Hypoestes aristata

Hypoestes aristata

A South African member of the broad Acanthaceae family, this shrubby perennial is a cousin to the polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya). Hypoestes aristata lacks the decorative leaves of that species but has a mass of mauve flowers which produce a good display in shaded borders in autumn. It grows about 1.2m tall and the flowers are like tiny curled bows: it is sometimes known colloquially as the ribbon bush.

The flowers make a long-lasting subject for a vase; from the garden of Julie Price in Sydney

Like most of the Acanthaceae family, this plant copes very well in dry shade, but is grateful to be remembered occasionally with a bit of mulch or fertiliser. It is important to prune it back very hard around mid-August, or it will become very straggly. It is frost tender, but will grow well in almost all Sydney gardens if sited under some tree cover. It does tend to self seed a bit, so pull up any stray seedlings that pop up. The cut flowers of Hypoestes aristata last for a long while in a vase indoors, creating a pretty and soft effect, as illustrated at left.

It forms a good companion to pink and white Camellia sasanqua which are also in bloom in shaded borders in autumn, as well as the various forms of Ruellia which thrive in shade too. It is also effective grown with silvery Plectranthus argentatus, another shade lover.

Flowers in April, May, June.