Solar Flares & Purple Rain: Funky Plant Names
By Alex Henderson, Curator of Collections, Royal Botanical Gardens
Perambulating around the garden this week again offers an insight into some interesting plants not just from a horticultural or plant lover’s perspective but also for those that enjoy slightly more unusual plant names with a lighthearted twist or who are fans of the proclivities of botanical nomenclature (c’mon, admit it, who isn’t)! Let’s face it, in this post lock down world who isn’t going to be the star of any cocktail party when recounting stories of novel botanical plant names that this week include science fiction or astronomy, rock and roll, politics or the origins of Greek language in constructing binomial plant names? Want to be the most windswept and interesting person at the party? Then read on!
The perfect plant for inclusion in a science fiction or astronomy themed garden, <em>Baptisia</em> ‘Solar Flare’ Sold as: PRAIRIEBLUES™ also known as false indigo has a striking upright, vase-shaped habit at its base with a dense broad head above. Extremely vigorous, a mature plant will produce more than a hundred stems. The exposed lower stems and foliage remain an attractive blue-green all summer. The plant covers itself in flower spikes 30-45cm (12-18 inches) in length, which are held well above the foliage. Flowers initially open a pleasing lemon-yellow color, taking on a unique orange to violet blush with age which is unique to this cultivar. Baptisia is easy to grow and will thrive with little maintenance but prefers moist well drained soil. They need plenty of room to grow into and once established after about three years will become drought tolerant. There are many potential garden applications for this plant including meadow plantings, as a backdrop in borders, or as a specimen. Plants are very long-lived once established and also attract butterflies and make great cut flowers. A solar flare is described a sudden flash of increased brightness and in this context this <em>Baptisia</em> cultivar certainly lives up to its name!
<em>Salvia verticillata</em> ‘Purple Rain’ is a great choice for anyone who is a fan of pop music especially that of Prince who released the album, single and film <em>Purple Rain</em> in 1984 all of which received global critical acclaim. Much like Prince this plant is compact and is an amazing and showy performer producing multiple flower spikes in irresistible shades of dusky purple. When planted in full sun, (think of Prince in the spotlight) in well drained soil this cultivar will reach 50cm (20 inches) tall and half as wide. As a bonus the plant flowers abundantly and will attract a diversity of butterflies to the garden. This plant is a perfect choice for borders, rock gardens, cottage gardens, wild gardens, containers and music stadiums around the globe! In keeping with the Prince theme did you know he recorded his 2004 <em>Musicology</em> album at Metalworks Studios in Mississauga? It was his 28th studio album and whilst recording it lived close by!
<em>Clematis</em> is a genus of over 250 species, most of which are woody to semi-woody deciduous vines climbing by twining leaf stalks or in some cases trailing over support. ‘The President’ is an early large-flowered cultivar that typically grows to 20-25 cm (8-10 inches) tall, producing single, large purple-blue early to mid season flowers on old growth followed by additional late summer bloom on new growth. In addition, dark green leaves and showy seed heads develop in fall all of which has combined to earn ‘The President’ an RHS Award of Garden Merit. Pruning clematis often galvanizes horticultural opinion much in the same way as the current President of the US galvanizes political opinion! ‘The President’ is classed as a Group 2 <em>Clematis</em> meaning it flowers on both old and new wood. Typically, little pruning should be done for woody-stemmed members of this group. If cut to the ground or pruned in fall or spring, flowering will be reduced or delayed but not prevented. Grow in fertile, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Vining hybrids are best sited in locations where the flowering parts of the vine are in sun to part shade, but the roots are shaded. <em>Clematis</em> can be trained to climb walls, trellises, fences, arbors, or porches. With added imagination they can also be planted to sprawl over and through shrubs, scramble over old stumps or simply as a ground cover in conjunction with other flowering perennials as seen in RBG’s Rose Garden.
<em>Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus</em> is commonly called lemon daylily or lemon lily and features 10cm (4 inch) diameter, trumpet-shaped, lemon yellow flowers. Individual flowers open up for 1-2 days hence the common name. This species daylily has flowers rising up to 7.5cm (3 inch) tall from clumps of arching, strap-shaped, medium green leaves. It has very fragrant flowers and has an early season bloom period in June. It is easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade and does well in a wide range of well-drained soils. Deadhead spent flowers daily for neatness when flowers have completed bloom. Divide to maintain vigor when the clumps become overcrowded. This is an exceptional resilient plant that is tolerant of poor soil, summer heat and humidity. <em>H</em>. <em>lilioasphodelus</em> provides color and contrast to perennial borders if grown in clumps or when planted to cover larger areas and can crowd out weeds by forming a vigorous ground cover. An added bonus is that the leaves provide elegant foliage, color and texture for the garden when the flowers are not in bloom. For those of us who have a weakness for botanical nomenclature (i.e. nerds) the genus name derives from the Greek words <em>hemera</em> meaning day and <em>kallos</em> meaning beauty as each flower lasts but one day.