Plant of the month

In addition to this month’s featured plant, you can also see some of Patricia’s previous choices.

OCTOBER
  • Botanical name:  Canna ‘Lucifer’
  • Family name:  Cannaceae
  • Common names:  Indian Shot , African Arrowroot

Monsieur Théodore Année of Passy France, a French diplomat, took some seeds of cannas back to France when he retired and in 1848 he crossed two cannas, and produced the first known and recorded Canna hybrid. This caused such a stir in France that other gardeners, including rose breeder Monsieur Antoine Crozy of Lyons, became enthused and started hybridising these plants. From 1862, he continued introducing new cultivars at a rapid rate until his death in 1903, giving his name to a new group of floriferous Canna cultivars. Canna ‘Lucifer’ belongs to that group, the Crozy Group.  Canna, incidentally, is a Greek word for reed or cane.

Cannas originated in Asia and Latin America, and later they were popular plants in England during Victorian times, where were probably grown in hot houses. Although Canna lilies are normally a wetland plant and do not like to have dry roots, they will survive in Cyprus if they are well watered, so don’t let them dry out between waterings. Canna ‘Lucifer’, introduced in 1968 by Swiss Canna hybridiser H Faiss, likes to grow in full sun and is exceedingly hardy, but if grown in a pot, it would be advisable to bring it under cover during the winter. This medium sized plant grows to around a metre in height and has small bright red flowers with a yellow edge around all parts. The attractive leaves are light green, around 25cm long and paddle shaped. Watch out for locusts who feed on them.

These rhizomatous herbaceous perennials are propagated by division as the flowers are usually sterile and do not make seeds. Divide the rootstock every three or four years, as they will outgrow their pots or space quickly. They need a nitrogen-rich feed once a month to ensure continual flowering and leaf growth. They are sometimes susceptible to viruses, so watch your cannas carefully and destroy any that are suspect.

SEPTEMBER
  • Botanical name:   Brachyglottis (Dunedin Group) ‘Sunshine’ AGM
  • Family name:  Asteraceae
  • Common name:  Daisy Bush

This welcome addition to hot summer gardens has had several names before the latest one.   Hailing from New Zealand, it goes by the name of ‘Daisy Bush’, because of the bright yellow daisy-like flowers appearing in spring and summer. This is a great plant for hot, dry gardens.  Known previously as Senecio greyi, or indeed Brachyglottis greyi, it would seem that those names have been changed yet again.

Elegant but sprawling, this plant provides great ground cover for difficult parts of the garden and along the shore line, where watering is not always possible.  The silvery alternate leaves with scalloped edges and a delicate white line around the outer edge are covered on both sides with fine white hairs, which protect the leaf from the heat of the sun.  In its native habitat it grows along the coastline in cracks and crevices, where soil is very limited, and is usually exposed to salt-laden winds, all of which it can cope with.

Brachyglottis was introduced as a suitable shrub for gardens, as it is generally pest and disease-free. Watering should be sparse once established, although in more desert-like gardens this may produce fewer flowers than those plants, which are watered freely. The ‘Dunedin Hybrids’ tend to make large sprawling clumps rather than tidy bushes, but are extremely hardy just like the species. They can also be used for low hedging. Regular clipping will assist in encouraging more young foliage to appear.  Propagation is by semi-hardwood cuttings in summer.

AUGUST
  • Botanical name:   Albizia julibrissin
  • Family name:   Mimosaceae
  • Common names:  Persian Silk Tree, Chinese Silk Tree

This fast growing deciduous sub-tropical or tropical tree belongs to the legume family, meaning that it produces its seeds in pods.  Found mainly in China and West Asia, it needs heat to grow well but can tolerate some degrees of cold. Grown mainly as an ornamental tree, it is drought tolerant and can survive strong winds. Not too fussy about soil types, albizia can grow just as easily in sandy free-draining soil as in clay, and the roots have nitrogen-fixing abilities. The tree can be trained into a canopy, making it an attractive asset in gardens and providing dappled shade.

The sweetly scented flowers appear in mid-summer and are most unusual, having no petals but clusters of 10 or more long stamens resembling silk threads, hence its common names. They are generally pink or pink and white. They are extremely attractive to bees, moths, butterflies and in some countries hummingbirds. The foliage, resembling mimosa, has around twenty small pinnate leaflets.  Although albizia can be propagated by seeds, for better results buy a small tree from a garden centre or nursery.

JULY
  • Botanical name:  Tradescantia sillamontana AGM
  • Family name:   Commelinaceae
  • Common names:  White Velvet, White Gossamer Plant, Hairy Wandering Jew, Cobweb Spiderwort

Tradescantia sillamontana, a xerophyte plant, is endemic to North Eastern Mexico. Xerophyte means a plant that is able to adapt to dry, arid conditions and survive on very little water. In fact, watering should be kept to an absolute minimum, as too much can harm the plant, and it requires no watering at all in winter.  A well-drained gravelly soil along with a feed of low-level nitrogen is ideal. The leaves and stems are completely covered in white hairs, giving it the appearance of a most attractive silver plant. The stems can eventually grow to 30-40 cm and as they lengthen, they will become prostrate and layer along the ground. The hot sun in Cyprus can be too strong for this handsome plant and burn the leaves, even in a pot, so choose a well-lit spot, away from bright sunshine.

The result of all this care will be abundant delicate pink-petalled flowers in the summer, a wonderful contrast to the silver ovate leaves. Typical of other Tradescantian plants, the flowers appear in the axles of the stems, with the same shape of other flowers in that family. Remove dead flower heads regularly to promote more flowers. This may not be the ideal plant in gardens at higher elevations, where winter temperatures drop below 10C, but with careful husbandry, it can survive our winter climate. Propagation is by seed or cuttings, by removing the bottom leaves and inserting the cuttings into a pot of prepared gritty compost..

JUNE
  • Botanical name:  Gardenia jasminoides
  • Family name:  Rubiaceae
  • Common names:  Gardenia

In Cyprus, gardenias are usually grown as pot plants, but care is needed with these acid-soil loving plants, or they will not survive. Gardenias were originally discovered in semi-tropical areas of Africa, Southern Asia and Australia and were named after Dr Alexander Garden, a Scottish-born American naturalist. They belong to the coffee family Rubiaceae and there is now only one species, jasminoides, as others thought to have been original species, have been moved into this species. A couple of hybrids have been developed, ‘Crown Jewel’ and the widely available ‘Kleim’s Hardy’. Gardenia jasminoides was originally from China and probably the name came about because of the lovely perfume of the flowers, which is similar to that of jasmines.

These small evergreen shrubs have shiny bright-green leaves, which are a splendid contrast to the usually single stemmed creamy-white flowers. Gardenias like humidity, so by placing the pot onto a tray of small pebbles, water can be poured over the pebbles to provide moisture and humidity, without excessive water being absorbed into the soil. Misting the leaves to create humidity is not recommended, as it can cause fungal growth. Soggy roots or even a soil that is too dry can be  problematic and cause leaf and bud drop.  They prefer a light well-drained acidic soil. Fertilise with acid-loving plant fertiliser such ‘Fertacit’, every 2-4 weeks in the growing season – about a half a teaspoon in 5 litres of water but don’t feed during the winter months of November to February, as too much fertiliser can lead to salt accumulation, which can damage the shrub. They like to grow in a shaded position and propagation is by stem cuttings. Keep a watch out for aphids, mealy bugs, spider mites and scale insects and treat accordingly.

MAY
  • Botanical name:   Carya Pecan
  • Family name:   Juglandaceae
  • Common names:  Pecan Nut tree

Although the Pecan tree is a native of North America, where it grows in flood plains and river valleys, flourishing in the deep fertile soil in that sort of environment, it grows remarkably well in Cyprus too.  This should not surprise you, as it is intolerant of shade and there is plenty of sunshine here! Related to the walnut family, you will see the family likeness inside the nut case. Crows love the nuts and know when the outer cases start to open, when they will fly early morning sorties over the trees, picking the biggest nuts. If you can beat the crows to the harvest, remove the outer shells, leaving the inner nutshell to dry for a couple of months. At this stage, the nut is too soft to be enjoyable. Wear gloves for this job, or your hands will be stained.  Pecan nuts are a great aid in lowering cholesterol, as well as an enjoyable nut to eat. If you are tempted to grow a tree in your garden, do think twice, as they can reach great heights – 20-30 metres. It is possible to curtail their growth to a manageable level for a garden or small orchard, by pruning them after leaf drop into an umbrella shape of about two and half metres.  This will encourage the branches to grow sideways, so you will need to leave some space between them and any other trees.

The new frond-like foliage appears towards the end of April and is very attractive especially when the long male tassels blow in the spring breezes. However, beware that the high tannic acid content of the leaves inhibits growth beneath the trees.  When the female flowers appear on the tree, they are wind pollinated.  The pollen can travel as far as 400 metres and some people are extremely allergic to it.  So, if you are asthmatic or have pollen allergies, pretty though it is, this is probably not the tree for you.

Feed the tree with 20.10.10 fertiliser in January, May and again in December. Sometimes Zinc shortages (brown spots) appear on the reverse of the leaves during the year.  If your tree is prone to this disease, mix 2 dessertspoons of zinc chelate in 10 litres of water into the ground at the beginning of the year, and then in May and July, spray the leaves with a lesser dosage (1 level dessertspoon of zinc chelate in 5 litres of water) until the solution runs off the tree. Despite having to be prepared to deal with this problem, it is a great shade tree and has such a wonderfully hard wood, that is used in furniture and flooring. Barbecuing over a fire of pecan wood gives great flavour to the meat!