Plant of the month

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

  • Botanical name:    Leonotis leonorus
  • Family name:    Laminaceae
  • Common names:    ‘Lion’s Ear’, ‘Devil’s Tobacco’, ‘Cape Hemp’ and ‘Minaret Flower’

Leonotis leonorus is an attractive medium-sized shrub that grows well in gardens here belonging to the same family as mint.  It is another introduction to our gardens from South Africa. The medium-dark green leaves are aromatic when crushed and the dried leaves of the wild form of the plant are still widely used in traditional medicines in Africa to treat fevers, headaches, coughs, dysentery and many other conditions. Grown in the garden it is also thought to keep snakes away, but if that doesn’t work, it can be used as a remedy for snake bites!

This plant has tubular orange flowers in tiered whorls, which open later than other shrubs, around June, and encircle the square stems, with flowering sometimes continuing into late autumn. The fresh green stems of this excellent shrub soon turn woody, so that in winter they should be cut right down to about 5 or 6 cms, which will encourage bright new growth to appear in the spring. It is a very hardy and drought resistant shrub and can even put up with some low night temperatures in winter, making it ideal for those who live inland. Leonotis is extremely easy to propagate from green cuttings or by seed, which can be extracted from the whorls, by shaking.

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  • Botanical name:    Albuca nelsonii
  • Family name:    Aparagaceae
  • Common names:    Slime Lily

These perennial bulbs with the common name of ‘Slime Lily’ are such a wonderful attraction in our spring gardens. Why such an awful common name?  I can only think it is because the leaves are sappy and become slimy when they are dying off.  Albuca belongs to the Aparagaceae family, in a sub-family division called Scilloideae, whose plants are found in countries with Mediterranean climates including South Africa, Central Asia and South America. There are quite a few species of Albuca available, but Albuca nelsonii, named after a British nurseryman who first collected the species, is the only one available in Cyprus as far as I am aware. The attractive white-striped green blooms, grown on long stems which can grow to 60-120 cm above the leaves, make good cut flowers and are sometimes night scented. Later, their shiny black seeds are encased in a round or oval capsule. Propagation is by off shoots from the mother plant or seeds.

Albuca nelsonii grow well in dry shade rockeries as well as in pots, although they may become pot bound after a time.   The bulbs are usually planted with their shoulders exposed, rather like amaryllis bulbs, and may be frosted in very high elevations, so best grown not above 300 metres elevation. An easy bulb to grow, with wonderful flowers to admire.

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  • Botanical name:    Portaluca grandiflora
  • Family name:    Portulaceae
  • Common names:    Moss Rose, Eleven O’clock Plant

This small annual plant is a must for hot gardens.  The fleshy leaves grow on trailing stems and are small and pointed.   The rose-like flowers appear in the bright mid-day sunlight and can be red, yellow, white, orange, purple or pink and some seeds produce flowers with a double row of petals. In Mediterranean gardens portaluca can be grown in planters and hanging baskets where the stems droop elegantly over the edges. Do not overwater the plants, even though hanging baskets can dry out quickly, as they wilt and die.

Mostly grown from seed this pretty edition to your garden can be sown directly into the soil or seed trays, where they should quickly germinate.  Seedlings should be transferred into a 9 cms pot and when a good root ball has formed they can be transferred to the garden.  It is also possible to take cuttings. Beware that these plants cannot tolerate frost.

  • Botanical name:    Cosmos bipinnatus
  • Family name:    Asteraceae
  • Common names:    Mexican Aster

These prolific annual flowerers, originally from Mexico and the north of South America, are most suitable for our hot dry gardens. They provide colour and texture, whilst filling spaces in sunny borders and containers. An extra bonus is that they attract birds, bees and butterflies to the garden.    They thrive in poor dry soil, so do not over water them.

Having started the seeds off in pots or trays in a good seed-compost, transplant them into their own pots before planting them out in the garden. Or you can scatter seeds on fine soil where you would like them to grow.  Once up above the ground and growing well, they will grow extremely fast and need little attention, being relatively bug-free.  Don’t feed them yet or you will have lots of foliage and few flowers. Their tall stems can grow up to a metre in height, so may need some support, but if you keep deadheading by cutting the stem right down to the first leaf, you will keep the plants to a manageable height. The elegant variously coloured daisy flowers in various forms are excellent for cutting.

  • Botanical name:    Duranta repens
  • Family name:    Verbenaceae
  • Common names:    ‘Sky Flower’, ‘Golden Dew Drop’ or ‘Pigeon Berry’

Duranta Sapphire SwirlDuranta repens is a large sub-tropical shrub or small tree which is ideal for our Mediterranean gardens. It was discovered growing in Florida, Brazil and the Caribbean Islan.ds. Although it can reach four or five metres in height it is better pruned back to a couple of metres in a domestic garden, where it can be grown as a standard or against a south facing wall. There is also a low growing variety with white picotee edging on the deep violet flowers, called ‘Sapphire Swirl’, which is a good ground-cover plant.

Duranta‘s common names describe the plant at various times of the year.  The arching stems carry trails of sky blue flowers on their tips, which are so attractive to butterflies and they have a pretty fragrance as an extra bonus. The flowers mature into little strings of orange berries just like beads, great favourites of pigeons and other birds. Take care when handling this plant as the stems have long thorns on their undersides and the berries are toxic to humans if ingested. Other good features of duranta are that they will grow in sun or part shade and are not too fussy about the soil they grow in, but they will wilt if not watered regularly. Duranta drop their leaves in winter but can tolerate winter chills but not prolonged frosts.

  • Botanical name:    Cestrum nocturnum
  • Family name:    Solanceae
  • Common names:    ‘Night Jessamine’, ‘Lady of the Night’, ‘Queen of the Night’ or even   ‘Pakistani Nights’

Cestrum nocturnumThis native of the West Indies is the quintessential night-scented plant. The heady perfume given off is evocative of hot tropical nights in faraway places and is acknowledged to be the most fragrant in the plant world. Discovered relatively recently (late 1800s), it is a much loved plant now established in hot countries around the world, although in some places it is now regarded as invasive, and plans are afoot to eradicate it. An evergreen woody ornamental shrub growing to around 2 metres it has narrow lanceolate glossy leaves. The tubular flowers can be greenish white or even pale yellow and remain in a semi-closed state until evening when they open fully in order to release their perfume. This can be so strong that people with respiratory problems may find difficulty in breathing. This plant is a member of the Solanum family, so be aware that the berries may cause illness, if ingested and wash hands after touching any part of it.

Preferring a very sunny spot in light sandy soil, cestrum should be fed regularly with a high-phosphate fertiliser, thus encouraging plenty of flowers to appear.  Grown as a pot plant, it may outgrow the pot very quickly. Water only when the soil has dried out, as the plant dislikes waterlogged roots.  However, if night temperatures drop significantly the plant should be moved into a more sheltered place. Pollinators are usually moths or in some countries hummingbirds, but as the common names suggest it is the perfume of the flowers and not their beauty that attracts them. Purplish berries follow pollination, but it is better to propagate the plant from non-flowering green shoots as they appear.