Quirky characters

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Brillantaisia subulugurica

The older I get, the more I love the idea of quirkiness: of things, people and ideas that are a bit different and out of the ordinary and unexpected. I like this characteristic in my garden, too, and have included some plants with unusual features that catch my eye and hold my interest as I wander around outside each day. Whilst of course I find great pleasure in classically beautiful flowers, it is these slightly eccentric specimens that make me smile, and provide welcome diversity of form and texture in the garden.

Amaranthus caudatus

At the moment, the long, burgundy dreadlocks of the so-called 'love-lies-bleeding' (Amaranthus caudatus) are giving me joy. A tall annual (to 1.2 m), this stunning plant self-seeds each year in my garden, coming up in its thousands like mustard and cress each spring. I weed most of them out, leaving just a few to grow on to maturity. It's hard to believe that this statuesque specimen can grow from such a tiny seedling. The fountain-like pendulous flower heads are comprised of thousands of tiny clustered blooms, and the effect lasts for at least seven months. In fact, if the flower heads are picked and hung upside down for a few weeks to dry, they can be used in dried-flower arrangements.

Grass seed heads of Chasmanthium latifolium

Another unusual plant I am appreciating at the moment is a small herbaceous grass, which seems to be Chasmanthium latifolium, grown from seed given to me by a gardening friend several years ago. It grows about 50 cm tall with cane-like foliage and has the quaintest nodding seed heads like tiny, spiky fish, which shiver in the slightest breeze. Like the Amaranthus, these can be dried for indoor decoration. I am not sure if it might become a weed, but I have had no self-seedlings so far!

Seed pods of Lunaria annua, in the garden of Pamela and Harry Fowell in Sydney

The curious seed pods of the annual known as 'honesty' (Lunaria annua) have developed on plants I left in the garden after flowering. The large rounded discs that contain the seeds can be rubbed off to reveal an ethereal silvery inner layer - again an unusual addition to a flower arrangement. My honesty plants have variegated leaves and white flowers in spring, and I leave the most striking specimens to go to seed then scatter the seed around for new plants to germinate next autumn. I weed out any that don't show the leaf variegation, to try to keep the strain pure.

Vigna caracalla

The snail vine (Vigna caracalla) is another oddity I enjoy in my garden and it is just coming into flower now. A member of the bean family (Leguminosae) it grows as a herbaceous perennial or annual vine, developing over summer into a lush cover with very bean-like leaves. The strange, corkscrew-like pink and cream flowers do look like surreal snail shells, and they are perfumed. The strange and exotic moonflower (Ipomoea alba), which I have written about in a previous blog, is another very unusual annual climber: each bloom opens in the early evening and lasts for one night only but is quite glorious when it does so!

Justicia betonica (at left) with Shasta daisies

Some of the Acanthaceae family, of which I am inordinately fond, have unusual flowers. One interesting one that is out at the moment is sometimes known as the white shrimp plant: Justicia betonica. It grows to about a metre in height and has very upright spires of papery white bracts, which enclose tiny pink flowers. Because the main part of the inflorescence is comprised of bracts, the effect is very long lasting. Another out-of-the-ordinary Acanthaceae specimen is sometimes called 'golden candles' (Pachystachys lutea), growing to 1-2 m, with golden-bracted inflorescences enclosing white flowers. The effect is rather like a glowing candelabra and this plant can be in bloom for many months. Like many Acanthaceae plants, it grows very well in a shaded position. Brillantaisia subulugurica (shown at the start of the blog) is yet another Acanthaceae plant with unusual blooms, which are like clouds of large, purple-blue claws at the moment, on a tall majestic shrub to 3 m.

Though I don't yet have much experience of growing Australian native plants, many of them have unusual and interesting characteristics quite different from Northern Hemisphere flora: think of kangaroo paws, banksias, bottle brushes, eucalypts and waratahs.

Reader Comments

  • By Barbara 2580 (Zone:8-9 - Cool Temperate to Alpine) Monday, 30 January 2017

    Fuschia procumbens, New Zealand native, smallest fuschia in the world, ground cover, up-facing flowers, amazing flowers with red stamens and brilliant blue pollen! The red berries are edible. Mine grows as a gorgeous evergreen mat under a row of camellias, protected from both frost and hot sun. A tiny treasure for those who don"t mind getting down to ground level to marvel at the flowers. Thaniks, Barbara - I have that growing in my garden and must go and check to see if it is flowering. I love the leaves. Deirdre

  • By Marilyn 2250 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 30 January 2017

    I believe your grass is northern sea oats, Chasmanthium latifolium, Dierdre. I have had mine for a few years and eventually it does self seed but it is manageable.Two quirky climbers I like are bow-tie vine, Dalechampia dioscoreifolia, which produces purple flowers all year for us, and red wing, Heteropterys angustifolia, with its tiny yellow flowers and red sycamore-like seeds. Thanks so much for the name of that grass! Will change in the text this morning. I don"t know either of your quirky climbers so will look them up! Deirdre

  • By Barbara 2580 (Zone:8-9 - Cool Temperate to Alpine) Monday, 30 January 2017

    My fuschia procumbens has berries at the moment, having flowered in late spring. Marilyn"s Dalechampia dioscoreifolia is gorgeous! But obviously not for my cold climate. Thanks, Barbara. My fuchsia has never shown any sign of flowering but survives quite well in Sydney. Deirdre

  • By Anne 2518 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 30 January 2017

    I am guilty of cultivating two small patches of shivery grasses Briza maxima and minima which some would regard as weeds. now if I could only get Lagurus ovatus the rabbit tail grass my collection of childhood grasses would be complete. Thanks for supplying name of brilliantasia. Have grown and loved most of the plants you mention bar the amaranthus which have had no luck with. Love them all. thanks for another great blog. hope you are surviving hot dry spell. I love the look of that rabbit tail grass, though have never grown it. Brillantaisia is a wonderful plant; needs a bit of room and it has taken me a while to find the right spot for it. With Amaranthus, try to get a small seedling from someone one day. Though they don"t really like to be transplanted it should grow enough to flower and self-seed for you in future years. My thousands all started with one lone seedling from a friend"s garden!! Deirdre

  • By Geoff 2323 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 30 January 2017

    Two plants I enjoy at this time of the year, are maybe more unusual plants. Holmskioldia (Chinese Hat Plant). Mine has flowers with pale mauve bracts and small bright blue trumpets. It grows just over 2 metres tall. The other is Quisqualis indica, (Combretum indicum) also known as Rangoon Creeper. I have seen it growing in Gladstone (Qld) and at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney. It produces white, scented flowers that age to a deeper red. I do grow and love the Rangoon creeper. It is in full bloom at the moment here in Sydney. I love the sound of the Chinese hat plant; must follow that one up! Deirdre

  • By margaret 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 30 January 2017

    Am fond of quirky plants, too, and have quite a few. Among favourites - Holmskioldia, flower shaped like a Chinese hat. I have a yellow and blue; Ceropegia ampliata, vine with greenish/white tubular flowers, with expanding lobes, forming a "parachute"; Zygopetalum orchid, brightly coloured flowers, shaped like a pansy, perfumed; Amorphophallus bulbifa, at maturity, plant produces, at its base, a perfumed pink flower, Ctenanthe produce occasional tiny white basal flowers, too. Some of these I know and have (you gave them to me!) but the blue Chinese hat plant sounds intriguing - also mentioned by another reader. Deirdre

  • By Kerrie 2104 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 30 January 2017

    Oooowww i LOVE rare & unusual plants! Some i have are Black Bat Plant & White Bat Plant ( Tacca Chantrieri) which are very strange but beautiful looking! I also have Bee Hive Ginger (Zingiber Spectablis) & Parrot Beak Impatiens ( impatiens Niamniamenis) & i recently acquired a Lions Tail plant ( Leonotis Leonurus). I also love Angel Trumpets (Brugmansia) with their big beautiful pendulous flowers & i have a few different ones. The bat plant is amazing - too cold here in my garden for it but have seen some in coastal gardens. Love the parrot beak impatiens and lion"s tail. Brugmansias are fab in Sydney and always seem to be in bloom. Deirdre

  • By Kerrie 2104 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 30 January 2017

    SO interesting this post & looking up everyone"s favourite unusual plants! :- l

  • By Pam 2159 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 31 January 2017

    My Dalechampia is flowering too - spot flowers for most of the year. Two favourite natives are the green flowered Chef"s Cap Correa, and an unusual black flowered pea flower from Tasmania. This Dalechampia is obviously a special plant! Your native flowers sound lovely too. Deirdre

  • By Anne 2518 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 01 February 2017

    Deirdre my brother and sister in law grow the bat plant in East Killara but in a shade cloth covered greenhouse. so probably similar conditions to where you are if you wanted to give it a try. I actually had both the black and white growing indoors for many years until I put them outside and killed the poor things. They also have quisqualis a descendant of a plant originally in my gt grandparents house in Brisbane. Beautiful perfume.

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