Tropical treats

Sunday, 01 February 2015

Gloriosa superba

In the month of February in Sydney, we could really be forgiven for thinking we are living in the tropics. Wild, lush growth threatens to engulf the garden, the spectacular and dramatic leaves of warm-climate foliage plants, in particular those from the Aroid family, such as Alocasia, Colocasia and Philodendron, grow to enormous proportions, glistening lusciously on rainy days - and exotic flowers bloom. I love this time of year, when my garden is at its fullest and most abundant.

Odontonema tubaeforme

Many of the flowers out in my garden at this time of year are far removed from the prim, pastel blooms of spring. They are big and flamboyant, often garishly coloured. They relish the heat and humidity of February. Even though they may sulk during winter, they all survive and come into their own once the heat of summer hits. They generally hail from Mexico, South America, Africa or Asia. Many of my flowers are hot colours of reds, yellows and oranges, adding to the tropical effect.

Tithonia rotundifolia

An annual plant new to my garden that is flowering this summer is the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia), pictured at left, which can grow 1 to 2 m tall. It has stunning large orange flowers rather like a Dahlia - the colour of the petals really glows. I am hoping it will self-sow in my garden in future years. It has a backdrop of a thicket of the so-called 'red jacobinia' (Odontonema tubaeforme, ht 1.8 m, pictured in the previous paragraph), a tough shrub with bold, glossy leaves, which grows very well in shade. The spires of shiny red flowers last for ages and look as if they have been moulded from some sort of plastic. It is a member of the Acanthaceae family: many of the plants in this family do very well in Sydney's climate.

Pachystachys lutea

Another showy Acanthaceae shrub in bloom now is sometimes called 'golden candles' (Pachystachys lutea). Its bright yellow, upright inflorescences are comprised of many bracts, and are long lasting. It looks very similar to the shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeeana), also an Acanthaceae plant. The shrimp plants bloom almost all year round, and apart from the familiar rusty-red and lime forms, there are other newer cultivars, such as the tall, bright red-flowered 'Big Red', and pink and lime 'Fruit Cocktail'.

Bauhinia galpinii

An unusual orange-flowered shrubby Bauhinia is also in full bloom now: Bauhinia galpinii (ht 1.8 m). The burnt-orange blooms look like whimsical insects, and they last for a long time. Another flower out now that looks like some sort of other-worldly creature is Gloriosa superba (pictured at the start of the blog). This plant grows from a tuber, and its leaves have tendrils, which wind through other plants for support. The bizarre but beautiful flowers look rather like claws, each with six recurved wavy petals and stamens splayed out below the petals. The flowers are usually red or orange-red with yellow edges.

Salvia elegans Golden Delicious with Colocasia Black Magic

Canna and Dahlia with bright red, orange or yellow flowers grow among these tropical-looking flowers, and the dark leaves such as those of Persicaria 'Red Dragon', Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum' and coleus cultivars provide a welcome contrast. I also like lime-coloured leaves with my fiery-hued flowers: such as the luscious foliage of Salvia elegans 'Golden Delicious' (pictured at left), Duranta erecta 'Sheena's Gold' and lime-leaved zonal Pelargonium.