Friday, August 10, 2018

Unexpected treasures

Since it’s still so hot, humid, and dry (yes, yes, I know – the words ‘humid’ and ‘dry’ don’t sound like they should be in the same sentence BUT I live in the Texas Gulf Coast Plains where humid and dry are the norm for summer), I thought I mention another couple of plants that do well in all three conditions.

Once upon a time, while at an estate sale, my sister and I came across this really pretty plant – tall with shiny leaves and bright red flowers.  Whoa – what is that?  And just so you don’t think we actually took something without checking – we did ask the woman holding the estate sale.  Do ya think we could take a cutting from that plant?  Sure, she sez.  And, we did.  Small cuttings – taken from the back of the plant.  Cool!

Odontonema strictum

more commonly called Firespike or Cardinal Guard or Scarlet Flame.

Firespike is a showy evergreen shrub that mostly grows straight up to as much as 6-feet tall.  It has shiny dark green leaves and, starting in late summer to mid-winter, beautiful bright red flowers.

I rooted my cutting in water (which worked very well) and then planted it in the ground.  I’ve also talked to people that have rooted cuttings directly in the ground also.  Pinch off all the leaves except a few on the top and bury it to cover the leaf nodes.  According to still others, it will spread via roots throughout the garden (but mine has never done that though – must be something that occurs in warmer places than this).  And, by the way, this is another plant that survived THE GREAT FLOOD OF 2017.  After sitting in water for three days, it just shrugged it off and kept on growing.

You can plant Firespike in full sun or partial shade.  It will not only grow in the shade but will produce beautiful blooms.  It can grow in most any type of soil – well-drained sandy loam to heavy wet clay.  Keep new plants watered, however once established, it is very drought tolerant. 

It’s hardy from zone 8-11.  In zones 8-9 (I live in zone 9), it may die back in winter but should resprout in the spring.  Myself, I usually take a cutting just before cold weather comes calling – just in case.  So far though, my Firespike has come back without problem.  So, if you live somewhere in the frozen northlands (that’s north of Dallas, you know), it makes a nice potted plant as well.

The bright red flowers of Firespike attract butterflies and hummingbirds.  Unfortunately, it also very attractive to deer so, if you live in a place where deer wander through the yard, you might want to keep it in a container to move to safety.  

OK, so again, once upon a time …..

My sister and I (yes, I know it sounds like we get into, uhmmm curious situations) first started taking yoga here in Wharton with an instructor who used the home of a friend.  The yard attached to the home was huge, beautiful, and full of plants.  And, again – Whoa, what is that?  Do ya think we could take a cutting?

Talinum paniculatum
Jewels of Opar

I actually didn’t find out the name of this plant until recently when one of the women at the garden club was able to identify it.  It is commonly known as Fameflower, Jewels of Opar, or Pink Baby's-Breath.

This is actually a succulent (plants that have some parts that are more than normally thickened and fleshy, usually to retain water in arid climates or soil conditions) small shrub.  It has shiny leaves that clump at the base and flowers that bloom on tall lacy stalks.  Mine starts flowering in early spring with tiny pink flowers followed by dark red seeds until the really hot part of the summer.  It doesn’t get to be too big – maybe 2-feet by 2-feet.  It survived THE GREAT FLOOD OF 2017 and all the weird cold weather that happened last winter. 

Because, when I got the Jewels of Opar, I didn’t know what it was, I planted it in shade.  And, it’s done well there – grows, blooms, produces seeds.  However, it can be planted in full sun also.  It self-seeds and new plants are likely to come up all over.  It’s drought tolerant, grows best in well-draining soil, and is considered a “tender perennial”.  Mine is planted in a somewhat protected place but I take cuttings at the start of cold weather – just in case. 

While the flower is non-edible, the leaves are edible although they have a somewhat mucilaginous texture (which means slimy, you know).  One other interesting thing – it is said to be named after the Tarzan novel – “Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar” by Edgar Rice Burrough. 

Two hot weather treasures.

 Take care

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