Plant of the month

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

  • 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.

  • 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..

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • Botanical name:  Euphorbia epithymoidessometimes known as E. polychroma
  • Family name:   Euphorbiaceae
  • Common names:  Cushion Spurge

This springtime long lived herbaceous plant, Euphorbia epithymoides, originally from Middle and Eastern Europe, also grows well in other drier areas of the world when planted in full sun or partial shade. It is a very low maintenance plant, only requiring dead heading after the bracts have died off, and cutting down to ground level in the late autumn.  It prefers not to be moved once established, and may die if this is tried.  Propagation is usually by seeds, dropped around the vicinity of the mother plant. Planted with other spring plants such as Cerinthe major ‘Purpurescens’, the acid yellow bracts attract the eye to the front of the border, whilst the actual flowers are tiny and hidden amongst them. Drought-tolerant and non-spreading, other than casting its seeds everywhere, this is a choice plant for hot gardens.  If you do not care for seedlings everywhere, then make sure to cut off the dead heads after flowering. Autumn foliage can also be attractive as temperatures fall when the leaves and stems turn red. As with most euphorbias, when the stems are cut, a milky sap is exuded that can be an irritant to some people, so always wear gloves when handling all but the tiniest of plants. Generally, these plants are pest and germ-free, their only dislike is cold, wet soil.

  • Botanical name: Alyogyne huegelii
  • Family name:   Malvaceae
  • Common names: Australian Hibiscus or Blue Hibiscus

Aalyogyneo-huegilii-1lyogyne huegelii was named after the soldier and botanist Baron Karl Alexander Anselm Hugel, an Austrian, who lived between 1796 and 1870. During his lifetime, he introduced many plants from Australia into his botanical garden in Austria. People had never seen such wonderful plants before and they were much admired by gardeners from all over Europe.  Alyogyne huegelii was one of those plants.  An Australian native shrub, growing to an eventual  height of around 3 metres, it was at first thought to be a hibiscus, as it has the characteristics of the Malvaceae family to which the hibiscus also belongs. However, the beautiful light mauve flowers generally flower longer than the single-day blooms of the hibiscus, and the leaves can sometimes be scented. The pistil and stamens of the alyogyne are not as long or showy as hibiscus flowers and the petals do not have a dark centre, but they are more floriferous, with the flowers appearing earlier in the season than Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, sometimes lasting for three or four weeks.

Classified as a desert plant or one for arid areas, alyogyne dislikes wet conditions and only needs protection from strong winds. Once it is firmly established it requires little watering, except perhaps in the heat of the summer. Prune to maintain a good shape after flowering otherwise the bush can become very straggly and unattractive. It is certainly a showstopper in many gardens here in springtime..