well against light coloured buildings and grows easily in containers. Nandina's can be kept at a very compact size by pruning, and if planted closely together can be used as a screen or hedge. The straight stems, of staggered heights, are always adorned either with flowers or berries, or both at the same time; making this a valuable vertical accent plant to use near entrances, pools and patios.

Because of their beauty and toughness, the dwarf cultivars are excellent to use as a low maintenance groundcover for large gardens, parks, traffic islands and similar commercial landscape applications. The finely cut foliage of Nandina also contrasts well when grown with other exotics from the Far East; like Hosta with its wide-ribbed leaves, Hemerocallis (day-lily) with its lance-shaped leaves, and Kniphofia (red-hot pokers).

Apart from watering, the plant requires virtually no maintenance or pruning, except to harvest the occasional leaves or berries to use in flower arrangements. Nandina is virtually pest and disease-free and the spent canes can easily be pruned out. The slim straight canes are strong once dried and last well as stakes for vegetables, bulbs and other small garden plants which may require some support.

BerriesBerriesOnce established, Nandina is one of the toughest plants, adapting to a wide variety of growing conditions. It grows well throughout the country and is hardy to all but very severe frost; it has been known to survive temperatures as low as -10°C, where it is often cut right back to the ground, but shoots readily again in spring if the roots have been thickly mulched to prevent them from freezing. This evergreen will drop some leaves in winter, especially in cold regions. Winter leaf colouring is very intense in colder regions, and if it is planted in full sun, but it will grow quite happily in semi-shade.

Although well established plants will tolerate wind and survive short periods of drought quite well, they look at their best in the garden if the soil is kept moist and if they are sheltered from strong winds. The heavenly bamboo is extremely heat tolerant, taking temperatures as high as 43°C; in these regions it will appreciate some semi-shade. Nandina will adapt to most garden soils, including clay soils, but thrive in fertile acidic soils. Add generous quantities of compost and a dressing of bone meal to the planting holes and water the plants regularly until they are established; feed occasionally during the growing season with  organic fertilisers.

If you do wish to tidy-up the plant it is best done in spring, by removing the oldest branches and any weak growth at ground level. You can safely remove up to 1/3 of the canes. Transplanting is best done in autumn or early spring.

It is possible to grow Nandina from seed, but germination is erratic and can take several years, so generally propagation is from softwood or semi-ripe cuttings taken from new growth in summer.

Find Nandina 'Pygmaea' under Small Plants

Warning: All parts of the plant are poisonous, containing hydrocyanic acid, and could potentially be fatal if ingested. The plant is placed in Toxicity Category 4, the category "generally considered non-toxic to humans." However, the berries are considered toxic to cats and grazing animals. Birds are not affected by these toxins and will disperse the seeds through their droppings.

Additional Info

  • Common Name Nandina, Heavenly Bamboo, Sacred Bamboo
  • Latin Name Nandina domestica
Published in Medium Plants

Magnolia stellataMagnolia stellataMagnolias have a long history as magnificent additions to the garden, and especially the spring garden, when their naked branches are festooned with startling cup-shaped flowers. Discovered in the Orient, they were named in honour of the 17th century botanist Pierre Magnol and have graced western gardens for more than 300 years. Magnolia is an ancient genus; and having evolved before bees appeared, they are pollinated by beetles.  Fossilized Magnolia flowers along with the beetles were discovered in rocks dating around 100 million years old. Due to its great age this family of plants has survived major geologic events such as ice ages, continental drift, and mountain formation, causing its distribution to become disjunct or fragmented, isolating some species while keeping others in close proximity.

The family Magnoliaceae is widely distributed in temperate and tropical Asia from the Himalayas to Japan and southwest through Malaysia and New Guinea. East and south-east Asia is its main distribution centre with approximately two thirds of the species. The remainder of the family is spread across the Americas with temperate species extending into southern Canada, and a few tropical species extending into Brazil and the West Indies.

Magnolias are valued for their longevity, and in the wild they can be found growing in dense woodlands and forest, on moist, humus-rich soils. They occur mainly in tropical and subtropical climates but many varieties are quite hardy. They are represented by over 240 species and hundreds of varieties, both deciduous and evergreen; and are also highly diverse in their growth habit, from tall trees to various sized shrubs.

Magnolia stellata Picture courtesy Leonora Enking Visit her flickr photostreamMagnolia stellata Picture courtesy Leonora Enking Visit her flickr photostreamThe Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata) is a slow-growing shrub or small tree native to Japan and can be found growing wild in certain parts of the Ise Bay area of central Honshu, Japan's largest island; at elevations between 50m and 600m. It grows alongside streams and in moist, boggy areas. This magnolia was introduced to the United States in the 1860s where it remains a popular landscape subject from coast to coast.

Like the saucer magnolia it is deciduous, revealing its twiggy, naked frame in winter. It is also a lot denser and more compact than the saucer magnolia. Young trees display a multi-stemmed, upright growth habit, spreading and mounding with age. Because it is very slow growing it is usually seen in home landscapes as a small to medium sized shrub; and will take about 10 years to reach only 1.2 to 1.5m tall. With maturity plants can reach +-4.6 to 6m tall with a spread of +-3 to 4.6m.

The star magnolia blooms when still very young; usually just after the saucer magnolia in late winter or early spring, and the bare branches are literally smothered in silky buds, opening to brilliant white or pink, slightly fragrant, star shaped flowers; blooming for several weeks. There is natural variation within the flower colour, from white to rich pink; and the hue of pink magnolias will change from year to year, depending on day and night air temperatures prior to and during flowering. A reddish-green, knobby fruit follows the flowers in early summer and opens by slits to reveal the orange-red seeds; but often the fruits will drop before developing fully. The main trunks have an attractive smooth, silver- grey bark and the young twigs are smooth and a shiny chestnut brown.

Magnolia stellata 'Jane Platt' Picture courtesy Lotus Johnston Visit her flickr photostreamMagnolia stellata 'Jane Platt' Picture courtesy Lotus Johnston Visit her flickr photostreamThis is one of the best magnolias for a small garden and the Royal Horticultural Society has given it its Award of Garden Merit (AGM). Try planting it against a dark background like a red brick wall or a stand of juniper for great contrast. Planted next to a pond it is breath-taking; with its lovely blossoms reflecting in the still water. Its graceful shape makes an excellent addition to woodland gardens and to other semi-shaded areas.  It is also an excellent specimen tree for the lawn or shrub border, and effective in foundation plantings near patios etc. or as an informal screening plant.

Magnolias are well suited to espalier which is the practice of controlling woody plant growth by tying the branches to a structure such as a wall or fence with a wood, steel or wire frame, so that the plants grow into a flat plane; frequently in formal patterns. Espalier, trained into flat two-dimensional forms, are ideal not only for decorative purposes, but also for gardens in which space is limited. In cold regions, if trained against a sunny wall or fence it will afford protection and warmth during the cold winter months. Despite this practice, reports of damage to the foundations of buildings or walls, is uncommon.  Initially the young shoots are bent down and tied very gently to only about 45 degrees, or they may break. During the growing season they can be encouraged into the more horizontal position required to train them along the frame. Prune regularly to remove any shoots growing towards the wall, and shorten outward-growing ones to one or two leaves. If these outward-growing shoots have flower buds, pruning can be delayed until immediately after flowering.

Magnolia stellata Picture courtesy Lotus Johnston Visit her flickr photostreamMagnolia stellata Picture courtesy Lotus Johnston Visit her flickr photostreamMagnolias are easy-to-grow and relatively pest free, and once established will need the minimum of attention. The star magnolia grows best in cool areas with good rainfall and mild winters. The plant itself is fully hardy, but the flowers are tender and often reduced to sad rags by late frosts and freezing winter winds. In cold regions position the plant in a sheltered part of the garden where it will not be exposed to very early morning sunshine in the winter, which will burn the frosted buds and flowers; a position with early shade and sun later in the day is best.  Thick mulch around the roots will help to prevent them from freezing.

The star magnolia is relatively pest free; and once established needs the minimum of attention. It requires adequate sun to flower well and will grow in full sun, or semi-shade. In sub-tropical and hot zones plant in a cool spot where it will be sheltered from the fierce midday sun and hot winds. In the winter rainfall regions plant in a wind protected spot and in very well-drained soil, water regularly in summer. It is not suited to the very dry parts of the country. It is most important to water regularly during dry spells, never allowing the soil to dry out totally.

Magnolia stellata 'Rose' Picture courtesy Peter RichardsonMagnolia stellata 'Rose' Picture courtesy Peter RichardsonBecause of its shallow root system the magnolia is sensitive to root disturbance and to its depth of planting, so do not plant it deeper than it is growing in its nursery bag, and keep mulch well away from the trunk. Once established magnolias are not easily transplanted, so ensure you plant it in the correct position.

Although the star magnolia thrives in a slightly acidic, loamy, well-drained soil which is rich in organic matter and retains moisture throughout the year; it is more tolerant of alkaline soils than other magnolias if the planting holes are well prepared with lots of acid compost and other organic material. Mulching the roots in summer will help to retain moisture and keep them cool. Specimens grown in heavy, compacted or poorly drained soil will appear stunted.

The plant needs adequate sun to flower well and will grow in full sun, or dappled shade; in cooler regions it will flower best in full sun but in the hotter regions of the country it will appreciate a bit of afternoon shade. It is most important to water regularly during dry spells, never allowing the soil to dry out totally. Feed in spring and late summer with a balanced organic fertiliser.

Magnolia buds Picture courtesy Lotus Johnston Visit her flickr photostreamMagnolia buds Picture courtesy Lotus Johnston Visit her flickr photostreamThe star magnolia usually needs little if any pruning, but if you do need to prune, do it immediately after flowering to avoid cutting off buds set for the next season. Remove any dead or weak growth and tidy as required. To train into a small tree cut away the lower branches so it can form a single trunk - this could take many years, but would be well worth the effort - kind of like having a bonsai growing in the ground.

Overall this is a trouble-free plant but it is susceptible to magnolia scale. 

Propagation is mainly by softwood cuttings taken in early summer or by semi-ripe cuttings taken in late summer; treated with a hormone rooting powder. Seed is slow to germinate and can take many months to germinate.

Additional Info

  • Common Name Magnolia, Star Magnolia
  • Latin Name Magnolia stellata
Published in Medium Plants
Thursday, 25 July 2013 00:28

Sandanqua Viburnum - Viburnum suspensum

FlowersFlowersThis handsome, evergreen, shrub is native to Okinawa and other members of the Ryukyu Islands, a chain of Japanese islands northeast of Taiwan. It is an easy, fast growing and trouble-free shrub with an attractive, spreading yet compact growth habit making it a very popular landscaping shrub. It has leathery, dark green leaves and produces a profusion of small waxy, tubular flowers that are white with pinkish tints; in late winter to spring.  The flowers are followed by red berries that will darken to black with age; in late summer and autumn.
 
The flowers will attract butterflies and bees and the berries will attract birds to your garden. The Sandanqua Viburnum is a valuable shrub to plant in a mixed shrub border because it looks good all year round. It makes an excellent hedge or informal screening plant and grows beautifully in a large pot. Its distinctive dark green leaves are a perfect backdrop for other flowering shrubs, annuals or roses.

BerriesBerriesThis Viburnum grows well in warm, moist, humid, frost free regions and takes salty winds. If it is planted in a protected place in the garden it will tolerate moderate frost. Although it will grow in sandy soils, planting it in well-composted and well drained soil will produce the best results. It can be planted in sun or semi-shade and if watered regularly, will grow quickly, varying in height according to climate and soil conditions, from 1.8 to 3.5m tall and can spread as wide. Prune as required to control fast-growing shoots and to maintain your desired shape and size. This plant will tolerate drought but does best if watered moderately during dry spells.

Propagation is easy from semi-hardwood to hardwood cuttings.

Additional Info

  • Common Name Sandanqua Viburnum
  • Latin Name Viburnum suspensum
Published in Medium Plants

Picture courtesy Phillip MerrittPicture courtesy Phillip MerrittCondensed Version:

This multi-stemmed, rounded shrub is grown for its bold, deeply lobed bright green leaves and long pendulous panicles of creamy white flowers in mid to late summer and autumn. The flowers turn lovely shades of pink as they age, and by autumn and winter they are a dry, papery rusty-brown. In autumn the leaves turn dramatic shades of rich bronzy-red, purple and coral. This superb garden plant makes an excellent specimen for a mixed shrub border in semi-shade or in woodland gardens. It looks beautiful if planted in groups and associates beautifully with most other hydrangeas.

The Oak-leaved Hydrangea thrives inland in the colder regions of the country and is hardy to all but very severe frost. It is not suited to very hot, dry areas. It will grow in any moderately fertile garden soil as long as it drains well. The flower colour does not vary with soil pH as with other hydrangeas. It cannot tolerate "wet feet" and can easily get root rot if it stands in soggy soil for even short periods. It prefers partial to almost full shade, or full morning sun with afternoon shade. This hydrangea will tolerate much dryer locations than its cousins, thriving with very little attention. It will grow +-2m tall and 1.5m wide, but can reach up to 2.5m tall, with an even wider spread.

Full Version:

Description, History & Interesting Facts:

This shrub is native to the south-eastern U.S.A. where it grows as an under-storey shrub in mixed hardwood forests, often in the shade of large oaks, hickories, magnolias, American beech, etc.  It can be found alongside streams and on forested hillsides, usually on calcareous soils, and often where limestone is at the ground surface. This multi-stemmed, rounded shrub is grown for its bold, deeply lobed bright green leaves that look like oak tree leaves; hence its common name. Long pendulous panicles of creamy white flowers appear in mid to late summer and continue into autumn, turning lovely shades of pink as they age, and by autumn and winter they are a dry, papery rusty-brown. The flowers are excellent for the vase. In autumn, the leaves turn dramatic shades of rich bronzy-red, purple and coral. The young stems are covered in a felt-like light brown bark, and the larger stems have attractive cinnamon-orange bark that shreds and peels in thin flakes.

Picture courtesy Phillip MerrittPicture courtesy Phillip MerrittIn the Garden:

This superb garden plant makes an excellent specimen for a mixed shrub border in semi-shade or in woodland gardens. It looks beautiful if planted in groups and associates beautifully with most other hydrangeas.

Cultivation:

The Oak-leaved Hydrangea thrives inland in the colder regions of the country and is hardy to all but very severe frost. In cold regions, mulch the roots in autumn to keep them protected. It is not suited to very hot, dry areas. This shrub is deciduous, losing its leaves in winter, but in protected positions the lovely autumn leaves will persist. The Oak-leaved Hydrangea will grow in any moderately fertile garden soil as long as it drains well. The flower colour does not vary with soil pH as with other hydrangeas. It cannot tolerate "wet feet" and can easily get root rot if it stands in soggy soil for even short periods. It grows best in a woodland situation on alkaline soils, preferring partial to almost full shade, or full morning sun with afternoon shade. A tremendous advantage of this hydrangea is that it will tolerate much dryer locations than its cousins, thriving with very little attention. In the garden it will flower best if it is watered regularly, especially during dry periods. It will grow about 2m tall and 1.5m wide, but can reach up to 2.5m tall, with an even wider spread. Prune it back in spring to keep it smaller and neater; cutting back the stems to a strong pair of buds. Take out misplaced or diseased shoots and once established; remove a quarter to a third of the shoots right down to the base of the plant.

Propagation:

Propagation is by seed, softwood or semi-hardwood cuttings, divisions or layering, in summer.  The oak-leaved hydrangea often grows in colonies, sending up shoots from underground stolons, which can be divided.

Autumn LeavesAutumn LeavesPests & Diseases:

This hydrangea does not suffer from any serious diseases and few pests.

Toxicity:

Hydrangeas are moderately toxic if eaten by humans, dogs, cats and horses, with all parts of the plant containing cyanogenic glycosides. Cyanide intoxication is rare and usually only produces more of a gastrointestinal disturbance. If ingested, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, sweating, gastroenteritis, vomiting and diarrhoea which may be bloody can occur. If you suspect that a child or animal has ingested hydrangea it is advisable to consult your doctor or vet immediately.

Additional Info

  • Common Name Hydrangea, Oak Leaf Hydrangea
  • Latin Name Hydrangea quercifolia
Published in Medium Plants
Thursday, 25 July 2013 00:28

Weigelia - Weigelia florida

Weigelia floribundaWeigelia floribundaWeigelia is a small genus of about 12 species of deciduous shrubs which are native to eastern Asia, and are related to honeysuckle. Several hundred cultivars and hybrids are available, from vigorous-growing shrubs to dwarf cultivars.

Weigelia have an upright growth habit and gracefully arching branches, which are heavily laden in late spring and early summer with clusters of trumpet-shaped flowers, ranging in colour from pure white to light pink, rose and ruby red. The weight of the flowers on the stems will cause the stems to arch over, displaying the flowers beautifully. Not only do they have beautiful flowers, but the large leaves are also most attractive; and new varieties flaunt flashy foliage in shades of gold, lime-green, white, cream, and rose; for a season-long spectacle. The fruit is a dry capsule containing numerous small winged seeds.

Weigelia florida cultivars are favourites for the mixed shrub border, and the dwarf varieties are pretty in the perennial border. They will attract lots of butterflies to your garden as well as nectar-feeding birds.

Weigelia is an undemanding, easy-to-grow plant, which quickly develops into a fine leafy shrub. It is a good choice for a difficult position in the garden, because it will grow in full sun or semi-shade; variegated forms do best if protected from the harsh midday sun. Weigelia is fully hardy to frost and grows best in regions that have good summer rains and cool to cold winters; it does not like high humidity and strong winds.

It prefers fertile well-drained soil, but will adapt to most garden soils; including clay, chalk, sand or loam, and is not fussy about pH. Water regularly, and it will grow quickly to +-2 to 3m tall, with an equal spread. Mulch the roots with compost, and feed in early spring and autumn with a balanced organic fertiliser.

Pruning at the right time of the year is important because Weigelia blooms on wood that is a year old; so if you trim too early or too late you will not get any flowers next season. The best time to prune is immediately after flowering, and quite drastic pruning will provide the maximum floral display next year. All the flowered wood should be cut out entirely, right back to the main framework of the trunk and primary branches. This will force strong new shoots to appear, and these will grow up to 2m in only a few months.

Propagation is from softwood or semi-hardwood cuttings taken in summer, or hardwood cuttings taken in late autumn and winter

Additional Info

  • Common Name Weigelia
  • Latin Name Weigelia florida
Published in Medium Plants

Gardenia augustaGardenia augustaCondensed Version:

Beloved for their intoxicating fragrance and creamy-white flowers, contrasting beautifully with their shiny evergreen, dark green leaves; gardenias remain firm favourites with gardeners in warm temperate and subtropical gardens worldwide.

Mature Gardenia augusta shrubs usually have a round shape, growing +-1.8 to 2.5m tall, with almost an equal spread. However, many garden varieties are distinctly different from the plant described above. These varieties vary greatly in size and growth habit, as well as in flower size. Flowers can be white or yellow; and single, semi-double, or double rose-like forms are available. Some gorgeous little dwarfs and ground covers make gardenias feasible for even the smallest of gardens, and because they grow beautifully in pots, even balcony gardens can have one.

In South Africa, gardenias thrive in our warm, moist regions, but grow well in most parts of the country, except for those coldest and driest regions. They are semi-hardy to moderate frost if planted in a protected position in the garden which is protected from freezing winds.

Select a site that receives semi-shade to sun, or morning sun. In very hot regions the plant will appreciate some shade in summer, especially during the hottest part of the day, but in cooler regions they are quite happy in full sun. Ensure that the planting site is protected from strong winds and that the soil drains well. Prepare the planting holes very well, incorporating lots of compost and a dressing of bone meal. Gardenias love slightly acid soil, so if your soil is not acid enough, use lots of acid compost.

They enjoy an evenly moist soil that is not soggy, so water them year round, but particularly in spring and summer when the plant is flowering. Gardenias are heavy feeders and need to be fertilised on a regular basis in summer with a balanced fertiliser. Mulching regularly will keep the root zone cool.

Picture courtesy Clarence E  Jones III - see his flickr pagePicture courtesy Clarence E Jones III - see his flickr pageFull Version:

Description, History & Interesting Facts:

Beloved for their intoxicating fragrance and creamy-white flowers, contrasting beautifully with their shiny evergreen, dark green leaves; gardenias remain firm favourites with gardeners in warm temperate and subtropical gardens worldwide. The flowers open white, turning a creamy yellow as they age, and have a waxy feel, and orange-red fleshy berries follow the flowers, attracting birds and other wildlife.

This shrub is an excellent evergreen for the garden. and will produce flowers over a fairly long season from late spring to late autumn, with the main flush in the months leading up to Christmas. Warm summer breezes will waft the scent through the whole garden, much to the delight of everyone, and even a couple of blooms can perfume an entire room, making gardenias a favourite with florists.

This genus in the madder (Rubiaceae) family is found in tropical Africa, Asia, Australasia, and Oceania, consisting of about 250 species of mostly evergreen shrubs or small trees. Gardenia augusta is most commonly found growing in Vietnam, Southern China, Taiwan, Japan, India, and nearby regions of the subtropical eastern hemisphere. The common name Cape jasmine derived from the earlier belief that the plant originated in the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa.

Mature Gardenia augusta shrubs usually have a round shape, growing +-1.8 to 2.5m tall, with almost an equal spread. However, due to centuries of cultivation there are over 200 gardenia varieties available worldwide, many of which are distinctly different from the plant described above. These varieties vary greatly in size and growth habit, as well as in flower size. Flowers can be white or yellow; and single, semi-double, or double rose-like forms are available. Some gorgeous little dwarfs and ground covers make gardenias feasible for even the smallest of gardens, and because they grow beautifully in pots, even balcony gardens can have one.

(Gardenia 'Florida') produces large double white blooms and grows +-1.2 to 1.5m tall and almost as wide.

(Gardenia 'Golden Magic') has double cream flowers that turn butter yellow with age. It grows +-80 to 100cm tall and +-80 to 100cm wide.

(Gardenia 'Professor Pucci') produces large, double pure white flowers in profusion. It grows + -1.2 to 1.5m high and +-80 to 100cm wide.

(Gardenia 'Impulse var Grandiflora Star') produces single, pure white, star-shaped flowers and grows +-50cm high and 30cm wide.

(Gardenia 'Four Seasons') grows +-50cm high and 30cm wide and produces single pure white, star-shaped flowers.

(Gardenia 'Impulse White Gem') has small single white, star-like flowers. It grows +-40 to 50cm tall and +-40 to 80cm wide.

(Gardenia 'Radicans') is a compact and low-growing groundcover with very small leaves; +-30 to 40cm tall, and spreading +-80cm to 1m wide. It produces small (3cm) double white flowers and is often used for bonsai.

Uses:

The gardenia flower is a symbol of purity and sweetness and makes and excellent cut flower which is prized in wedding bouquets and flower arrangements, where it always adds a touch of elegance.

The flowers of some Gardenia species are used in Chinese herbalism to treat influenza and colds, and some are used to perfume tea. A yellow dye was made from the fruits.

In the Garden:

The Cape jasmine is essential in all romantic and perfumed gardens. It makes a beautiful freestanding specimen shrub to plant close to a patio, entrance, garden bench or window - where its shape and beauty can be appreciated, and where its fragrance can be enjoyed.
It also makes a good hedge or screening plant and grows easily in containers. Dwarf varieties and groundcovers look wonderful spilling over hanging baskets.

Cultivation/Propagation:
 
In South Africa, gardenias thrive in our warm, moist regions, but grow well in most parts of the country, except for those coldest and driest regions. They are semi-hardy to moderate frost if planted in a protected position in the garden which is protected from freezing winds.

Select a site that receives semi-shade to sun, or morning sun. In very hot regions the plant will appreciate some shade in summer, especially during the hottest part of the day, but in cooler regions they are quite happy in full sun. Ensure that the planting site is protected from strong winds and that the soil drains well. Prepare the planting holes very well, incorporating lots of compost and a dressing of bone meal. Gardenias love slightly acid soil, so if your soil is not acid enough, use lots of acid compost.

They enjoy an evenly moist soil that is not soggy, so water them year round, but particularly in spring and summer when the plant is flowering. Gardenias are heavy feeders and need to be fertilised on a regular basis in summer with a balanced fertiliser. Mulching regularly will keep the root zone cool.

Pruning is sometimes necessary to help shape your plant or to keep it a smaller size. It is important that pruning be done after the plant has finished flowering, or you may cut off newly forming buds.

Propagation is by semi-hardwood cuttings which root easily in moist soil during the warm summer months; or by seed sown in spring and early summer.

Problems, Pests & Diseases:

Gardenias are susceptible to several pests, primarily sucking insects. Insect attacks are aggravated by lack of air circulation in small walled gardens and courtyards. The presence of insects may also be a sign that your plant is under stress, so ensure that it is well watered and correctly fertilised. Aphids, whitefly, spider mites, scale insects, mealy bug and sooty mould are common problems, which can be easily controlled by spraying with environmentally safe soap and oil sprays. Use a sticker liker G-49 with your insecticide to help the poison stick to the glossy leaves.
 
Infestations of twig wilter (stink bugs) are often found on gardenias. They suck the plant sap, causing some stems to wilt and die. However, they don’t seem to have any adverse effects on the plants.

Gardenias are very susceptible to nematodes, especially in sandy soils. Nematodes are mobile worm-like microscopic organisms which attack the roots of plants. They are easily recognisable, causing wart-like lumps on the roots about the size of a match head. Signs of nematodes are wilting and yellow leaves which persist even after fertilising. Potent chemicals are not suitable for use in the home garden, so rather sow marigolds near susceptible plants and dig them lightly into the soil when they have finished flowering. Khaki weed also works well to help control nematodes.

Gardenia flower buds may go brown, drop, or fail to open. This is fairly normal and occurs mainly because the plant tends to keep producing flower buds right through autumn, even though plant growth is slowing. The plant will often hold these buds right through winter and drop them in spring. Bud drop can also be caused by weevil or leaf hopper damage.

Yellow leaves can appear at any time of the year, but are particularly prevalent in spring. Yellowing is generally attributed to a magnesium deficiency and is treated with applications of Epsom salts (sulphate of magnesium). If your plant has been planted correctly, is fed regularly with a good all-purpose organic fertiliser, and is watered correctly, yellowing of the leaves should not become a problem. It is especially important to fertilise in spring when the weather warms up.

Warning:

Gardenia augusta is listed by the California Poison Control System as being nontoxic to humans if ingested. However, the CPCS adds that even nontoxic plants may cause vomiting in humans and animals, and that ingesting plant matter can cause children to choke or gag.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals lists gardenia as being toxic to dogs, as well as cats and horses. Because the ASPCA does not offer toxicity information for other species of gardenias, it is probably safe to assume that all species and cultivars may incur similar damage.

Additional Info

  • Common Name Gardenia, Katjiepeiring, Cape Jasmine
  • Latin Name Gardenia augusta (Previously Gardenia jasminoides)
Published in Medium Plants

Hydrangea Teller 'Lady Oshie' Picture courtesy Leonora Enking Visit her flickr photostreamHydrangea Teller 'Lady Oshie' Picture courtesy Leonora Enking Visit her flickr photostreamCondensed Version:

Hydrangea remains a firm favourite with gardeners around the world and is grown for its luxuriant foliage and abundance of huge ball-shaped or lace-capped flowers, from November through to late summer.  Innumerable hybrids have been bred for the market from about 20 wild species and newer hybrids include red varieties. Many of these hybrids will bloom from spring to autumn, and many keep their colour no matter the pH of the soil. Cultivars vary in size from 90cm to 2m tall with an equal spread; older specimens can take 6 to 10 years to reach full maturity, but once mature can exceed 3m.

Hydrangea macrophylla occurs in two forms – the hortensias or ‘mophead’ hydrangeas, and the ‘lacecap’ hydrangea. Mopheads form large pom-pom shaped balls of flowers, while lacecaps are round and flat.  Blossoms can be white, or shades of pink, blue, or purple, depending on a pH-dependent mobilization and uptake of aluminium from the soil into the plants. Acid soils with a pH of less than 5.5 produce blue flowers, and soils with a pH greater than this produce pink flowers. White flowers are not affected by pH, although sometimes one will find that nature has added splashes of pink into the white flowers.

Hydrangea macrophylla Picture courtesy Leonora Enking Visit her flickr photostreamHydrangea macrophylla Picture courtesy Leonora Enking Visit her flickr photostreamBecause of their lovely round form, large dark-green leaves and spectacular flowers, hydrangeas make wonderful background plants for the mixed shrub border. They grow well in shady woodland gardens where they receive mottled shade; blending beautifully with other shade loving plants like azaleas, magnolias and gardenias. They also look spectacular planted near still dams or ponds where the water will reflect the blooms, providing double the impact. Hydrangeas look especially good planted with light coloured flowers and even tall growing perennials and annuals. Flowering is especially prolific in December, making hydrangeas a favourite Christmas cut flower. They also grow beautifully in large pots as long as they are watered regularly.Hydrangeas can be planted in almost all of South Africa’s growing regions but do best in temperate regions with good summer rainfall; they are not suited to humid, or very hot and dry regions.  Because they originate in coastal regions, they are quite happy in coastal gardens, provided they are given some protection from strong winds. The plants are hardy to frost, but the buds can be damaged by severe winter weather and freezing winds. In very cold regions, site the plant in a sheltered part of the garden, mulch the roots well, and cover in winter. Although hydrangeas are shade lovers they do require some sunlight to flower well, and perform best in dappled shade, or morning or late afternoon sun; excessive midday heat will cause the plants to wilt.

Hydrangeas will adapt to most garden soils, but prefer a very fertile, loose, moist soil which drains well. They are not very drought tolerant, and should be watered deeply and regularly during dry or hot summer periods; reduce watering considerably during the winter months. To enhance the colour of your blooms and to promote flowering, feed regularly until the plants have finished blooming. Excellent commercial feeders are available at your local garden centre to enhance or change the colour of your blooms.

Hydrangea 'Renate Steinige' Picture courtesy Leonora Enking Visit her flickr photostreamHydrangea 'Renate Steinige' Picture courtesy Leonora Enking Visit her flickr photostreamFull Version:

Description, History & Interesting Facts:

Hydrangea macrophylla is a deciduous species of Hydrangea which comes from the coastal regions of the Japanese islands, especially the south coast of Honshu. This hydrangea remains a firm favourite with gardeners around the world and is grown for its luxuriant foliage and abundance of huge ball-shaped or lace-capped flowers, from November through to late summer.  Innumerable hybrids have been bred for the market from about 20 wild species and newer hybrids will bloom from spring to autumn, and many will keep their colour no matter the pH of the soil.

Hydrangea macrophylla occurs in two forms – the hortensias or ‘mophead’ hydrangeas, and the ‘lacecap’ hydrangea. Mopheads form large pom-pom shaped balls of flowers, while lacecaps are round and flat.  Blossoms can be white, or shades of pink, blue, or purple, depending on a pH-dependent mobilization and uptake of aluminium from the soil into the plants. Acid soils with a pH of less than 5.5 produce blue flowers, and soils with a pH greater than this produce pink flowers. White flowers are not affected by pH, although sometimes one will find that nature has added splashes of pink into the white flowers. If you are aiming for a strong blue colour, avoid planting hydrangeas close to a concrete wall or foundation as concrete can leach lime into the soil, making it difficult to obtain a true blue colour.

Hydrangea 'Leuctfeuer'Hydrangea 'Leuctfeuer'Cultivars vary in size from 90cm to 2m tall with an equal spread; older specimens can take 6 to 10 years to reach full maturity, but once mature can exceed 3m. Hybrids include red varieties and the unusual ‘Lady in Red’ - a white lacecap hydrangea with flowers that mature to a deep red colour toward the end of summer; ‘Sweet Dreams’ is a soft pink lacecap with a generous amount of flowers per bush; and ‘Nikko Blue’ is an easy-to-grow mophead hydrangea, which produces bright blue flowers in acidic soil and lilac to light pink flowers in alkaline soil.

Newer varieties are bred to be compact and don’t occupy as much space, so they are great for smaller gardens and pot culture. 'Endless Summer' is a popular new selection which produces pink or blue flowers on the current year's growth as well as on old wood. It will often produce a full set of blooms twice each summer; and in warm areas can bloom for up to six months. Look out for Endless Summer ‘Blue’, Endless Summer ‘Pink’. ‘Blushing Bride’ has the same re-blooming qualities as its parent, ‘Endless Summer’ and produces radiant pure white, semi-double flowers that mature to a sweet pink blush. The plant produces strong sturdy branches making it a perfect flower for cutting and its full yet compact growth habit makes it an ideal plant for decorative containers, as well as in the garden.

Other hydrangea species include: Hydrangea serrata (mountain hydrangea) which is closely related to H. macrophylla, but it is smaller and finer than its popular cousin, and hardier. Hydrangea paniculata (panicle hydrangea) is the most hardy to cold temperatures and also the giant of the hydrangea genus, growing +-3m tall with an equal spread; varieties change in colour throughout the flowering season. Hydrangea arborescens bears small white to green coloured flowers; and the stem of this variety tends to peel off in layers leaving various different shades of bark on the stem; the most popular variety of H. arborescens is ‘Annabelle’. Hydrangea quercifolia (oak leaf hydrangea) grows best in inland gardens in South Africa; bearing pretty white flowers in the summer, followed by beautiful foliage in autumn. Read more about it here.
 
Hydrangea 'Rose Swirl'Hydrangea 'Rose Swirl'In the Garden:

Because of their lovely round form, large dark-green leaves and spectacular flowers, hydrangeas make wonderful background plants for the mixed shrub border. They grow well in shady woodland gardens where they receive mottled shade; blending beautifully with other shade loving plants like azaleas, magnolias and gardenias. They look spectacular planted near still dams or ponds where the water will reflect the blooms, providing double the impact. They also look especially good planted with light coloured flowers and even tall growing perennials and annuals. Flowering is especially prolific in December, making hydrangeas a favourite Christmas cut flower. They also grow beautifully in large pots as long as they are watered regularly.

Hydrangeas are fantastic cut flowers, and dry well; but need to be picked when they are fully open. The woody stems cannot absorb water well, so remove the bark completely up to about 5cm from the bottom, before placing the stems in a bucket deep enough to cover the entire length of the stems with water; leave in a cool place overnight before arranging.

Cultivation:

Hydrangeas can be planted in almost all of South Africa’s growing regions but do best in temperate regions with good summer rainfall; they are not suited to humid, or very hot and dry regions.  Because they originate in coastal regions, they are quite happy in coastal gardens, provided they are given some protection from strong winds. The plants are hardy to frost, but the buds can be damaged by severe winter weather and freezing winds. In very cold regions, site the plant in a sheltered part of the garden, mulch the roots well, and cover in winter.

Hydrangea 'Lacecap' Picture courtesy Leonora Enking Visit her flickr photostreamHydrangea 'Lacecap' Picture courtesy Leonora Enking Visit her flickr photostreamAlthough hydrangeas are shade lovers they do require some sunlight to flower well, and perform best in dappled shade, or morning or late afternoon sun; excessive midday heat will cause the plants to wilt. If you have a hydrangea that used to bloom well but now flowers only sparsely, evaluate whether the growth of nearby trees or shrubs have reduced the amount of light that reaches the plant. If so, you may want to consider moving the hydrangea to a sunnier location, or pruning the offender to let in more sunlight. Hydrangeas will adapt to most garden soils, but prefer a very fertile, loose, moist soil which drains well. They will adapt to well-prepared clay, clay loam, loam, loamy sand, sandy clay, sandy clay loam, and sandy loam soils. They are not very drought tolerant, and should be watered deeply and regularly during dry or hot summer periods; reduce watering considerably during the winter months.

To enhance the colour of your blooms and to promote flowering, feed regularly until the plants have finished blooming. Excellent commercial feeders are available at your local garden centre to enhance or change the colour of your blooms. Generally gardeners find it easier to allow their plants to bloom according to their soils pH, and then to enhance that colour; rather than attempting to force a blue hydrangea to flower pink, or vice-versa.

To enhance the colour of pink blooms, dust the soil around the plants with agricultural or dolomitic lime every 2 to 4 weeks from spring onwards, and water it in well. Mulch the roots with compost in spring and autumn and feed with a fertiliser with high phosphorus content like 2:3:2; phosphorus helps to prevent the plant from taking up aluminium.

To enhance the colour of blue blooms work some aluminium sulphate into the soil around the roots in autumn; and apply 25g of aluminium sulphate dissolved in 5 litres of water at two-weekly intervals from early spring onwards. Mulch the roots in spring and autumn with acid compost. Use a fertiliser that is low in phosphorus and high in potassium like 8:1:6; and avoid bone meal and super phosphates. Add organic matter such as rich compost, grass clippings, coffee grounds and fruit and vegetable peelings; all these help to lower the PH of the soil.

Hydrangea 'Lacecap' Picture courtesy Leonora Enking Visit her flickr photostreamHydrangea 'Lacecap' Picture courtesy Leonora Enking Visit her flickr photostreamIt’s not uncommon for hydrangeas to produce lush foliage, but few or no flowers. This is often a result of over-feeding with a high nitrogen fertiliser, as nitrogen stimulates leaf growth at the expense of flowers.

The main cause of hydrangeas not blooming is incorrect pruning, or pruning at the wrong time. Until your hydrangea reaches maturity it is not necessary to prune the bud bearing stems at all; but it is necessary to selectively prune out all the dead and weaker stems completely at ground level. Many South Africans prefer to prune twice a year – once very lightly after flowering and another harder pruning in June, July or August. This method is quite acceptable, but because Hydrangeas set new buds soon after blooming, the ideal time to prune is as soon as the flowers have faded; usually at the end of January or February. Prune the bud bearing stems by about 1/3, to just above a new bud; hydrangea plants generally flower on the older stems, and the mistake gardeners often make is to prune the older stems too hard.   

Another common reason for lack of flowering can be due to unfavourable weather conditions like early autumn freezes before the plant is totally dormant, or when warm temperatures in late winter and early spring break the plants dormancy;  but is immediately followed by early spring freezes. The severity of the damage caused by these freezes depends on how many of the buds have broken dormancy; if a substantial portion of the buds on a stem were actively growing, the whole branch may die.

Hydrangea arborescens 'Grandiflora' Picture courtesy Leonora Enking Visit her flickr photostreamHydrangea arborescens 'Grandiflora' Picture courtesy Leonora Enking Visit her flickr photostreamPropagation:

Propagation is easy from softwood tip cuttings taken in summer, or from cuttings of un-flowered shoots taken in early autumn. Layering is also simple; bend some of the younger branches to the ground and remove the leaves where the branch touches the ground. Cover the stem with soil and place a brick on top. Within one season the branch should have formed roots and can be cut away from the mother plant and transplanted.

Pests & Diseases:

Hydrangeas are prone to rust, powdery mildew; leaf spot, slugs, aphid, red spider mites; and chlorosis (yellow leaves).

Toxicity:

Hydrangeas are moderately toxic if eaten by humans, dogs, cats and horses, with all parts of the plant containing cyanogenic glycosides. Cyanide intoxication is rare and usually only produces more of a gastrointestinal disturbance. If ingested, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, sweating, gastroenteritis, vomiting and diarrhoea which may be bloody can occur. If you suspect that a child or animal has ingested hydrangea it is advisable to consult your doctor or vet immediately.

Additional Info

  • Common Name Hydrangea, Christmas Rose, Krismisrose, Florist Hydrangea, Mophead, Lacecap
  • Latin Name Hydrangea macrophylla hybrids
Published in Medium Plants

alt Leonotus leonurus 'Orange' Picture courtesy www.newplant.co.zaLeonotus leonurus 'Orange' Picture courtesy www.newplant.co.zaCondensed Version:

Seven species of Leonotis occur in southern Africa, with Leonotis leonurus being the most well-known and commonly cultivated. This outstanding indigenous plant has become an extremely popular garden subject because of its brilliant orange flowers, fast growth, and adaptability to a wide range of climatic conditions throughout the country. White, light orange and peachy orange forms are also available.

Wild dagga does not have aggressive roots and is perfect for gardens small and large. Try planting it in groups at the back of the mixed shrub border, interspersed with the white flowered forms to create a brilliant contrast. It is essential in all indigenous wildlife gardens; and a beautiful addition to grassland and fynbos gardens, combining perfectly with aloes, succulents, proteas, pincushions and Leucadendrons. The flowers will attract bees, butterflies and moths to your garden and secrete a plentiful supply of nectar for sunbirds.
 
The lion’s ear is suitable for growing in a wide range of climatic conditions throughout South Africa. It loves full sun, and will grow in any fertile, well-drained garden soil. Although this plant is drought tolerant, it will perform best in the garden if it is watered regularly until established and moderately thereafter. Regular feeding with a balanced fertiliser like 3:1:5 during summer will ensure a splendid floral display later. It flourishes in the subtropical summer rainfall regions, and also grows well in the winter rainfall regions. It also thrives in the Highveld regions and tolerates moderate frost if it can be protected from freezing winter winds. In the dry continental regions it requires regular watering during long dry summer spells to look its best; and in these regions growth is also less vigorous.

Leonotis growing in the wild often dies back after flowering, with new growth appearing again in spring; but in warmer gardens where it is watered in winter it will remain evergreen. Prune the branches back to about three quarters in early spring, before the plant begins shooting new growth. This will encourage strong new shoots and prevents the branches from becoming top-heavy and falling over during heavy rains and strong winds. After several years, when the plants become woody and unattractive, it is best to replace them with new plants.

Leonotis leonurus var. albiflora 'White Lion' Picture courtesy www.newplant.co.zaLeonotis leonurus var. albiflora 'White Lion' Picture courtesy www.newplant.co.zaFull Version:
 
Description, History & Interesting Facts:

Leonotis is a robust genus of slender shrubs with about 10 species, and endemic to sub-Saharan Africa. Endemic plants are native or restricted only to a certain country or area. Seven species of Leonotis occur in southern Africa, with Leonotis leonurus being the most well-known and commonly cultivated. This outstanding indigenous plant has become an extremely popular garden subject because of its brilliant orange flowers, fast growth, and adaptability to a wide range of climatic conditions throughout the country. White, light orange and peachy orange forms are also available. Although often referred to as “wild dagga” Leonotis is not related to true dagga (Cannabis sativa) which belongs to a different family and originated in Asia.  

The name “leonotis” is derived from two Greek words and means “lion’s ear” - hence its common name, referring to the fringed or hairy upper lip of each velvety flower, which resembles a lion’s ear. Blooms are produced in abundant whorls along the stems in late summer, autumn, and even into winter, depending on localized growing conditions. The base of the flowers is filled with sweet nectar, attracting bees, moths, butterflies, birds and insects to the garden.

(Leonotis leonurus) with its brilliant orange flowers, produced in abundant whorls along the stems in late summer, autumn or winter, is the most widespread species throughout South Africa, occurring from the Olifants River Valley near Clanwilliam to Cape Agulhas in the southern Cape, eastwards along the coastline and inland to eastern Gauteng.  It can be found growing in a variety of habitats including; sandy flats, on rocky hillsides, at forest margins, alongside river banks, and in grasslands. This multi-stemmed shrub can reach 2 to 3m tall and 1 to 1.5m wide and has long, slender, aromatic green leaves with toothed margins, and rough upper surfaces with velvety undersides.

(Leonotis leonurus leonurus ‘Golden Velvet’) is a wonderful golden orange form.

 (Leonotis leonurus var. albiflora ‘White Lion’) is a beautiful creamy-white form which is rare in the wild and propagated from cuttings as it does not breed true to type from seed. It reaches the same height and spread as its orange cousins and performs equally well in the garden.

(Leonotis leonurus ‘Harrismith White’) is another extremely good white variety.

(Leonotis ocymifolia) is a species with a very wide distribution and can be found growing wild from Clanwilliam in the Western Cape to southern Sudan. It is common on rocky slopes where it grows in full sun to a height of about 2m. Its oval-shaped leaves are shorter and broader than those of L. leonurus and its orange flowers emerge from showy, spiky green balls. Once dried the seed pods make beautiful additions to dry flower arrangements, and, if sprayed, make great Christmas decorations. This species is not as long lived as L. leonurus and doesn’t respond as well to pruning, so needs replacing every three years or so, but is easy to propagate. It performs well on sharply drained soils and is extremely water wise once established, surviving on rainfall alone.

Uses:

The lions ear is widely used in African medicine to treat many ailments, from the common cold and coughs, to asthma, headaches, fever, high blood pressure, haemorrhoids, and dysentery, to name but a few. It is also used as a remedy for snake bite and as a charm to keep snakes away.

In the Garden:

Wild dagga does not have aggressive roots and is perfect for gardens small and large. Try planting it in groups at the back of the mixed shrub border for a bright splash of colour and dramatic vertical accent. The white flowered forms are excellent interspersed amongst the orange ones, and create a brilliant contrast when planted between clumps of autumn and early winter flowering Aloe arborescens, with its bright red flowers. Leonotis is essential in all indigenous wildlife gardens; and a beautiful addition to grassland gardens, combining perfectly with aloes and succulents. In fynbos gardens they blend beautifully with proteas, pincushions and Leucadendrons. The flowers will attract bees, butterflies and moths to your garden and secrete a plentiful supply of nectar for sunbirds, including the lesser double-collared, olive, black and malachite sunbirds. The flowers also attract insects, which in turn will attract insect eating birds.
 
The lion’s ear is an unusual and sought after cut flower which will last for several days if the stems are picked in the cool of the day. The leaves tend to droop, so remove them all, leaving only the flower whorls. The topmost flower bud on the stem also tends to wilt and is usually removed as well. Crush the woody stems and give them a long drink of water before arranging. The dried flower stems and seed heads can be sprayed or painted for Christmas decorations and abstract designs.

Leonotis leonurus 'Golden Velvet' Picture courtesy www.newplant.co.zaLeonotis leonurus 'Golden Velvet' Picture courtesy www.newplant.co.zaCultivation:

The lion’s ear is suitable for growing in a wide range of climatic conditions throughout South Africa and does not have aggressive roots. It loves full sun, and will grow in any fertile, well-drained garden soil. Although this plant is drought tolerant, it will perform best in the garden if it is watered regularly until established and moderately thereafter. Regular feeding with a balanced fertiliser like 3:1:5 during summer will ensure a splendid floral display later.

Although it flourishes in the subtropical summer rainfall regions, it also grows well in the winter rainfall regions, but needs protection from strong winds to look its best, and requires a good layer of mulch around the roots in summer. It also thrives in the temperate, summer rainfall or Highveld regions and tolerates moderate frost if it can be protected from freezing winter winds. In these regions, established plants will require very little watering during the dry winter months. If it is extremely cold the plants will die down completely in winter, but if the roots are mulched, the plant should shoot again in spring. In the dry continental regions it requires regular watering during long dry summer spells to look its best; and in these regions growth is also less vigorous.

Leonotis growing in the wild often dies back after flowering, with new growth appearing again in spring; but in warmer gardens where it is watered in winter it will remain evergreen. Prune the branches back to about three quarters in early spring, before the plant begins shooting new growth. This will encourage strong new shoots and prevents the branches from becoming top-heavy and falling over during heavy rains and strong winds. After several years, when the plants become woody and unattractive, it is best to replace them with new plants.

Propagation:

Propagation is very easy by means of sowing seeds; division of the roots in spring; or by softwood or semi-hardwood cuttings, taken in spring and early summer.

Pests & Diseases:

This tough plant suffers from no serious pests or diseases. Watch out for whiteflies and spider mites, particularly on overwintering plants, and on plants grown in very secluded positions.

This plant is not poisonous.

Additional Info

  • Common Name Wild Dagga, Wildedagga, Lion's ear, Umunyane, Umfincafincane, Lebake, Umhlahlampetu, Imvovo
  • Latin Name Leonotis
Published in Medium Plants
Page 1 of 118