What’s in Flower in Spring: September 2011 Part 1

Today we’ll be looking at some of the plants
flowering in Spring at Mt. Coot-tha Botanic Gardens. Roses are in flower at the moment and this
large multicoloured red, crème and white double flowered variety is no exception. It
is named after the French painter Maurice Utrillo. This variety is bushy and disease-resistant
and produces flowers in clusters. This is Viola odorata or sweet violet, a lovely
forest groundcover tolerant of shade and native to Europe and Asia. The species name odorata
refers to the scent of the flowers. The scent contains a compound called ionone which temporarily
disables the scent receptors of the nose, causing the scent to fade away until the receptors
have recovered. You’d be forgiven for thinking this was
Alyssum but it’s actually Lobularia a closely related genus formally included in the genus
Alyssum. It a great cottage flower and can be used to trail over edges. It’s profuse
white flowers provide nectar for beneficial insects, especially hoverflies.
This is a vigorous but compact variety of lavender called Avonview growing to about
80cm high by about 60cm across. Lavenders prefer a sunny, well-drained position and
to maintain their shape, just trim after flowering. These flowers and dark glossy leaves belong
to the hawthorne, Rhaphiolepsis umbellata, note the varying red or white stamen filaments.
It can grow into a small tree or be kept pruned to hedge or shrub size. A fond favourite of many is Viola tricolor,
commonly known as heartease, wild pansy or Johnny jump ups. They are a common European
wildflower that forms a creeping groundcover and grows best in partial shade. The nodding,
cheery faces on these flowers always brighten up my day and I prefer these to many of the
more cultivated Pansies. This plant also has a long association with herbalism and has
many medicinal uses. If you’re after a showy flower for a shady
spot under a tree you could do worse than to put in a Clivia or Kaffir Lily. It’s
strap-like glossy dark green leaves contrasts well with the large heads of bright orange
flowers. The flowers have a faint but sweet perfume. This species, miniata, only reaches
a height of about 45cm. The plant contains the toxin lycorine and is poisonous.
This curious little herb is Spilanthes acmella or toothache plant. While not grown for it
showy flowers it was out in full bloom today. Its leaves and flower head contain a compound
called spilanthol which can be used to numb toothache. It’s a perennial in our climate
but may be killed by frosts in colder climates. While you may be more familiar with the red
Calliandra there is also a white variety called Alba. Like its cousin it’s tough as old
boots, can be pruned into an informal hedge, provides nectar for birds and helps to fix
atmospheric nitrogen and replenish the nitrogen in the soil.
This sea of yellow before you is actually not the flowers but the colourful bracts of
Pachystachys lutea, commonly known as lollipop or golden shrimp plant. It is soft stemmed
and grows to a height of about a metre tall. The actual flowers are white, short-lived
and emerge from between the overlapping yellow bracts during the warmer months. It prefers
to grow in a slightly acidic, well drained, rich soil and can grow in sun or semi-shade. These bearded, purple, pea-like flowers belong
to a Polygala hybrid commonly given the name sweet-pea shrub or milkwort. It requires good
drainage but is drought hardy and will tolerate poor soils. Unlike Polygala myrtifolia this
plant doesn’t appear to be invasive. It reaches a maximum height of about 1.5m with
a spread of 1m and is a good plant for border plantings. It is frost tolerant and prefers
a position in full sun or partial shade. Although in the same order as legumes, the Fabales,
these plants do not fix nitrogen. Hybrid abutilons known commonly as Chinese
lanterns produce masses of hanging, pendulous, hibiscus-like flowers and large maple-like
leaves. They flower in full sun or light shade and prefer some shade if grown in hot, dry
climates. They like a well-drained soil and are quite thirsty so it’s a good idea to
mulch them and water as needed. Avoid excessive fertiliser or they will put on lots of new
growth and not flower. Lightly prune to shape at the end of winter or at the beginning of
Spring in areas that receive frosts. They come in various colours such as these orange,
and red varieties. That’s it for now, stay tuned for more Spring
flowers in part 2.

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