28 Aug 2014

PP: Plant Pontificating - Strobilanthes attenuata 'Purpurea'

 Are you like me, and I don't mean in the way some of you are thinking! What I mean has more to do with the fact that when I discover a 'new and exciting plant' - and here I refer to new and exciting for ME - I have an overwhelming desire to shout it from the mountain tops [of which I am not sure that we have any here in Ontario] so that everyone else can hear what it is I am pontificating about. 

 I wait for the last week of August every year with bated breath, knowing that barring some sort of freak anomaly, I will be blessed with masses of steely purple blue, ram horn shaped flowers that absolutely cover the tops of what has quickly become one of my favourite late Summer stars - Strobilanthes attenuata 'Purpurea.' I don't think there is anything about this plant that I do not like.... okay, well maybe the fact that it wants to flower inside of a week - less time if there is torrential rain and wind! There are hundreds of flowers this year - the ground beneath it is like a magical tapestry of blue-purple! An interesting aside is that these are the flowers that are used to create indigo dye!

 As you can see from this photo, when it is happily located, it can form a rather substantial sized clump of what are relatively woody stems [at ground level] that rise to almost 2m in height. I love its foliage. Light to almost lime green in some cases, each elongated heart shaped leaf is lightly serrated along its edge, giving it an almost rippled appearance. Mine has never been bothered with insects that want to munch on its sublime foliage, and as I mentioned earlier, if given the space, it creates a wonderful presence in the sunnier border here at Teza's Garden. Its stems are square in appearance, causing me to wonder if it might be a distant relation of Salvia or Nepeta. There is no apparent fragrance associated with this statuesque beauty.

He is fully hardy here in my Zone 5a garden where he is cut back to the ground in late fall' and given a healthy amendment of Compost Plus in the Spring. There is a lot of confusion around this plant, hindered by the fact that most people are familiar with the tropical/annual species that is also known as 'Persian Shield.' I literally have to walk people to it to get them to understand that it is unlike its lesser annual cousin. Websites that refer to it as a perennial claim that it requires zone 6 or above, but take it from me, mine gets to special TLC outside of what I mention above, and he is getting taller and spreading with every passing year. I was somewhat worried with the harsh winter we just had, but it seems that he is bigger, healthier and more robust than ever. I only know of one vendor that supplies this charmer here in Ontario [LH] but hope to divide my plant next year and offer him for sale for my fellow rare and unusual connoisseurs. 

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