Challenging Plants Weird Yet Wonderful

Begonia 'Silver Jewell' in MOBOT conservatory.
April is the perfect month to visit a conservatory. One of my favorites is at Missouri Botanical Garden. Even though we might see a few warmish, sunny days, there is nothing like a warm humid room full of plants to get your gardening engine going.

Jade vine in conservatory.
While I'd never be able to grow most of the plants inside, some pique my interest, which is one of the reasons I take photos so I can check them out later on. I know I could do it on the spot with my phone, but I prefer not to interrupt my enjoyment of the surroundings to go as Google.

The American Begonia Society rates the culture of Begonia 'Silver Jewell' as on the difficult side, but ideal for the advanced begonia grower. You've been forewarned.

Callistemon citrinus
During visits to MOBOT's conservatories, I got to see a jade vine, which comes from the jungles of the Philippines. It's a pretty rampant vine, and wouldn't like it much in the Chicago region. It's botanic name is Strongylodon macrobotrys, and its flowers are of a other-worldly turquoise color. Logee's Plants offers it, but they don't recommend it for a one-summer bloomer, especially in cooler climates.

Callistemon citrinus is a plant you can't possibly pass by--especially when it's in bloom. This Australian native is a tree, and even though there are dwarf forms that grow no taller than four feet, it is another one that probably wouldn't do well as a summer tropical on my patio.

I had lots of fun growing hardy dunce cap, though. This cute little succulent with a tongue-twister of a name--Orostachys moehmari--makes it okay to call it by its common name.

Hardy dunce cap can survive winters as cold as Zone 6, but only if it's planted in rocky, well-drained soil. It has been known to survive temperatures as low as -30 F, but only if it is growing in the ideal conditions.

Orostachys boehmeri, or hardy dunce cap, blooms in September. It is hardy to Zone 6.
As with any plant that you hope to live on beyond one summer, keeping it very healthy throughout the growing season is essential. Fertilize if necessary, but cut back the food as the days grow shorter. Its roots should be robust and full of nutrients in order to survive the winter. Because nobody likes to go to bed hungry.

I'll be including batfaced Cuphea to my summer plant list again this year.

From a distance, Cuphea llavea, or batfaced Cuphea is well-covered in small red flowers. But up close, it's a lot more interesting. It got its common name from its central purple "face" surrounded by bright red "ears."  It's a shrub in its native Mexico, but will remain compact and bushy at no more than two-feet tall in a summer garden. It thrives in full sun and the hummingbirds love it.

Always consider a plant's requirements before bringing it home to enjoy. Give it some time to acclimate to its new surroundings, and then enjoy the challenge.




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